How families can waste less food


Gina Knaus, a mother of 9-year-old twins who is 35, says she came up with “every excuse in the book” when trying to reduce household waste. “I think I can speak for most parents when I say my biggest fear was adding something else to our already busy lives,” says a psychotherapist in Lenox, Massachusetts. “Life is hard enough – we’re just one family – don’t we have enough on our plates?”

But after taking a closer look at her complacency, Knaus realized she needed to take action. “I felt like a hypocrite talking about my concerns about the future of our environment in conversations with my children but I kept putting off measurable change,” Knaus says. “So I decided to take action by showing you how to reduce household waste rather than just telling my kids.”

She and her family were particularly focused on the amount of food they wasted.

The average American household produces about 18 pounds of trash per day, most of which can be recycled but not recycled. This amounts to 6,570 pounds of household waste per household per year, and more than 24 percent of the garbage in landfills is food wasted.

You may not be able to save the planet on your own. But making a conscious effort to reduce this not only helps the Earth, but teaches children the importance of what we consume and how we get rid of it. While the climate crisis may seem impossible to reverse, reducing food waste in the home as a family can be a great place to try and help.

“There is no doubt that the most important area for improvement when it comes to getting rid of waste is food,” says Christopher Wharton, assistant dean for innovation and strategic initiatives at Arizona State University’s School of Health Solutions.

In fact, in America, we throw away about a third of the food we produce, says Catherine Hayhoe, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “When it decomposes, it produces so many greenhouse gases that if global food waste were its country, it would be the fourth largest exporter in the world.”

Hayhoe suggests a file The shift: “If you could shop more, buy less and plan ahead, you’d waste less.”

In 2021, the City of Phoenix collaborated with Wharton on a study to reduce food waste in line with their goal of becoming a zero waste city by 2050. Wharton discovers that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing waste, and encourages people to try whatever works for them. “People are interested in behavior changes in different ways and for different reasons,” says Wharton.

He and his team began by telling study participants that American households create 45 million tons of food waste annually. For the study, more than 60 families received food scales and clear plastic bins for weighing and food waste collection. Households weigh their food waste weekly and report this to the researchers, who then provide tips on how participants can reduce waste each week.

The results of the study revealed that participating families reduced food waste by more than 25 percent. Wanting to share what they’ve learned, Wharton offered his advice on the ASU Global Institute for Sustainability and Innovation website.

What is a zero waste lifestyle and how can we live it?

One way to reduce our carbon footprint is to adopt a so-called zero-waste lifestyle. This does not mean that we do not produce any waste at all – that is impossible. But instead, it’s a way to think about and reduce consumption and waste in landfills.

says Anita Vandyk, ecologist and author of “A Zero Waste Life” and “A Zero Waste Family.” “Being a waste-free family means doing what you can when you can.”

Radically reducing waste doesn’t happen overnight, but we can reduce our carbon footprint by making a few changes. Vandyke, who knows parents constantly about their children’s needs, their work and their money, wrote “A Zero Waste Family” not to add guilt but to offer lessons she learned while navigating motherhood. When it comes to food and the packages that come with it, for example, she suggests families shop smarter by searching the outside aisles of supermarkets and bulk stores for package-free food. Globally, packaging is the largest source of plastic waste. Containers and packaging alone account for 23 percent of the materials in landfills in the United States.

Vandyke also suggests that families bundle the compost together and create a system that works for them. This could be as simple as contributing to a compost bin in a public garden or making your own. Websites like Litterless appear where you can compost. Today, more than 200 U.S. cities have curbside composting programs. California and Vermont, which have made composting mandatory, have indicated to residents that farms that use compost can grow up to 40 percent of their food in times of drought.

Vandyke suggests everyone should have a “portable kit,” where a reusable carrying case is readily available with a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, stainless steel straw, spork, and cloth napkin.

Where you shop can make a difference, too. Graham Hubbard, a father of daughters ages 13 to 14, is acutely aware of the impact of household waste on the environment. “I grew up on a fishing boat in Australia, in a culture where nothing is wasted. Plus, I was very aware of the lack of food in my childhood,” Hubbard says, “so it is important to me not to waste my daughters.”

When Hubbard’s daughters were younger, he shared that more than 40 percent of fresh, canned foods and farm produce around the world end up in a trash can. At the same time, more than 800 million people around the world do not have enough food. That conversation prompted Hubbard and his family to search for companies that recycle food that would otherwise end up in landfill.

Hubbard and his family use ReGrained, a food company that “saves grains from beer fermentation and turns them into cake mixes,” he says. They also have a subscription to Misfits Market, which offers organic products that are “not aesthetically appealing and may be tossed, around which we plan our meals.”

During the pandemic, Hubbard and his family left reusable cloth bags with handmade cards and narcissus lamps on their neighbors’ doorsteps as gifts. Then Hubbard, owner of Plant Specialists, a Manhattan landscape design firm, donated flowers, herbs, and potato vines, which he and his daughters helped plant in their neighbors’ planting boxes using local compost. “This gesture really built community and gave my girls a sense of agency,” he says, noting that neighbors are becoming more interested in composting. “I can’t help but think, this could be a better place if we could get people excited about composting and gardening.”

Knoss found that modeling environmentally friendly behavior enabled her children to understand the impact of their actions. “A lot of times, we think we have to hide our flaws or our feelings from our kids,” Knaus says. “I shared that I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with such a huge problem and that I could feel overwhelmed. Then I invited them to solve the problems as a family.”

The Knaus family created a challenge to reduce waste even further. “We decided to weigh our food waste before and after we started measuring progress,” Knaus says. “Now, our conversations are about what we need versus what we want and how we’ll celebrate milestones through experiences rather than possessions.”

Lavon Roberts Freelance journalist covering health, science and technology.

Do you have a question about parenting? Ask The Post.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: