Tag Archives: waste

Tip #14: Don’t waste food

Food is arguably one of the most frivolously wasted resources on earth, especially here in the United States. According to the USDA, in 2010 31% of food sold in retail went uneaten. And that’s just the food that actually made it to retail, not losses of food on the farm. In store, about 10% of food went uneaten, and the remaining 20% is food that we consumers disposed of at home. That’s 90 billion pounds of food that we as consumers threw away in one year, in one country. The USDA also says that the majority of this food was meat, poultry, fish.

Considering the amount of resources that it takes to raise cows, chickens, or pools of fish, it’s especially egregious that these are the foods we waste the most in America. And a lot of the time, wasting food in the home just comes down to bad planning. And thank your lucky stars that you have the internet, because now you can google solutions to all your life’s problems.

Here’s a few of the best ways to avoid wasting such a wonderful, delicious resource:

  1.  Under buy, don’t over buy: This is probably number one for me. Unless it’s some insane sale food item that you can freeze and eat forever (like Lucky’s chicken for .$88/lb last week) don’t buy the entire deal they try to sell you. Most of the time, if a store says “10 for $10” you don’t actually have to buy 10 lbs of potatoes in order to save money. And even if you did, you might only eat 5 before they bruise and soften, and then you didn’t really save any money at all. Buying a lot more for less money is still spending money.
  2. Properly store your food: as a college student, this is the easiest rule to break. It’s so easy to forget to put the milk in the fridge, or the ribs in the freezer. Or improperly store your fresh fruits and vegetables in lesser known ways, such as:
    1. always store your fruits and vegetables separately: it not only is more orderly, but vegetables will actually age much slower when they aren’t exposed to the ethylene that fruits give off when aging (which causes them to age faster)
    2. wash and trim your vegetables before putting them in the fridge: take the rubber band off of them as well.
    3. store your leafy greens in ziploc’s with paper towels: this is a trick I learned from my grandmother, things like lettuce will stay for sometimes a week longer before wilting, I think because it helps keep the moisture in the food.
    4. don’t put banana’s in the fridge: I didn’t know that people did this, but it dries them out very fast.
  3. Buy a food processor or blender: Food processors and blenders are probably the way I save the most food from it’s garbage destiny. Fresh vegetables and fruits that look wilted, deteriorated, bruised, etc. have no physical appearance when you tear them up in a blender and put them in a smoothie. Or rip up the sad celery, the browned cauliflower, the weird broccoli in a food processor and put it in a hash, a stir fry or a soup. A lot of the reason that we throw these foods away is because they look weird, and we’re used to our food being pristine, our apples being robust and smooth, our bananas being a perfect golden yellow. If you tear them to shreds with a blade, you and your roommates will be none the wiser.

You’d be surprised how much of a difference these 3 practices alone make. These bullet points, like all of the Baby Steps we give on this site, are really just part of a larger consciousness that we hope to instill in our readers. Reduction of food waste is just a small portion of a potentially huge impact a single person can have on the environment around them. Even just being aware of how much food is being wasted currently is already a step in the right direction.


Hitting for the (Up)Cycle

Okay, so we’re going to go out on a limb and assume that you have a basic understanding of what recycling is. But what about its cooler cousin, upcycling, and its ugly stepsister, downcycling?


Upcycling is a form of recycling in which the recycled materials are used to make something new. Instead of being broken down into less valuable materials, upcycled objects are repurposed as other, more practical things.

For instance: let’s say you have a two-liter bottle lying around. You could put it in the recycling bin, where it’ll go to a recycling plant and get broken down into its base materials and made into a lesser-quality product –– in other words, you could downcycle it. Or, you could upcycle it by converting your empty Coke bottle into a bird feeder, a planter, or even a toilet water saver contraption! 

Cool, huh?

We think so, too.

Now, about this “downcycling” stuff:

When things get downcycled, they’re broken down and made into new things –– for instance, plastics are made into other plastics. Sounds great, right? In the short run, it’s great: you’re keeping materials out of landfills. But in the long run, the resulting recycled materials are of lesser quality. Things can only be downcycled so many times before they can’t be downcycled any more, and they become useless and end up in –– you guessed it –– the dump.

Downcycling also requires more resources than upcycling –– think about all the energy it takes to break down those materials. Kind of defeats the purpose, huh?

