Prepping For Less Food Waste

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Clare Schneider/NPR

End of year stories about what to do differently in the new year may seem overdone, but we find them worth sharing when they touch on a theme we cover regularly. This column has the added value of some funny, some even bizarre suggestions:

Food waste is a big problem in the United States, where a typical household of four tosses out about $1,600 worth of food annually. So, Life Kit did a deep dive on how how to reduce food waste.

In planning that episode, the office was abuzz with conversations about our own tricks and tips to save food — from recipes to compost tips. This made us wonder what other wisdom was out there. So we asked you!

We were overwhelmed by your collective knowledge and thriftiness. Our roundup is by no means an exhaustive list, but below are a few tips we felt inspired by. (If you want to join the conversations, you can find them here on Instagram and Facebook.)

Your tips from Instagram

1. Used coffee grounds can be dried and used in a steak rub or mixed with coconut oil and sugar and used as a body scrub. — @Chefanniecarroll Continue reading

Capsules = Pods = Waste

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The greatest trick companies ever played was making us think we could recycle their products. The New York Times

My most recent reference to pods could have been the last. Enough said. But my eye was caught by the title of this item yesterday, and all day I kept wondering whether I need to know more about the confidence game that has been, and is, recycling. Deciding this morning to click through I was rewarded with an update on my favorite coffee scandal. Insult on top of injury. Surprised by that? Nope. My thanks to Tala Schlossberg and Nayeema Raza for this creative op-ed video, and accompanying text:

The Great Recycling Con

The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products…

Convenience & Connivance

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‘I think we’ve taken convenience and just turned it into a monster,’ said Shaymah Ansari.
Photograph: Francis Gardler/AP

I acknowledge it has not been easy to eliminate plastic from my life. Plastic is everywhere. It is ubiquitous in developing economies as well as in more developed economies. But since recycling is costly, then at least radically reducing its use is important. So consider how seductive convenience is, and how conniving companies can be:

US recycling event is cover for enormous volume of plastic pollution, say critics

America Recycles Day promoted by EPA is brainchild of not-for-profit backed by companies that produce plastic products

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 Packaging for plastic food items that cannot be accepted for recycling. Photograph: Emily Holden/The Guardian

America’s government-backed national recycling awareness day is being used as cover by large corporations that are churning out enormous volumes of plastic that end up strewn across landscapes, rivers and in the ocean, critics have said.

The second annual America Recycles Day event on Friday is being vigorously promoted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a way to encourage Americans to recycle more.

But critics point out that the initiative is the brainchild of Keep America Beautiful, a not-for-profit founded and backed by large companies that produce vast quantities of plastic products that end up as pollution.

Current backers include Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsico, and Altria, the tobacco giant formerly known as Phillip Morris. Decades of campaigns by the group have emphasized individual responsibility for plastic recycling, which data reveals to be a largely broken system. Continue reading

Taking Responsibility For Stuff

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Recycled materials being stacked at facility in Costa Rica last June. EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Some time a millennium or so from now, an article like this one, or perhaps like this one, will be written with wonderment about the waste management practices of the early 21st century. They will not be as amazed by how we digitally stored our most prized possessions, but curious what we did with all our unwanted stuff.

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Scrap metal at a dock in Liverpool, England, waiting to be exported. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

And we have known for some time now that we have not been so clever. We have mostly been hiding that stuff. Out of sight, out of mind. If it seemed too good to be true, there was a reason for that. The long stretch of time during which China’s labor costs and their resource input equations made importing our unwanted stuff a win-win created a kind of mirage. Thanks to Cheryl Katz, writing in Yale e360, for making that clear in this story:

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A worker sorts through plastic bottles at a waste facility in Vietnam. Other Asian countries have increased their waste imports in response to China’s ban. NHAC NGUYEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling

China’s decision to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s recycled waste has left municipalities and waste companies from Australia to the U.S. scrambling for alternatives. But experts say it offers an opportunity to develop better solutions for a growing throwaway culture.

The story is big, which is why I was not surprised to see Alana Semuel’s story on the same topic. Both are worth reading, but this one takes a starker view, and the disturbance its title question causes provides an effective added prod to reduce how much unwanted stuff gets created in the first place.

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Bales of plastic are piled at a Recology facility in San Francisco. (Alana Semuels / The Atlantic)

Is This the End of Recycling?

Americans are consuming more and more stuff. Now that other countries won’t take our papers and plastics, they’re ending up in the trash.

After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans are finally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately. Continue reading

2018, The Year Food Waste Was Finally Taken Seriously

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Americans throw away 133 billion pounds of food annually. TAZ/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

This is the time of year, in the days prior to the USA Thanksgiving holiday, when I tend to recall the first time food waste, one of the oddest of plagues, came to my attention. Thank you Meg. And thanks to Yale e360 for reporting this heartening news:

In the first 10 months of 2018, investors poured $125 million into U.S. companies whose mission is to prevent food from going to waste, according to a new report.

