How to save money, help the planet by cutting back on food waste

The food in your refrigerator likely can still be eaten — or at the very least it doesn’t need to be thrown in the trash.

Gov. Kate Brown proclaimed this week, April 4-8, Food Waste Prevention Week, encouraging Oregonians to take simple steps to reduce waste and save money. It’s estimated spoiled food costs Oregon households on average $1,800 each year, and state-funded research shows 70% of what has been thrown out could’ve been eaten if it wasn’t allowed to spoil.

While a compost heap will take already-wasted food and some local services accept older, less desirable foodstuffs, rethinking consumer habits and eating all of what is purchased is considered the best way to reduce food waste.

Food waste is the largest part of garbage in Lane County, representing about 46,000 tons of the trash that went into the landfill in 2016, or 31% of the total, according to County Waste Reduction Program Supervisor Angie Marzano. The county estimates between 30%-40% of what was thrown away in 2016 was still good enough to eat.

“Meanwhile, one in five Lane County residents are food insecure,” Marzano said in an email. “Food waste creates significant amounts of methane in landfills, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Reducing food waste is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the environmental impacts of our food system.”

In 2017, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality adopted a framework strategy for reducing wasted food statewide, setting the goals of reducing the generation of wasted uneaten food by 15% by 2025 and 40% by 2050.

State and local agencies are asking residents to do their part.

“We’re helping Oregon families save money, while reducing the environmental impacts of food,” DEQ Senior Policy Analyst Elaine Blatt said in a news release. “Food is the second highest source of greenhouse gases generated by people in Oregon and preventing food waste is one of the easiest ways we can help combat climate change.”

How to keep food out of the trash

The Lane County Waste Management Division “Eat Smart, Waste Less” campaign challenges locals to think ahead when buying groceries, planning meals and preserving food longer as as to cut down on how much is thrown away.

“It’s really about getting creative with the food you buy,” Marzano said. “It starts with small steps.”

The campaign advises residents to:

Shop with meals in mind: Making a meal plan each week. Plan for a night eating leftovers or at a restaurant. Keep a running list of meals your household enjoys. Use planning apps or other methods to keep track of your lists.

Shop at home first: Check for ingredients you already have before shopping.

Stick to your plan: Make your shopping list based on your meal plan. Include quantities on shopping lists to make sure you buy just what you need. Avoid packaged produce to control the amount of fruit and vegetables you buy.

Prep right from the store: Prepare and portion ingredients for your weekly meals after you get home from the store and store prepped food in clear containers placed near the front of the refrigerator. Label containers with use-by dates.

Let it ripen: Put fruits that need to ripen such as peaches, plums, avocados and tomatoes in a bowl on the counter until ripe. Once ripe, move produce to the refrigerator along with apples, oranges and other already ripe fruit.

Prep for the freezer: Freeze foods such as bread, sliced fruit, cut-up vegetables and meat in meal-size portions if you don’t plan to eat it within a few days. Use a clear container with a good seal or several clear, plastic bags to avoid freezer burn. When you cook a meal that freezes well, make more of it and freeze it in meal-size portions.

Use clear storage containers so you can easily see the foods inside and make sure to label them with dates to help reduce food waste.

Use clear storage containers so you can easily see the foods inside and make sure to label them with dates to help reduce food waste.

Store it correctly: Learn how different foods keep best in storage, such as keeping potatoes in cool, dark places.

Know your drawers: Most refrigerators have produce drawers with humidity settings, which can help preserve food.

Keep it separated: Separate very ripe fruit, such as apples and bananas, from your other produce. As some fruits ripen, they give off a gas that causes other produce to ripen quickly and go bad. Eat the ripest fruit first.

Keep track of leftovers: Move food that’s likely to spoil soon to the front of the shelf or a “eat this first” area.

Get creative: Make casseroles, stews and smoothies from leftovers and extra ingredients. Create a list each week of foods that may spoil soon and plan coming meals around them. Plan to eat leftovers at least one night per week.

Don’t be confused by date labels: Learn the difference between “sell-by,” “use-by,” “best-by” and other date labels. You can rely on your own senses and good judgment for food that has been stored properly.

Use your freezer: If leftovers are not going to be eaten in time, freeze them in a freezer-safe container for use later. Oregon State University’s Extension Service has resources for how to freeze certain foods that are still good but won’t be eaten in time.

What to do with wasted food

Inevitably, some food will become inedible. But it doesn’t have to be wasted.

Composting unused foodstuffs can keep a significant amount of food waste from rotting in a landfill. Compost can serve as a valuable gardening product, though not everyone has the space or any future use for composted matter.

A map of community groups in Eugene that accept food scraps for composting can be found on the city website,

Many organizations also will some accept foodstuffs that are no longer wanted or have become less desirable. Contact organizations such as FOOD for Lane County before donating to be sure they’ll accept what you can give.

Contact reporter Adam Duvernay at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @DuvernayOR.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Families lose thousands of dollars on spoiled food; these tips can help