Don’t get all down in the dumps (haha) yet, though. Here are some simple ways to become an upcycling pro:

Got an empty toilet paper or paper towel roll? Use it as a seed starter pot to grow your own garden! 

Empty bottles lying around? Make them into lanterns, vases, or even planters!

Not sure what to do with last weekend’s aftermath? Here are some ideas for upcylcing tin cans and plastic cups (wash ‘em out first, though…).

Ultimately, the goal of upcycling –– or any type of recycling, for that matter –– is to lessen our impact on the environment to preserve our limited natural resources. The more we reduce, reuse and (up)cycle, the better care we can take of the planet.

So give cast-off materials new life and help save the Earth in the process –– new, handmade things today for a more sustainable tomorrow.

Growing Energy: Algae Biofuel for a future climate neutral energy

Check out this crazy awesome video made by Oberlin College student Angus R. Chen. As he illustrates, there’s “algae, algae, algae everywhere!” Why not use it to grow energy?*

*Well, ok, there are a few catches. Watch the video to find out more!

From the Youtube page:

What are biofuels and where do they come from? This video presents algae biodiesel as a possible future source of renewable carbon neutral energy.

If you like, please hit the happy thumb!

Special thanks to the Oberlin College Biology Department and the Bonner Center for Service and Learning

Also thanks to some of the pioneers for this type of video format, people like Jorge Cham and Henry Reich over at MinutePhysics who do this kind of thing far better than me.

A couple of things I didn’t mention: the reason why biofuels are considered carbon neutral is because even though they release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere when burned, they sequester it as biomass while they’re growing. So they’re not actually adding to the sum of atmospheric carbon – it all is supposed to come out close to zero.

Sneak Peak: Sustainability Week

It’s been one heck of a year. How is Sustain Mizzou celebrating?

In April, we’re dedicating an entire week to topics and issues surrounding sustainability on campus and in Columbia.

The themes are Waste, Energy, Transportation, Local Food + Local Business, and No Impact

Featured events include an E-Waste Drive, Transportation Fair + Bike Decorating, a benefit concert for the Local Food Drive, Carrot Mob, a keynote presentation on Food Security + Dumpster Diving by Rachel Vaughn, and an Environmental Resource Fair.

Check out our homemade calendar of events and keep a look out for more information!

Trayless: more than a waste issue

by Monica Everett

Usually when the issue of trayless dining arises, the conversation is all about waste.

Waste is important, but I think there’s a more important issue here, one that we want promote instead of discourage: connectedness.

My experience in the dining halls was, in a word, rushed. Grab as much food as possible, as quickly as possible, scarf down what’s edible  and throw the rest away.

I was usually left with a feeling of emptiness, and a longing for dinner around the table back home, and not just because the food tasted better there.

Alvina Lopez, a journalism student at Ashford College, touched on this yesterday in a blog posted to Wasted Food. You can read the full post there, but here’s my favorite part:

“I myself was at first cynical about traylessness. I didn’t think it would make much of difference, regardless of the intentions behind the initiative. But then after a week or two, I noticed substantive changes in my own behavior and my fellow diners’.  People stayed at meals longer. We ate more slowly, since those who wanted seconds waited until the foot traffic slowed down. The whole experience just became more enjoyable and relaxed. And, being someone who was raised to be sensitive about food waste, I noticed specifically that trashcans were not overflowing when I left the cafeteria.

Eventually the grumbling about the lack of trays subsided, grumbling that I suspect comes with adjusting to pretty much any change from the normal routine…Having made the trayless transition, I firmly believe that all schools should try it out, and not simply give up after a few weeks of student complaints.  It’s really such a simple idea, one that encourages more mindful dining.”

I am coming to realize that mindfulness, after awareness, is the next step to a sustainable society. Mindfulness of the cycle, the connections that bring food, products, and people to and away from us, is essential. Today, those connections are often invisible, allowing our minds to focus only on the immediate circumstances instead of on the complex consequences of our actions.

In November I will be attending a conference at UC Davis through the Agricultural Sustainability Institute that will focus on “Making the Invisible Visible” I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, think about where you go, what you buy, and what you eat. How are these things made possible?

For a look at consumerism and what it’s doing to our psyches, watch Shop Til you Drop. Don’t let the cheesy title scare you away.