Life hack: save money and the planet at the same time

If you’ve lived in Oregon for the last couple years, you are well aware of the urgent threat climate change poses to our communities, public health, and way of life. We have all seen and experienced first hand the devastating and deadly climate-fueled wildfires and temperature extremes that have ravaged our state in recent seasons. 

Two recent reports from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscore Oregon’s climate experience, documenting the impacts of climate change and the danger of inaction, and laying out key policy solutions to limit warming and avoid catastrophic climate impacts. The IPCC Climate Mitigation report released just last week emphasizes the urgent need for government action to stop climate pollution and transition to a clean energy future. 

The message is clear: effectively addressing climate change will require immediate systemic change, including better business practices and government policy protections. First and foremost, this means demanding climate protections from our elected leaders. At the same time, there are other important actions we can take as individuals to help support a healthy climate future.

One of these steps starts with your grocery shopping list and ends in your kitchen–and hopefully not in the trash can. 

It may come as a surprise, but food is the second largest source of consumption-based climate pollution in Oregon.

Food waste and loss–the food that is grown and never eaten–is a large contributor to food sector climate pollution: up to 40 percent of all food in the United States is never eaten, whether because of cosmetic blemishes, misleading or confusing labeling, improper distribution or stocking, or poor portioning, storage or planning. Once wasted food goes to a landfill, it creates methane–a toxic super pollutant that heats our planet faster than even carbon dioxide. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, food waste and loss is responsible for 4 percent of all climate pollution in the United States.

This uneaten food embodies:

  • 2,400 million gigajoules of energy–enough to power more than 50 million U.S. homes for a year;
  • 170 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (excluding landfill emissions)–equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants.
  • Enough calories to feed more than 150 million people each year, far more than the 35 million estimated food insecure Americans.
  • 5.9 trillion gallons of water–equal to annual water use of 50 million American homes;
  • 14 billion pounds of fertilizer–enough to grow all the plant-based foods produced each year in the United States for domestic consumption.

Recognizing that addressing food waste is a key part of the climate puzzle, the Oregon Climate Action Plan (Governor Brown’s executive order 20-04) directed the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to take actions to reduce total food waste in Oregon 50 percent by 2030. This goal is also in-line with the federal government’s food waste reduction target adopted in 2015. 

One approach DEQ is taking to reduce food waste is by accelerating food rescue, or recovering surplus food and redistributing it to food insecure people. Oregon has a number of local non-profit organizations, like the Oregon Food Bank or Urban Gleaners, that for years have worked to rescue food by collecting fresh, nutritious food before it can go to waste and redistributing it to the people who need it. 

For wasted food that cannot be prevented or rescued, DEQ works to find the best end-of-life solutions possible, such as composting, anaerobic digestion, and agricultural use. However, while food recovery solutions like composting play an important role in reducing methane emissions from food waste, they do not have the same effect as preventing food from being wasted in the first place.

As DEQ notes in its preliminary work plan to reduce food waste, preventing one ton of food from being wasted results in greenhouse gas benefits six to seven times greater than recovering food waste by composting. That’s why the second and critical piece of the food waste puzzle is preventing food from being wasted in the first place. This is where you come in. 

DEQ launched the Bad Apple campaign focused on inspiring households to reduce the amount of food they throw away at home.

Here are some key tips: 

  • Shop smartly: Plan meals ahead of time, use shopping lists, purchase accurate quantities, and avoid bulk and impulse purchases so that you don’t buy more than you need or can use.
  • Read the labels: More often than not, date labels are meant to serve as indicators of quality, rather than hard expiration dates for safety. Confusion over date labeling accounts for an estimated 20 percent of consumer food waste. (Learn more about date labeling on this FDA webpage). 
  • Buy ugly produce: “Ugly” fruits and vegetables have physical imperfections but are safe and nutritious– and often on sale! 
  • Practice proper preparation and storage: Prepare appropriate amounts of food, properly store leftovers, and freeze food before it spoils.
  • Declutter the kitchen: Stay organized and check your pantry, fridge and freezer often so that items don’t get lost and you can keep track of what needs to be used. 
  • Be generous: If you have more food than you can use or need, donate to a local food pantry or share extra food with family, friends, or neighbors.

When you prevent food waste at home, you’re contributing to improving the food system in a whole bunch of ways, including:

  • Saving money: Spoiled food costs each Oregon household an average of $1,600 each year.
  • Preventing hunger, by redistributing edible food that would otherwise be wasted, via partnerships with organizations like Urban Gleaners and the Oregon Food Bank.
  • Preserving energy, water, land that would otherwise be required to grow, process, transport and cook food. 

Over the next five years, DEQ estimates that about 10 percent of food waste in Oregon could be prevented– and households and individuals will be critical to addressing this gap. DEQ estimates that households are responsible for generating roughly 51 percent of the food that is wasted in Oregon.  

Learn more about DEQ’s Bad Apple campaign, and how changing a few habits at home or at the store can save you money, and help save the planet.  And stay tuned for more information from OEC on how to engage in future food waste reduction efforts!

Don't let food go bad script

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