Updated: Apr 24, 2019
Here's a pretty staggering statistic: 1.3 billion tons of food, or about a third of what is grown globally, is thrown out each year. Some countries are taking steps to curb food waste by calling for binding targets, but considering that the majority of food waste (about 40%) produced by the US is from consumers throwing things away, a lot can still be done by individuals at home.
Not only is a significant amount of food thrown out, food-related containers/packaging contribute over 23% of materials in landfills. If you remember that whole "peeled orange in a plastic box" uproar in 2016, you probably have a general idea of how much packaging exists in the food industry. Consequently, various no-food-waste initiatives have sprung up around the world. As July is #plasticfree month, I took on the "no food-waste for a week" challenge.
The Goal: Eliminate all food-waste for an entire week; that means literally nothing in the trash can at the end of seven days. Additionally, minimize recycling by reducing excess (i.e. avoid all packaging as much as possible, even what can be recycled).
Having grown up with "reduce reuse recycle rot," I was already familiar with a couple practices for reducing waste. Admittedly, I'm a lot better about it when I'm not at college. At home, we only use tote bags and reusable water bottles, compost, and recycle heavily, but at school, convenience becomes a much bigger factor.
I planned out my meals for the entire week to prevent myself from buying more than I needed. Since I usually just drink coffee for breakfast, I only had to account for about 14 meals. I ended up designating the last day as "leftover day," just in case I needed to finish up whatever was left in my fridge.
Bite Club Tip: Find out how to properly store fruits and vegetables so they stay fresh longer inside or outside your fridge. For example, bananas, apples, and tomatoes release ethene, which speeds up the ripening process for other fruits/vegetables, so keep them separate! (Also helpful if you're trying to ripen avocados faster.)
Bite Club TIp: Look up your specific city's recycling/organic waste rules. My city allows plastic containers and bundled grocery bags to be recycled alongside the usual paper products/glass bottles, and food scraps and food-soiled paper can go in the green bin.
First day! I dropped by Philz's to grab some coffee in the morning, and since I brought in my own reusable thermos, they only charged me for the small size. Hidden benefits!
Photos by Katie Sun
I swung by my local farmer's market to pick up produce for the week, as most of it comes without any additional packaging. I threw all of my vegetables/fruits into a couple tote bags, but reusable produce bags work just as well. Since I already have rice at home, I ended up skipping other grains and buying a paper-wrapped loaf of bread.
I've been drinking soy milk recently because I decided I should probably stop treating my lactose intolerance as a joke, but after much Googling, I couldn't figure out if the carton could be recycled, so here's trash item #1 of the week.
Lunch: Spring Salad
Since I'm too lazy to cook every day of the week, I pre-chopped all my vegetables to "prep" for pan-frying. Each dinner was a variation on simple stir-fry recipes.
I remembered to bring my reusable cup and straw for coffee this morning! If you're like me and dislike the taste of metal, you can also buy glass straws (this set from Amazon also comes with a cleaning brush).
Lunch: Avocado Toast & Fruit
Photos by Katie Sun
I knew I was going out for lunch today, so I spent a decent amount of time researching viable locations. I ended up going to Chipotle and getting a burrito bowl; all I had to do was ask them not to give me a lid, a bag, or a receipt, and I was good to go!
Unfortunately, it took me a while to locate a non-plastic fork...
Photos by Katie Sun
Lunch: Avocado Chickpea Pesto Salad. I substituted the mozzarella balls for a plastic-free version from my local deli.
Bite Club Tip: It's good to know what can't be recycled; a common misconception is that things made of 'reclaimed materials' can be recycled. For example, although Starbucks cups are made of 10% recycled material, they themselves cannot be recycled due to the wax/plastic coating.
Unfortunately, I was running late in the morning, left the house in a flurry, and forgot my reusable cup. Oops. (That's trash item #2.)
Lunch: Pesto Cauliflower Rice Pesto Bowl (so so good, and I used up leftover avocado, pesto, and cauliflower!)
Back on track! I had the Pesto Cauliflower Rice Bowl again because it was just that good, but I added a spicy cream-based sauce on top. Someone left me a pack of m&ms, but I haven't eaten them—does this still count? (Trash item #3?)
I went to Costco today to buy some essentials that I needed, and had to walk past like 14 sample booths because the little cups they serve things in are wax lined.
I had a couple halves/quarters of various vegetables left, so I just threw it all together in a veggie stir fry for lunch. No food wasted this week!
At the beginning of this challenge, I thought it would be a relatively easy push from a mostly environmentally-conscious lifestyle to completely eliminating trash for a week. Although I had plenty of exposure to recycling and reusing things, reducing my trash-production to nothing was startlingly difficult. I found that trying to be waste-free not only required me to check a lot of instincts I had, like automatically taking receipts, but also often came at the cost of my efficiency, which I found so frustrating. For example, "grabbing a quick bite" wasn't possible, as I had to take the time to research whether whatever I was craving would come in non-recyclable or non-compostable packaging.
Ultimately though, an extra half an hour a week is a small thing to give up, considering Americans throw away 225-290 pounds of food per person each year.
Some unforeseen pros: I couldn't impulse-buy snacks, I ate a ton of fruit, and I found out I had been recycling incorrectly. If anything non-recyclable is thrown away with your recycling, the whole lot could be considered "contaminated" and sent to a landfill. Some things you might not have known can't be recycled: food containers that haven't been rinsed out, pizza boxes, plastic bottle lids, sticky notes, etc.
All in all, it was a little difficult to remember to bring reusable containers/etc. on top of everything else that needs to be done in a given day, but I feel like these could be easy habits to adopt over time. Even if you can't commit to a no-waste lifestyle and be one of those people who can put years of trash into a single mason jar, there are still little things you can do to contribute. Just switch to a reusable water bottle, use tote bags, or hit up your local farmer's market.
What you can do:
1. Get educated! Figure out exactly what you can and can't recycle, how to read sell-by/use-by dates, etc.
2. Keep a couple of reusable grocery bags in each of your cars, and a small, portable version in your backpack/purse.
3. Join the #noplasticstraw movement, and pick up a reusable straw (or just skip straws all together).
4. If you get take out or food delivered, let the restaurant know you don't need any single-use cutlery.
5. Don't buy sh*t you don't need!
Originally published by Spoon University.