ReFED, a non-profit dedicated to drastically cutting the amount of food that becomes spoiled or is wasted in the U.S., said that the investments spanned a wide variety of companies focusing on new technologies, software, and business-to-business solutions. They include Apeel Sciences, which received $70 million in private financing to produce a natural second skin to extend the life of produce; Food Maven and Full Harvest, each of which received $8.5 million to help businesses sell excess or less visually appealing produce; Spoiler Alert, which helps businesses better manage unsold food inventory; and ReGrained, which makes flour out of spent distillers grains. Continue reading

Grandparents’ Approach To Avoiding Food Waste

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‘Whatever’s in the fridge’: a traditional cottage pie. Photograph: neiljlangan/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This time of year, harvests finishing in many places, abundance is about to give way to the longer lean season. Maybe that is the perfect time to start thinking about stretching the ingredients at hand:

How to avoid food waste: top chefs on their grandparents’ favourite dishes – and what they taught them

Angela Hartnett, Fergus Henderson, Raymond Blanc and many others describe the frugal simplicity – and delicious flavours – that inspire their cooking today

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Summer pudding with ‘beautiful glossy purple juice’. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

It is all too easy to romanticise the past, particularly with food. In Britain, rationing created a postwar generation that was very well-nourished, but also utterly bored by the meals it ate … or endured. Similarly, for all the criticism levelled at processed foods (“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food,” as the writer Michael Pollan famously advised), food has never been cheaper, nor easier to access and prepare. In 1957, as a proportion of their weekly income, UK households spent roughly double what they now spend on food – 33% of their money. There is a kind of liberation in the Pot Noodle.

Yet among many chefs and campaigning food writers, the sense persists that on a number of issues – particularly food waste, but also obesity, nutrition, cost, pleasure even – there is much to admire in how our grandparents ate. In an era of limited choice and tight budgets, they made a virtue of the necessity to cook with whatever fresh ingredients were available. “My grandparents didn’t cook ‘sustainably’, but they did cook every day, one of life’s best skills, and they didn’t throw leftovers away. To that extent, they were thrifty,” says Tom Hunt, the self-styled eco-chef and Guardian columnist.

To examine that idea, we asked a number of top chefs to choose a meal that encapsulates how their grandparents cooked and to explain how, in its frugal simplicity, it still influences them. Call it going back to the future. Continue reading

Drink The Wonk

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Soft fruit, such as oranges, root vegetables and salad are particularly prone to waste. Photograph: Eric Farrelly/Alamy

Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, has reported on a simple idea to not waste fruit just because its appearance is not standard. Wonky, as they say on the island where the English language comes from. Don’t fear the wonk, this article and this brand are saying. Was this not already happening with juice, as with other waste-reducing beverages? Can a brand be built on such an idea? Thumbs up to that:

‘Wonky’ fruit and vegetables that would have been thrown away are now being used to make a new range of juices, in one of a number of assaults on food waste.

One of the UK’s largest fresh produce growers has teamed up with a Spanish fruit supplier to create a new product, Waste Not, which will stop edible but visually ‘imperfect’ ingredients such as fresh celery, beetroot and oranges from being dug back into the soil, or used for animal feed. The new juices will go on sale in branches of Tesco.

The move is one of a growing number of innovations to reduce food waste throughout the supply chain, following criticism of supermarkets and suppliers that perfectly good food is being thrown out while UK consumers are relying increasingly on food banks. Continue reading

Know Your Packaging

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Because of layers of material that can be difficult to separate, many containers for juices and broths have traditionally been destined for landfills. But recycling them is getting easier. KidStock/Getty Images

Natalie Jacewicz, a science writer based in New York City has this illuminating story on packaging:

In The Recycling World, Why Are Some Cartons Such A Problem?

Scoot over, cans; cartons are moving in on your shelf space. Specifically, the soft, light rectangular containers commonly associated with juice boxes — “aseptic cartons” to the carton literati.

“They’re growing in popularity,” says Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council, an industry group. “Broth is predominantly in aseptic packaging now, and you see a lot of coconut water in it.”

