Posts Tagged ‘waste’
Here’s a statistic that will make your head spin. Americans waste 40% of all food. Meaning we throw approximately 165 billion dollars down the drain. And with all that waste comes pretty serious consequences. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study this means that we’re adding 34 million tons of waste to the landfill, with 23% of our methane gas emissions coming from food waste. Our current farming system uses 80% of our fresh water supply and 50% of our land to grow our food.
Something needs to change.
Thank goodness we live in a city like Austin, TX where we are blessed to have people who care. We have organizations, businesses and community leaders putting their heads together to brainstorm ways to reduce Austin’s food waste. 2013 has been named the Year of Food Waste and Prevention, and this morning was their kick-off event. A whole bunch of brilliant like-minded folks gathered to talk about what food waste reduction looks like for our wonderful city.
Here’s why this matters. As food prices and food insecurity rises, our waste should decrease, not increase. According to the NRDC study, the amount of food waste is up 50% since the 1970s. So where is all of this food going? Let’s start at the beginning. On the farm 7% of food gets left in the field, due to the demand not matching the supply or the produce not meeting visual requirements. Even after the food is harvested, farmers sort through the food and cull produce that doesn’t meet the minimum standards for size, color and weight. Our high aesthetic standards for food is biting us in the rear.
The NRDC stated that one large cucumber farmer estimated that fewer than half of the vegetables he grows actually leaves his farm. This means that 75% of culled produce is edible, just not pretty enough to be sold. A cucumber is still a cucumber even if it has a few dings and scratches on it. You’d think that as consumers we’d realize that food is grown from the earth. It’s bound to get a little dirty, and that’s okay.
Here’s hoping we learn the value of a wax-free cucumber.
After the food is culled, it’s processed and distributed. This is where there are technical malfunctions that can result in huge batches of food being spoiled. This results from improper storage and refrigeration or stores rejecting shipments for one reason or another.
From here it finally reaches the retail and grocery stores. According to a Washington Post Article, a conventional supermarket tosses out $15 billion worth of unsold fruits and vegetables in a single year. We’re back to aesthetics, as a majority of stores would rather overstock their shelves and throw out the “extra” than look empty. They’ll also cull again, removing vegetables and fruit that appear sub par, acting under the assumption that people won’t want to buy produce that isn’t attractive. Then there is the matter of “sell by” dates. Conventional grocery stores throw out $2,300 worth of food daily because the products are nearing their sell by date.
Which brings the cycle to us, the consumers. Let’s start with the very muddled idea of the expiration date. Here’s something you might not know, that date on the label is not when the food goes bad, it’s the date when the food is at its peak quality. Which means you can eat it on that date, and for some time afterwards. Because of our reliance on the expiration date, we end up throwing away a lot of food that is 100% edible.
We also are eating out more, and when we eat out we leave an average of 17% of our meal on our plates. All of which is tossed. What makes this even worse is that many chains have unnecessary regulations that require employees to throw away food. A well-known fast food restaurant throws their fries away every 7 minutes. According to the Washington Post article, such regulations result in 1/10 of fast food being thrown away.
Now that we have the facts, we’ve got to come up with some solutions. Dana Gunder from the NRDC pointed to awareness, portion sizes and education. Britain has managed to reduce their waste by 18% in the past five years through their public awareness campaigns and retailer resolutions. We can do the same. On a personal level that may look like adjusting your views on expiration dates and utilizing your freezer more. On a systemic level it could look like a large-scale study that characterizes what’s happening at each level of food production and consumption. Gunder also suggests standardizing date labeling. She recommends following in Europe’s foot steps, who has set the lofty goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2020.
The bottom line is that we need to foster a culture that values our food.
Which bring us back to Austin, where 2013 has been declared the year of Food Waste Prevention and Recovery. The goal is to build a stronger local food system that enhances the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of Austin and Central Texas. The plans to achieve this goal includes expanding waste diversion rates and services, increasing composting for homes and businesses and improving recycling of materials and food scraps in public places and at public events.
At in.gredients, food waste prevention is a key part of our ethos. We encourage people to be mindful about their shopping, buying only what they need. In our six months of business we have sent zero pounds of food waste to the landfill. This is attainable through our composting, recycling and reuse methods. We look for as many ways as possible to use all the food that we have in the store.
