Zero Waste

5 tips for fighting food waste by Annie Carlson

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Did you know that FOOD WASTE is one of the biggest items taking up space in our landfills?

According to the New York Times, the US alone wastes $160 billion dollars in food each year. This figure is one that really upsets me. Considering how many people are under-nourished or living in poverty or need a better education- we shouldn’t be wasting food.

FOOD IN THE TRASH = CASH IN THE TRASH

Are you wondering,” but doesn’t food just degrade in the landfill no problem?” Once the food gets to the landfill it is mixed with tons of other junk, which packs down the food and prevents it from getting oxygen which it needs to break down properly into the soil. The food waste then ends up emitting methane gas. Methane gas is a known greenhouse gas which adds to the effects of climate change.  Landfills are the 3rd largest source of methane gas currently in the US. 

Now, I’m no expert or scientist but here are 5 tips that have helped me to personally reduce my food waste!

  1. meal plan

    This might seem like DUH but honestly if you don’t know what you’re making and when, you are guaranteed to waste some food. For the past year, I haven’t gone to the grocery store without a list and a plan for what I’m making that week. I used to think I was too cool for the list and that I could either remember all the stuff we needed, or just wing it and buy whats on sale and in season and whip something up. To a certain degree this is true, but I waste less food when I have a framework of what we are eating. Sam and I work 9-5 schedules away from home so we really need to know what we plan on having for B,L, & D most days of the week. (Also, shopping with a list has been helpful for us in saving moolah!)

    Lots of sources online say to meal plan & shop every 2-3 days so you aren’t buying things you don’t need or won’t use before they go bad. However, this really isn’t possible for us. For time and convenience sake we really don’t run to the grocery store at night after work so most of our shopping is done on the weekends. If shopping every couple days is an option for you or if you have a nearby grocery store then I think this tip could help!

    I’ve started keeping a running list (paper list in the kitchen) of pantry essentials and when something is low or we use it all up, I’ll write it on the list to get next time I’m at the store. This helps keep somewhat of an inventory of pantry items that can help put a meal together in a pinch. Another tip we’ve found helpful is to have a shared note (iPhone notes or Google keep) with you and your partner or roommates, of meals or recipes you love to make so you can quickly reference the ingredients required. (Avoiding the dreaded long food-blog post to get to the recipe at the bottom sometimes takes too long when all those images are loading!) You could even have a food schedule in the note to help you keep organized and know what you’re having and when.

  2. prep + store produce right away (preferably in glass)

    This one might be controversial because it is true that as you expose fruits/veggies to more oxygen, the faster they will go bad. BUT, I find that if I wash, dry, and prep veggies for whatever we are planning to use them for I’m WAY more likely to use them. A few months ago I started following Brown Kids on Instagram and I quickly became obsessed. I purchased their digital course called The Jar Method and it’s awesome. It teaches you how to prep and store all kinds of food in glass jars to make them last SUPER long and save on food waste and money waste!

  3. be flexible

    Harness your inner Samin Nosrat, Gordon Ramsay or Carla Hall or whatever chef you identify with and be able to substitute something or modify a recipe to use what you’ve got. I know, I know, you’re like wait Annie you just told me to meal plan now you’re telling me not to be exact? Hear me out- sometimes Sam and I have already made the meals we planned on making for the beginning part of the week and now we have to wing-it (or got back to the grocery store) and use what we have left in the pantry/fridge. My perfect example of this is just a good ol’ stir fry. We usually always have rice on hand, some sort of bean or maybe some leftover chicken, and whatever veggies are left in the fridge we chop up and use. Or if you’re making a recipe and it calls for spinach but you have a little kale left over, use the kale and don’t buy spinach. Toppings call for chopped cashews but you only have peanuts? Use the peanuts. Use quinoa or frozen cauliflower rice instead of regular rice. The point is, don’t be afraid to be a little creative to use the things you have on hand.

    As I’m currently obsessed with Samin Nostrat and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, I highly recommend you watch the documentary series or get the cookbook and try to learn about these different elements of good cooking. I think this is truly the secret to being able to “wing it” in the kitchen. I’m currently on the “Fat” chapter so I’ll update you when I’m done.