Aseptic cartons pack several environmental upsides, with one big catch: Traditionally, these containers have been quite difficult to recycle. To take stock of the promises and challenges of this supermarket sensation, I talked to experts on all things carton. Continue reading

App For Food Waste Reduction

‘A love for food and a distaste for waste’: Iseult Ward (left) and Aoibheann O’Brien in the FoodCloud warehouse in Dublin. Photograph: Mark Nixon for the Observer

‘A love for food and a distaste for waste’: Iseult Ward (left) and Aoibheann O’Brien in the FoodCloud warehouse in Dublin.
Photograph: Mark Nixon for the Observer

Thanks to the Guardian for their coverage of stories about reducing food waste:

FoodCloud: new app proves a nourishing idea for wasted food

The distribution of surplus food in Ireland is being transformed by FoodCloud. Killian Fox meets the duo behind the venture

Killian Fox

Within one community, there can be a business that’s throwing away perfectly good food and just around the corner there’s a charity that’s struggling to feed people in need,” says Iseult Ward of FoodCloud, a remarkable social enterprise which she co-founded with Aoibheann O’Brien in 2012. “We wanted to connect the two.” Continue reading

Food Waste Approaching Zero (Goals Are Powerful)

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Junior Herbert, a volunteer with Olio, collects leftovers from vendors at London’s Camden Market. London has become a hub for apps and small-scale businesses that let restaurants and food vendors share leftovers with the public for free, and otherwise reduce the amount of edibles they toss. Maanvi Singh for NPR

Green entrepreneurship is alive and well in London (thanks to National Public Radio, USA, and its program the salt for this story):

Eat It, Don’t Leave It: How London Became A Leader In Anti-Food Waste

MAANVI SINGH

It’s around 6 o’clock on a Sunday evening, and Anne-Charlotte Mornington is running around the food market in London’s super-hip Camden neighborhood with a rolling suitcase and a giant tarp bag filled with empty tupperware boxes. She’s going around from stall to stall, asking for leftovers.

Mornington works for the food-sharing app Olio. “If ever you have anything that you can’t sell tomorrow but it’s still edible,” she explains to the vendors, “I’ll take it and make sure that it’s eaten.” Continue reading

Perfectly Good Imperfect Food

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A customer shopped at Fruta Feia, a Portuguese cooperative created to sell imperfect food. The food industry has begun looking for ways to reduce waste. Bargain-hunting consumers seem to be going for the deals.CreditPatricia De Melo Moreira for The New York Times

Increasing attention to the inherent waste in judgements about imperfection is a welcome topic in our pages:

Food Industry Goes Beyond Looks to Fight Waste

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Treasure in the Trash

Still from video by The New Yorker

Still from video by The New Yorker

Some trash can be found and then turned into art, like the pieces of plastic that were built into sculptures at the National Zoo. Other trash is not necessarily garbage, but merely objects that someone doesn’t have the space or energy to take care of, and that man’s trash can become another man’s treasure. A man who worked for the New York Department of Sanitation for about thirty years spent a good part of his career collecting and curating things people threw away, but which caught his eye as interesting treasures. David Owen writes:

Nelson Molina grew up in a housing project in East Harlem, in an apartment where his mother still lives. “Starting when I was nine years old, in 1962, I had a passion for picking up,” he said recently. “I had, like, a three-block radius. I would look through the garbage and pick up toys that people threw out, and I would fix them. I had two brothers and three sisters, and I was like Santa Claus to them.”

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An Object Lesson on Tote Bags

We discovered the “essay and book series about the hidden lives of ordinary things” called Object Lessons through The Atlantic a few months ago, when we shared an article on real cheese. Today, I learned an unsettling – and to borrow from Al Gore – inconvenient truth about tote bags. Pretty much any time I go grocery shopping I use a couple reusable totes, unless I need some plastic shopping bags to replenish my trash-can liner supply, so what the folks at Object Lessons have to say about the issue is very informative about how we need to change the way we look at certain everyday objects:

For at least a few decades, Americans have been drilled in the superiority of tote bags. Reusable bags are good, we’re told, because they’re friendly for the environment. Disposable bags, on the other hand, are dangerous. Municipalities across the country have moved to restrict the consumption of plastic shopping bags to avoid waste. Many businesses have stopped offering plastic sacks, or provide them for a modest but punitive price. Bag-recycling programs have been introduced nationwide.

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Upcycling Food Waste

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Crusty heels of loaves of bread which are used to make Toast Ale. All photos from: npr.org

We are no strangers to the food waste crisis. We recently wrote about the average landfill contribution per person per state in the U.S. and on prior occasions have shared stories about the severity of poor “waste” management.  At the same time, we acknowledge that there are people who are leading the cause to reduce the amount of food thrown away and salvage the unwanted scraps into healthful and tasty food, or otherwise useful products. It is important for us to share these stories to serve as inspiration for those with an entrepreneurial spirit and to inform citizens how they can support these businesses or organizations.

Toast Ale is a London-based company that sources fresh, surplus bread that would otherwise be thrown out to brew suds and create beer. The company believes it has found an environmentally friendly way to tap into the booming craft beer market. Continue reading

Our Landfill Contribution

 

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The diagram above provides a clear illustration of the amount of waste each person contributes to the landfill per year in the U.S. It is a regrettable outcome that results from decades of unresponsive national policies and unsustainable urban development, but can be remedied with a multilateral shift towards a circular economy, according to Nithin Coca, journalist for Triple Pundit LLC.