We like to think of ourselves as an example for the zero food waste initiative in Austin. It’s an achievable goal and we have incredible community organizations that are doing outstanding work in the mission to reduce food waste. We tip our hats to the East Side Compost Pedallers, Food Recovery Network, Keep Austin Fed, Compost Coalition, Food is Free, Food Not Bombs and especially Break It Down Austin, our commercial composting and recycling partner.
Let’s keep food on the table and out of the landfill, shall we?
Since we’ve been busy setting up the store, we’ve been relying more on local eateries for meals and snacks! So we snapped a few shots of how to go zero-waste when eating out or picking up food to avoid throw-away wrapping or single-use bags…
Here’s a Pyrex baking dish in action at Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery – holding croissants, scones, and a couple cinnamon rolls. Perfect way to avoid small paper bags and wax wrapping!
We’ve also used a Pyrex baking dish for large orders of breakfast tacos and sandwiches. Makes for a great display.
Reusable Produce Bags
Here we are again at Quack’s – this time with produce bags. Each mesh bag worked great for different types baked goods, and all the bags fit nicely into a larger bag for easy toting.
If you’re dining on-site or nearby, a plate works great. We regularly bring plates across Manor Road to Taco-Mex for breakfast tacos, and have some foldable plates to bring with us for an easy zero-waste solution.
This particular sandwich came from Jimmy John’s on Red River; they’re not local, but it was nice to see a larger chain be happy to accept a zero-waste alternative. Every time you precycle by bringing reusables, you show folks how easy zero-waste is (and have some great conversations!).
by Colleen Doyle
Homemade oat milk’s a wonderful solution to a packaging problem. Store-bought oat milk (and many other boxed liquids) come in a drink cartons comprised of 75% paper, 20% plastic, and 5% aluminium foil. There’s usually a plastic pour spout on the top of the carton. Making your own cuts down on packaging waste – and is also far more economical.
A quart of organic oat milk from the store will usually cost around 3 to 4 dollars. The oat groats I bought in bulk only cost $1.69/lb. Oat milk’s smooth and creamy. Many agree that of all the milk substitutes, oat
milk in most similar to dairy in texture. Cooked oat milk tastes nutty; raw oat milk has a slightly grassier flavor. Both are easy to make!
0.25 cup raw organic oat groats
4 cups water
0.25 tsp of sea salt
Directions: Cooked oat milk
1. Soak the oat groats in a bowl of water for about 8 hours. Rinse the oats and discard the soaking water.
2. Place the oats, salt, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let the oats cool completely.
3. Blend the cooked oats with the 3 cups of water until very smooth (I used my immersion blender and added the water directly to the saucepan—which meant less dishes to wash afterwards!).
4. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into an airtight container. You can reserved the solids to use in a baking recipe (I simply warmed mine up with a little water and ate them as a porridge the next morning).
You can also make raw oat milk:
1. Leave the soaked and rinsed oats in a colander in a cool spot for 12-24 hours to initiate the sprouting process. Then blend the oats with the 0.25 tsp of salt and 4 cups of water until very smooth. Let the blended oats sit for 1 hour before straining.
2. The oat milk will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Use it as a cooking base, pour it over cereal, or drink it straight. I sweeten mine with a little honey and freshly ground cinnamon!
(image: Colleen Doyle, No Trash Project)
Brian’s an Austin native with a passion for intelligent city design and sustainability. When he’s not busy helping in.gredients get off the launchpad, he loves cycling, drawing maps, and great conversations!
I walked into my co-working space yesterday with a sack lunch – that is, a reusable bag filled with a ceramic plate, a cutting board, a fork and knife, and three glass containers full of leftovers. I didn’t bring my espresso machine. If it fit in the bag, though, I would have…
Some insist there’s a level of social appropriateness I may not be reaching by carting half my kitchen into a small workspace every day. The important thing, I contend, is that I’m not wasting anything – no paper bags, no packets of black pepper, no foil, no plastic cutlery, no nothing. All it took was a little change in thinking.
When the Brothers Lane and I began planning in.gredients over a year ago, we knew we’d be challenging norms and proposing changes in behavior even we’ve had to spend time adjusting to. For example, in the past year my wife and I have switched to hankies and cleaning rags in our house – eliminating tissues and paper towels in order to cut down on household waste. For the first few weeks, it wasn’t easy! I remember having guests over to the house and thinking “wait… we’ll have to give special instructions about where to put used hankies,” and later spilling something (I always do) in the kitchen and instinctively looking for the paper towels.
