Reduce food waste for a healthier planet

Reduce food waste for a healthier planet

Hand foot and mouth disease in child
Photo of Donna Alden-Bugden LANA PESTALUKY
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Tuesday, October 4, 2016

We all know what and how we eat affects our health. Did you know our eating habits can affect the health of the planet?

That’s because a fair amount of the food in our food system ends up in landfills before it’s eaten.

A study done for the city in 2009 estimates the average citizen creates about 83 kilograms, or 183 pounds, of food waste for the landfill every year. That amounts to about 27 per cent of the waste stream by weight at the landfill annually.

This poses problems. The food waste bound for the dump needlessly takes up landfill space and, once there, it releases methane gas into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Neither of these things is good for the environment.

Fortunately, there are things we can all do to cut food waste. Here are a few tips. Small changes every day can add up to a healthier planet.

Store food wisely:
Practice first in, first out. When you buy new items, use up the older ones first. For most fruit and vegetables, don’t wash before storing because they spoil more quickly. Rinse produce only when you are ready to eat it. A general rule is to store fruit and vegetables separately inside the fridge.
Make sure your fridge is set to 4 C or colder. Food spoils quicker in a fridge that is warmer than 4 C. Bananas, tomatoes, and root vegetables such as garlic, potatoes and squash are best kept at room temperature.

Plan meals:
Meal planning can help you save time, eat healthier and reduce the amount of food you throw away. Start small – plan suppers you would like to eat for the week, buy those ingredients and try batch cooking on the weekends. If you make some meals ahead of time, they can stay safe in the fridge for three days or be frozen for a later date. Prepare simple take-away meals in reusable containers when you are on the go. Cooking at home means less garbage from take-out and more money in your pocket.

Beware of take-out drink cups:
Disposable coffee cups are not part of our city’s recycling program. They are lined with plastic or wax, which means they can’t be recycled. Some coffee shops offer compostable cups and discounts for using your own mug. You can ask your barista for a reusable mug instead of a disposable cup. Try quenching your thirst by taking your own water bottle everywhere you go. It will save you a lot of money in the long run, too.

Try composting:
Composting can reduce household garbage by half. Fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells and tea bags are perfect for household compost. Composting at home can be practical and possible for everyone. Did you know you can even compost if you live in an apartment? It’s called vermicomposting.

There are many community resources and supports available.

Green Action Centre in Winnipeg is a great place for start-up information. What to do with finished compost? Donate it, use it to start a square-foot garden or as a natural fertilizer.

Lana Pestaluky is a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was originally published on Sept. 2, 2016, in the Winnipeg Free Press.
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