Like many Americans, I am more than a little scared of climate change. The recent United Nations climate report is pretty scary, and it prompted me to take a look at the amount of waste generated by my family’s kitchen to see where I could make small but meaningful changes. Food waste generates 8% of all human waste greenhouse gas global. Seen from another angle, food waste generates more greenhouse gases than the airline industry.

Beyond the food we throw away, either because it has gone bad or because we just don’t want it, we also throw away a ton of plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Plastic film is difficult to recycle, contributes to plastic pollution and can be harmful as it breaks down in the environment. Although foil is recyclable, some municipalities do not include it in curbside collection and foil must be food waste free to be recycled. The average American throws away about three pounds of aluminum foil a year. It takes about 400 years to decompose in a landfill.

The good news is that we can reduce both the amount of food we waste and the packaging we use to store it. Read on for some ideas you can start using today.

Better ways to wrap

You probably cut a lemon or an avocado in half daily. The half you don’t use is probably wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge. Replace your plastic wrap with one of the new reusable options on the market. Oxo’s Cut & Keep Silicone Product Saver Set ($16.99) comes with two savers with a layer of silicone that stretches to fit that onion half or kiwi wedge. The savers are BPA free and dishwasher safe.

OXO Good Grips Cut & Keep Product Saver Set

Another easy to grab and use option comes from Food Huggers ($10.19), made from BPA-free silicone. I especially love the ones they make for avocados, which are shaped like everyone’s favorite toast topping and embrace the halved fruit so it will last a few more days in the fridge.

Reusable Silicone Avocado Saver

If you’re trying to reduce the amount of plastic in your life in general, take a look at cloth food covers. Those of Coyuchi are made from fair trade organic cotton and look like well-made shower caps. A set includes a small, medium, and large cover ($58), which are machine washable. They’re perfect for covering that bowl of fresh cherries or half-eaten salad.

Coyuchi Conserve Organic Bowl Covers

If you’re looking for a solution that will work for virtually any leftover produce or sandwich, get a roll of bee packing ($29.99). This moldable, rinsable and reusable wrap is made from organic cotton coated with a combination of beeswax, jojoba oil and tree resin. And for vegans, there’s a bee-free version made with wax derived from the candelilla plant, native to Mexico and the southwest. You can buy pre-cut wraps in different sizes, produce bags and sandwich bags in both versions. The only thing you can’t store in this eco-friendly wrap is raw meat and fish, as the high heat needed to sanitize it will melt the wrap.

bee packing roll

Smart ways to waste less

Whenever I read about the amount of food wasted in the United States, it’s always shocking. From farm to table, we waste 133 billion pounds of food, which ends up in landfills, producing methane gas that contributes to climate change. According to the USDA, each of us throws away nearly 220 pounds of food every year. For my family of five, that equates to a horrible 1,100 pounds of food a year!

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these statistics, but unlike some environmental hazards we can’t control, there’s a lot we can do to reduce food waste:

  1. Strive to buy the right amount of food for your household. Planning your meals can help with this. You don’t have to cook every meal from scratch – just plan which ones you’ll cook, then stick to the game plan. Because you have a specific use for your ingredients, you’re less likely to waste them. The added bonus is that you’ll save a ton of money by not ordering takeout or restaurant food.
  2. Although I always encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables, not all of them need to be fresh! Frozen fruits and vegetables help reduce food waste because you only use the amount you need and then you can store the rest in the freezer. Remember that dried fruits, like prunes, figs, and raisins, count too and last for months. And I know that giant one pound container of spring mix you can find at your big box store sounds like a great deal, but the truth is, you’re unlikely to finish those greens before they do not spoil. Paying more per serving for a smaller container is actually better for the planet because it minimizes waste.
  3. I certainly don’t have a Pinterest-worthy fridge, but I’ll be the first to admit that an organized fridge wastes less food. If you can easily see the ingredients you have on hand, you’re less likely to double purchase. And keeping those leftovers front and center in clear containers is the best way to use them up quickly. Take inventory of your fridge and freezer once a week before you go shopping and you’ll be on your way to less waste.

Turn food scraps into garden magic

You have reduced the amount of food you buy, but it is inevitable that some food will go unused. The good news is that you can turn this waste into compost that can benefit the earth. Do you live in an apartment or do you have no garden? No problem! Many cities and towns pick up compost curbside, and most farmers’ markets also collect food scraps. Community gardens are another great way to donate your compostable food scraps and benefit your neighborhood. Read on to discover composting solutions for every household.

Countertop composting

If you’re just looking to collect food scraps in a container that will keep them from smelling bad while sitting on your counter, there are several options. We love those of full circle ($32.99) and Rewind ($44.99), both of which look great in your kitchen, don’t take up much space, and are designed to reduce odors.

Full Circle Fresh Air Odorless Kitchen Compost Bin

Bamboozle Food Compost Bin

Another option that I’m personally excited about is the new Vitamix Food Cycler ($324.95) that solves the problem of what to do if your locality isn’t collecting food scraps. This electric countertop device lets you turn everything from eggshells, coffee grounds and lemon zest into compost that you can mix into garden soil. You add leftovers to a bucket inside the unit, turn it on, and within hours it dries the items and then grinds them into fertilizer, reducing the volume of food waste by 90%. And the bucket is dishwasher safe!

Vitamix Food Cycle

Home composting

This option requires more space and more know-how, but it is totally doable. And if you’re an avid gardener, you’ll reap the rewards of creating rich (and free!) fertilizer for your flowers and plants. In addition to food scraps, you can also compost garden clippings and dead leaves and plants. While some methods can take up to a year to create usable fertilizer, Other methods produce results in less than a month.

Garden compost should be turned or aerated regularly. This allows the microbes to do their job and break down the plant material. If you don’t like using a fork too much, you can buy a composter that can be turned, like the Multifunctional Garden Compost Tumbler ($96.99). Some people use earthworms to speed up the rate of decomposition in their compost pile, but there is no need to add them. You’ll know your compost is ready to use when it turns a rich brown and looks like moist soil.

Multifunctional garden composter

We all want to do the right thing for Mother Earth, but don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. Figure out which solutions will have the most impact on your household and start there. To find out where to start, take TODAY’s One Green Thing quiz. Here’s to making our world a greener place!