4. store food properly

Here are some quick shortcuts for how some common produce items should be stored:

  • Onions, garlic, hard squash, potatoes: store in a dark and cool location (i.e. pantry or we have a lazy suzan that we store these in a wicker basket) *I learned from Imperfect Produce that Onions emit a gas that cause potatoes to sprout faster, store these separately. P.S. potatoes that have started to sprout are still safe to eat, just cut off the sprouts themselves.

  • Avocados: until they are ripe keep them on the counter, once ripe store them in the fridge.

  • Apples: store in fridge crisper drawer

  • Carrots: I only recently started storing carrots in a jar submerged in water and this really helps them stay fresh and firm!

  • Bananas: store on counter, once these are ripe or overripe peel them and freeze them. We use a gallon Stasher bag to store bananas in the freezer (compost the peels) and use them in smoothies or to make banana bread or banana pancakes.

  • Tomatoes: keep these on the counter! If they are fully ripe and you prefer them cold, then I suppose you should refrigerate them.

  • Oranges, Grapefruit, Lemons, Limes: keep these on the counter or to slow ripening, in the fridge.

  • Fresh herbs like cilantro & parsley: cut off ends and store in a glass jar with water. Some people recommend to cover the top of the herbs with a plastic bag. We don’t use plastic bags so we just leave them uncovered and they seem to last at least 7 days.

  • Leafy greens: this is where the Jar Method I mentioned above taught me a lot. If you wash, dry, and cut your greens you can keep them in a glass jar (big mason jar) with a little towel at the bottom to absorb moisture and they will last you almost 4 weeks!

  • Quick product review! I purchased the SWAG produce bags a while back which claim to keep produce fresh longer and I haven’t had much luck with them. I still use them occasionally but I feel like glass containers keep food fresh longer and are better for storage because you can see everything.

5. compost

You know I’m a huge fan of composting! If you’re curious about why this is important, go here to checkout my blog post more about this. This is a HUGE component in my life for reducing food waste. I don’t have quite enough time on my hands to save all my scraps for making veggie or chicken broth (even though I wish I did that!), so composting is very important to me. It’s amazing how once we started composting our amount of overall trash significantly reduced. We are lucky enough to have a community compost program, so we collect all our food scraps (anything that was once living) and they get processed by a nearby facility into compost that is used in local gardens/ farms to grow plants and produce! This allows what would normally be waste, to go towards something useful and beneficial for our community.

I highly recommend you listen the episode from one of my favorite podcasts Live Planted about composting, find the episode here. There are many different modes of composting and Alyssa simplifies it for us. Gotta love that!


Let me know if any of these tips help you or if you have any other food waste fighting tips to share!

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Why Compost? by Annie Carlson

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I am super enthusiastic about composting and I want to break it down for you all to show you why it’s so awesome! I think it’s because of my biology background and my passion for helping the environment that makes me geek out over this topic.

I enlisted the founder (Jonathan) of the compost company our family uses: Healthy Soil Compost, to help answer some questions surrounding composting.

First, let’s establish WHAT composting is.

COMPOST is defined as : a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil.

The EPA describes compost as: Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up about 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

For those who have the space and ability to do home composting or back-yard composting, I’m jealous! That process is a little more involved than what I currently do, but either way you slice it- composting is important. I personally use a compost service. We collect scraps of food, paper, lint, plant matter, etc. and our friends at Healthy Soil Compost come and pick up our bucket and take the scraps to be processed into the finished product, Compost. Healthy Soil Compost works in conjunction with Nature’s Little Recyclers to “eat” the waste and leave behind valuable nutrients that make Compost the “black gold” of gardening, and the sustainable food world.

*For those wondering what happens to the finished compost product, it goes to community farms all around the city. Sometimes I get some black gold too!


