One thing you can do: Reduce food waste

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By Eduardo Garcia (from the Climate Fwd: newsletter. The New York Times climate team emails readers once a week with stories and insights about climate change. )

I’m looking forward to celebrating the holiday season by eating some delicious meals with my loved ones. We will probably get cheery around a dining table crammed with roasts, stews, casseroles and, I hope, lots of pie. These holiday meals will bring us a lot of joy, but they could come with environmental costs.

That’s because a lot of that food will end up in a landfill, where it will emit methane, a gas that is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The food wasted by a single household may not seem like much, but it all adds up. Approximately 40 percent of food is thrown away in America, and although producers, retailers and restaurants are partly to blame, households are by far the main culprits.

This is a big problem. If food waste could be represented as a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the United States, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

But planet-warming pollution is only a small part of the story. When we waste food, we are also throwing away the resources that went into producing, processing, packaging and transporting that food.

“Foods that are more resource intensive to produce, like meat and dairy, are the ones that affect the environment the most when we throw them out,” said Dana Gunders, author of the “Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook.”

For instance, throwing away a hamburger is the equivalent of taking a 90-minute shower in terms of the amount of water that it took to produce that beef patty.

But worry not, we have some great tips to help you reduce food waste.

First, plan ahead. If you’re hosting, buy only the food that you need. The best way to do this is to write a shopping list and stick to it. Remember that when it comes to reducing food waste, compulsive shopping is your main enemy.

You can try using the “Guest-imator,” an online tool developed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. It can help you calculate how much food you need to buy for your dinner party.

If there are leftovers that may go bad soon, ask your guests to take some home, use them to make a meal the following day, or freeze them.

“Freezing is like pressing the pause button on your food,” Ms. Gunders said. “A lot of people think of the freezer as a long-term solution, but you can also take food out after a few days.”

You could also choose to donate the extra food to food banks, shelters and soup kitchens.

Ultimately, if you wind up wasting food, at least throw it in the compost bin. Compost can help plants grow, and in some places it can even be used to create energy.

photo by Tyler Varsell ©

CYRIL de COMMARQUE