Food Waste Challenge

Since baby R was born, we’ve noticed waste creeping into our lives. We’re more likely to waste money on take out. I’m certainly treating myself to more coffees during the work days. When we need to buy something, we’re more likely to purchase it new than to work at locating a used item.

We’ve been trying to think of some sort of challenge to get us back on track. Something like not throwing anything away for a month, or not spending any money, or living without our car for a month. Oh wait. We already do that last one. We’re just looking for something to kick us out of our current habits and make us pay a bit more attention. But the trouble is, the most obvious options, like not spending any money for some period of time, would take a lot of energy, and probably a lot of time, at least initially. Energy and time are in very short supply around here.

But Angela had an idea that actually may be sustainable. She was cleaning out our fridge, which happens every two weeks in tandem with our grocery trip. The fridge clean out inevitably ends with lots of leftovers dumped in the trash and piles of dirty food containers in our sink. Instead of chucking the food directly, Angela first took a picture of it.

Now we have a rough measure of how much food we wasted during this last two week cycle, and now we have our challenge. Every two weeks we’re going to take a picture of what we throw away and try to make it smaller. No, it’s not a dramatic challenge; it probably won’t completely change our lives, and it’s not a perfect measure of waste (some additional food gets wasted day to day as table scraps), but it’s better than nothing. We were already inspired us to eat some leftovers for dinner that would have gone in the trash two weeks from now, which saved us time, energy and money, so we’re on the right track.

About Nathan

Nathan lives in North Cambridge, MA with his wife and two kids, and prefers never to be in cars if he can avoid it. Nathan thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
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8 Responses to Food Waste Challenge

  1. Alex Dupuy says:

    It won't help with the leftovers, but if you put your dry unwashed greens (like the lettuce in the photo) in one of those green plastic bags (Evert-Fresh, Debbie Meyer, etc.) they really will keep a lot longer, and you won't have to toss them. There's a good discussion thread about these at with useful advice and a mention of something called EGG, which also reduces ethylene gas that spoils produce. Rinse and dry the bags and you can reuse them a dozen times, easy, it definitely helps to reduce waste.

  2. nutella says:

    I like this project. Since I'm the primary food provider and shopper in our household, it's something I could easily undertake. I went on a fridge cleaning rampage 2 weeks ago and quite literally emptied and recycled 10 various condiment/ sauce bottles and jars. Ketchup that expired in 2007, no joke! I'm trying to be more aware when I buy those types of things. And meal planning helps us avoid some waste, but we're terrible about eating produce before it goes bad.

  3. SpeedyIma says:

    Do you already include a weekly "leftover night" in your food rotation? If you're willing to be creative/adventurous, it can cut down on waste. Also, I know freezer space is at a premium, but if you catch some of those leftovers while they're still good, you can freeze for "no time to pack lunch" meals later. (I leave a few in the underutilized *work* freezer.)

  4. karenlikescereal says:

    Jeez, that's a lot of food!!! We will occasionally toss produce that has gone bad, but prepared food? It's always eaten the next day(s). Just cook fewer days per week and you will see those leftovers magically disappear. I think we probably cook serious meals 1-2 times per week. The rest is just heat-and-eat stuff (burritos made from tortillas, beans, etc., tofu sandwiches, soup…). I can't remember the last time I threw out something I had gone to the trouble of actually cooking.

  5. MAJ Bryen says:

    We have the same problem…have you ever checked out the $30.00 per week website. They have a strict budget for two adults. however it could be modified. They have lots of healthy, cheap recommendations. I also occasionally use a web site where you put in the ingrdients you have on hand and it generates recipes. Worth a try!

  6. we're working on this, too. while we're far from where i'd like us to be, one thing that has helped is making a fridge inventory list, which we keep magnet-ed to the door. it makes it much easier to see what's in there and plan meals accordingly. and crossing things out as they get used up is giving me a better sense of our rate of consumption, which helps with shopping.

    i agree about how quickly leafy things go bad in regular bags. we use cloth bags at the store and transfer all produce to clear tupperware for the fridge (with a paper towel lining if that seems helpful). we definitely throw out a ton less that way.

  7. Wow, I like the idea of taking a picture. Sometimes, the visual impact is easier to act on. Just discovered your blog. Good stuff.

  8. Corey says:

    Well, since you are container gardening, you could always use the organic food waste as compost….

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