1. Why is it bad for our environment when food decomposes in the landfill? 

Landfills are required to produce an environment void of oxygen so that the materials inside are less likely to start a fire, however food waste and organic waste (once living material) actually need bacteria that require oxygen for basic life processes to decompose properly. As a result of this anaerobic environment (low oxygen)  Food waste and other organic wastes are not able to decompose properly and instead add to producing Methane gas.  Methane gas is a known greenhouse gas which adds to the effects of climate change.  Landfills are the 3rd largest source of methane gas currently in the US.  Most of the organisms on Earth require oxygen and only few can survive in anaerobic environments so adding food waste and other organic materials to a landfill really take up unnecessary space and add to the problem of carbon in the atmosphere.

2. Why do some cities in Europe offer composting with their trash/recycling pickup but we don't really have that here in the US? 

Generally if a municipality is offering more advanced waste separation it is due to necessity and economics.  There is no more space for landfills to be created and there is limited space in the current landfills.  We need to find creative ways to divert and recycle materials that do not need to be in our landfills. After-all landfills are a human created technology that only provided a solution to current problems at the time, however are not very sustainable for a growing future.  We have a greater land mass than Europe so we have more space for landfills - many states/cities are already showing that these landfills are closing and becoming more limited so those areas are offering more landfill diversion techniques.  Ex. New York City, California, Seattle, Wa.  As landfill space becomes more scarce we will most likely see more creative ways to divert material that can go elsewhere and/or other technologies to handle waste streams.  


3. What about the garbage disposal? Is this better than food going into the trash? 

 Basically a garbage disposal chops up material and sends it through water pipes to the water reclamation department.  The Chicago MWRD is pretty sophisticated with bio-filtration technologies so that food waste and other water waste is filtered through microorganisms that can "clean" it and recycle it back into drinking water or grey water for washing and flushing toilets.  The solids that are filtered out are then composted aerobically (with oxygen) to create bio-solids.  In Chicago these bio-solids are a wonderful (yet highly stigmatized) organic fertilizer for plants and also available for free from the city.  Most people are uneducated about bio-solids and therefore think they are harmful to humans and food-production but they are highly regulated by the EPA and pose no threat to humans when fully composted.  The main issue with garbage disposals is that they deceive people into thinking you can put anything down a disposal but they may be eventually clogging the water pipes with grease, fat, and other non-water soluble materials.  If everyone was using disposals then we would most likely have city plumbing issues.  Also you should not be placing bones and other hard to chop materials in a disposal.  All organic waste can be composted yet all organic waste cannot be placed in a garbage disposal.  

4. What percentage of food in landfill contributes to climate change? 

The EPA says that about 20% of landfill space is food-waste

About 60% of what most people throw in the trash can is organic material (paper, cardboard, food-waste).  


Here are some other great Chicago area composting companies besides Healthy Soil:

For my STL, MO fam check out:

*ALSO, check out Compost Now for their map of compost pickups services throughout the US


Below is a list of Chicago restaurants that are collecting their organic waste and composting with Healthy Soil Compost! (There are others who use different composting services too!)

Antique Taco 

Heritage Chicago

Giant 

Red and White Wines

City Mouse and Ace Hotel

Girl and the Goat

Little Goat

Duck Duck Goat

Boka

Elske

312 Chicago

Purple Pig

4LW Coffee

Longman and Eagle

Lost Lake

Hannahs Bretzel (all locations)

Stumptown Coffee

Chicago Yacht Club

Hoosier Mama Pie

Same Day Cafe

Lagunitas

Kitchen 17

Hotel Gray

Hotel Allegro

Kimskis

I hope this sheds more light on why composting and preventing food waste is so important!

Please send me any questions or let me know if you have any local composting services (or restaurants) that I am missing and can share.




My favorite tools for living less wastefully by Annie Carlson

To live less wastefully you do NOT have to go out and buy new things. However, as I started to get into the Zero Waste world I realized that I was missing some items that would help me navigate life without using disposables or single use plastics. I feel there is a good balance between buying new items that inspire you to live better, and using items you already have around your house. Also, some items might seem more expensive up front, but the idea is that they will hopefully last a lifetime, or at least a long time! These are some of the items that have helped me as I start to live with a more Zero Waste mentality. If you click on the images below it will take you to the product site. I do not receive any kickback or commission for any of these products, just love them! There are so many more amazing products to highlight but these are my top 10 go-tos at the moment.