In terms of packaging waste, up until recently we’ve had the “ignorance is(was) bliss” experience. After becoming aware of the facts about how much packaging is wasted in the US – and how much of it’s actually unnecessary for product quality and safety – we could no longer walk into a store without thinking “there’s packaging… everywhere… just imagine the… oh my…” We’ve discovered the simple brilliance of reusing containers at the store – and how much needless consumption it saves. Sure, packaging that’s not necessary for product integrity can be convenient for customers for the purpose of portability and portion size, and can also serve rightfully as marketing space for the manufacturer – but at what (and whose) cost?
This was our eventual epiphany: a majority of the waste we generate makes our lives really, really convenient. Putting individual bags of chips that may or may not be recyclable in kids’ lunch boxes makes getting out the door in the morning a whole lot easier. And grabbing a paper towel, wiping, and tossing makes cleaning a breeze! But we realized that as great as these things are, we were making our lives easier at the expense of the environment. And when we thought further, that expense was actually billed to us in two ways: (1) in taxes, since the more waste we generate, the more our local government has to tax its citizens for waste management services, and (2) as a negative health impact, since we can’t get away with storing mass waste on the earth without it impacting the air we breathe, the soil our food grows in, or the water that sustains life.
In short, we realized we can’t just think about us. We’ve got to think about the collective health and prosperity of our community. The studies done on consumer waste are overwhelmingly clear: as a society, we have a waste problem, and it’s got to stop. I’m excited in.gredients can take this on as a business and not only make it easier for folks like us to avoid excess waste and make changes to our lifestyles… but to show other businesses that minimizing waste as a retailer is completely possible, and educate the public on how easy it can be to live sustainably.
That’s in.gredients to me.
Are you familiar with the Pacific Trash Vortex (a.k.a. Great Pacific Garbage Patch)? It’s hard to define, but could be described, as National Geographic says, a “free-floating ‘dump’ twice the size of Texas.” It lives (or lurks, rather) somewhere between California and Hawaii, and continuously collects garbage (mostly plastic) due to converging ocean currents.
The Pacific Trash Vortex isn’t a new discovery – scientists have been aware of its existence since the late 90s. Nevertheless it persists as a primary piece of evidence of world-wide issues with improper waste disposal.
“Perhaps 10 percent of the 260 million tons of plastic produced worldwide each year ends up in the sea–much of it in the swirling currents of the North Pacific Gyre and other ocean vortices,” National Geographic said.
(image: LAFD Dive)
The new year’s almost here! Come up with a resolution for 2012 yet? As with any resolution, the key is to choose something feasible. A change you can make without major stress or strife is most likely to become permanent. If you don’t have one in mind yet, here are some great “green” resolution ideas to make your new year a little (or even a lot!) more eco-friendly than the last:
1. Convert to cloth tissues: single-use, disposable facial tissues create a lot of unnecessary waste. Reusable tissues are easy to make out of old shirts or other soft fabrics. Wash them with your regular laundry and you’ve created no waste, and used no extra water (because your laundry has to be washed anyway!). Check out our post on cloth tissues for some extra insight.
2. Ban paper towels: Make your house a paper towel-free zone by converting to reusable rags for cleaning and cloth napkins for dining. It’s an easy habit to pick up, and you’ll cut down enormously on non-recyclable paper waste!
3. “Meatless Mondays”: By choosing not to eat meat one day per week, you’ll reduce your average meat consumption by about 14 percent. Doing so will lower your carbon footprint and may even improve your health! Learn more about Meatless Mondays here.
4. Start a compost pile: Another incredible way to cut down on household waste that your garden (if you have one) will thank you for! See our posts on urban composting and composting in Austin for some helpful tips to get you started.
5. Bike to work or school one day a week: Or take public transportation, or walk, or build a boat from old limbs and float down your local creek. Whatever you choose, it’s always good to set a specific goal that’s manageable for you. Weekly goals are good because they are easy to keep track of, and not overwhelming.
6. Start a garden: Spend less money at the store *and* eat healthy, fresh food. Yee haw! If you live in Central Texas, you may find this seasonal planting guide from Austin Organic Gardeners helpful in figuring out what to plant.
7. Share something: The simple act of sharing can save money and resources while fostering kindness in communities. You could share something you own, for example: a set of power tools or perhaps a skill you have like, for example, bicycle repair. Sharing’s contagious too, so you’re likely to start a trend with your friends and neighbors that’ll be beneficial to you as well!
(image, starring our very own Chris Pepe: Patrick Lane Photography)