One of the reasons that America went down the path of throw-it-away is related to the reason we decided to build vast suburbs instead of dense, sustainable, walkable cities. We have a lot of land compared to most other developed countries. The same space we used to build suburbs, roads and an auto-centric culture, we also used to hide our waste as we moved into a throw-away economy.

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Interview with a “Trash-Man”

One meter by one meter surface sample at Kamilo Point on the Big Island, Hawaii. More than 84,000 pieces of micro-plastic were counted. (Photo credit: Nick Mallos via GreenSportsBlog)

Plastic polluting the oceans of the world is something we don’t like to report on, but do anyway, since it’s such a widespread and high-impact issue. Below, Lew Blaustein of GreenSportsBlog interviews the Ocean Conservancy’s Director of Trash-free Seas, Nick Mallos. The Ocean Conservancy works toward science-based efforts to protect the ocean and its wildlife, as well as human communities that rely on healthy marine ecosystems.

GreenSportsBlog: Director of Trash Free Seas. That is one cool job title. How did you get to the Ocean Conservancy and the “Trash Man” moniker?

Nick Mallos: I’ve been working on trash in the ocean for the better part of a decade, with the last six years at Ocean Conservancy so “Trash Man” seems to fit perfectly. Before that, while at Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA), where I earned a BS in Biology and Marine Science, I spent a semester in the Caribbean to study lemon sharks. While on the Island of South Caicos, I saw that massive amounts of trash and plastics were washing ashore on its north side. This got me interested in marine debris and what was needed to do to remove it.

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Reducing Air-Conditioner Use

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Source: New York Times

More than 90 percent of American homes have air-conditioners, which accounts for approximately 6 percent of all the country’s residential energy use and translates to about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide released every year. To save on energy consumption, one can turn off the AC units while not present in the room or increase the thermostat to a higher temperature so that the AC will not turn on as often. However, another aspect of air-conditioners that is not frequently talked about is the actual chemical compounds in AC systems that are responsible for keeping a room cool on a hot summer day. The compounds are called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and it’s a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

HFCs represent a small portion of total greenhouse gas emissions, but they trap thousands of times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Good news: If your air-conditioner is working properly, it won’t release HFCs into the atmosphere. Some HFCs are released during the manufacturing process, if your air-conditioner or refrigerator has a leak, or when you throw a unit away, possibly causing some molecules to escape, especially if it’s disposed of improperly (Here’s some guidance on proper disposal).

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Dirty Rio

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Source: ABC News

The 2016 Rio Olympics start in two days and in three days athletes will have to face the uncontrolled pollution debris and hazardous water contamination levels. The 1,400 athletes participating in water competitions and 300,000 to 500,000 foreigners expected to visit Rio de Janeiro and the beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema are at risk of becoming ill. This unfortunate predicament comes even after the city’s 2009 Olympic bid when authorities pledged that they would invest in a billion-dollar cleanup program to “regenerate Rio’s magnificent waterways.” Continue reading

Good Bag News from England

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Last year in October, a five pence charge (around seven US cents) for plastic bags at supermarkets was introduced to discourage shoppers from using the wasteful and unnecessary receptacles – and prevent pollution at the same time. With this extra cost, use of the bags dropped by over 85%, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. But England hasn’t led the charge (pun intended) in this effort: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all successfully employed the 5p cost prior. Rebecca Smithers reports for The Guardian:

Retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries, but smaller shops and paper bags are not included. There are also exemptions for some goods, such as raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, seeds and flowers and live fish.

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UK Starbucks to Trial Actually Recyclable Cups

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It turns out that only one in four-hundred paper coffee cups are recycled in the UK; the rest of the 2.5 billion cups used every year are thrown in landfills or turned into greenhouse gases via incineration. The main problem, apart from people simply not throwing the cups in recycling bins, is the plastic lamination on the paper that makes the cups more waterproof. A new cup being released this week, made by a company called Frugalpac uses a thinner film that can be more easily removed to recycle the paper, which itself is less chemically treated than conventional cups.

Starbucks in the UK has announced that it will trial these more easily recycled cups, and hopefully they’ll stick with it. Rebecca Smithers writes for The Guardian:

The cups will feature in a forthcoming television investigation by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. For his next War on Waste documentary, which airs on BBC1 on 28 July, the chef and campaigner has challenged major coffee shop chains to explain why more cups are not recycled and consumers not given better information about environmentally friendly disposal. But Starbucks, one of the UK’s largest coffee chains, is set to be the first retailer to test the product, saying it will trial the Frugalpac cup in some branches.

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