1. Stasher Bags

These bad boys were one of my first loves. Woman owned company too. They replace plastic bags (Ziploc bags) and are available via their website, Amazon, and the Container Store. I use them to store everything from food, to toiletries during travel. They can also be used to marinate, Sous Vide, steam, and even microwave. These ROCK!

2. Reusable Grocery Bags

An essential! Obviously any bag will do and you likely have several laying around the house. I have a few Baggu bags and I think their prints are so fun and they are always the first ones I grab. I keep at least one of these in my work bag or purse when I’m out and about in case I need to grab something. Also, you CAN remember your bags when you go into the grocery store, I believe in you.

3. Beeswax Wraps

There are a few different brands of these but I’m excited to support one of my friends (Sophie) and her small business. She uses recycled textiles to make these awesome food wraps. These can be used to cover cans, wrap onions, avocados, or cheese, and some are even large enough to cover bread or casserole dishes. These replace plastic wrap and/or aluminum foil. Sophie even explains on her website how to refresh the wraps if their grippieness starts to fade. If you’re new to these- you may need to warm them with your hands to mold them to whatever you’re using them to cover.

4. To-go silverware

You could easily bring regular silverware from home to serve this purpose. I got these on sale at a local grocery store and keep them in my work bag and have used them countless times. They are lightweight and easy to clean. It’s always surprising to me how many restaurants in the city have plastic silverware options ONLY- even when you are eating in. This was a great buy for me as I used them all the time.

5. Reusable straw

To be honest, I don’t really use straws all that much but in the summer I definitely find a use for them for smoothies and iced tea or coffee. To me, the reusable straw is one of the easiest things to carry around because it’s so small and light. I like these Simply Straws glass straws because they don’t seem to make things taste metallic as stainless steel straws can do, and they are super chic. Totally optional item but I do love them. Also, if you get the To-go ware silverware some of their sets have a Simply Straw glass straw included! Also, they are a little easier to clean because you can see any gunk caught inside.

6. To-go vessel

A no-brainer! Hot things, cold things, even oatmeal if you want. I love the price of these and the size options, and that they come with a stainless straw. Healthy Human has great options for both water bottles and coffee/tea tumblrs. LOVE. You could also use a mason jar in lou of this, keep in mind mason jars aren’t insulated though.

7. Menstrual Cup by Dot

Let’s start by saying that I’m obsessed with Menstrual cups. I think they are one of the coolest inventions and have been using them for the last 2+ years. Dot is an amazing woman owned company based here in Chicago, the cup is made in Wisconsin, and with every purchase they donate a cup to a woman in need. OH and it comes with this super cute case. Any brand of menstrual cup will save thousands of tampons/pads throughout a lifetime, which normally sit in landfills and take a LONG time to degrade. Check out this article for some interesting info.

8. Safety razor

This was a hard one for me to get on board with at first. I was scared of how to use it and that I would cut myself all the time, but this was actually an easy transition. There are many brands of safety razors (check Amazon), and the razors are very inexpensive. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my lack of razor-burn and ingrown hairs since switching to a safety razor.

9. Pela Case*

This iPhone case is compostable and shipped without ANY plastic packaging. I’m so glad to finally say “no” to cases that are made of plastic and are packaged in plastic. They have a ton of fun colors and I am happy that I can add this to my compost bin if I ever get a different phone and need to get a new Pela case. *This definitely isn’t a Zero Waste necessity but I consider it a BETTER option than other phone cases on the market.

10. Produce bags

Mesh bags, or simple cotton bags. I don’t go grocery shopping or to the farmers market without these. Not only can they be used when shopping produce at the grocery store/market, but they can be used when you’re buying a cookie, muffin, scone, etc. when you’re out and want to save a disposable sleeve. This is another easy one to store inside your reusable grocery bags and have them with you when you’re shopping.