Effortless ways to cut back on food waste in your daily life

Jan 18 / Sam Woods

Why should you reduce household food waste?

With the costs of living on a steady rise, most of us are searching around for ways to cut back on our day to day expenses. From recycling to gardening to learning about meal planning, there are dozens of ways that we can make small changes in our lives to help lower costs.
Reducing the amount of waste that comes out of your home is a fantastic way to help keep a few extra dollars in your pocket, and to help the environment.
If nothing else, you won't have to buy as many trash bags or take out the garbage as often. Win win, right?
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You'd be surprised how little thought we put into what we throw out in an average week. At least in my house, it's virtually a guarantee that some of the groceries we buy just aren't going to make it onto the plate. Never mind all of the plastic bottles and cans we collect! That's a lot of money that gets lit on fire, buying a lot of impulse items that simply never get used. And everything we throw out winds up going somewhere.

In the interests of both saving money and keeping excess trash from being dumped into the local landfills, let's take a minute and brainstorm some ways to cut back a little on our wasted spending. I know there are plenty of ways my family could stand to make improvements!
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Single use plastics

A pile of plastic items
One of the biggest contributors to household waste comes in the form of single use plastics.

These can include things like shopping bags from the grocery store, plastic lids and straws on take-away drinks, and candy and snack wrappers.
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Reducing pollution from these things is a tricky business, as the majority of the damage comes from the companies manufacturing the plastic as opposed to our use of them. We're starting to see some improvement in that arena, like the ban on some single-use plastics that has gone out in Canada.

When it comes to personal waste though, there are some things that we can do to make a little bit of a difference in what we buy versus what we throw away.
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Use reusable shopping bags

Shopping bags are easy. Many grocery chains now allow you to make a one-time purchase of what are essentially tote bags made of recycled plastic. Instead of taking the plastic bags at the end of your shopping, you can simply bring and pack your own totes. They're easier to carry, less likely to split open and dump your precious carton of eggs into the parking lot, and there are even insulated bags made specifically for packing frozen items! If you plan on buying a tin of ice cream on a hot day, the freezer bags help keep it comfortably chilled if you have to make other errands on your shopping trip.
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Use your own cups and straws

In terms of take-away drink lids and straws, the answer is just as simple. There is a growing trend of coffee shops and restaurants allowing customers to bring their own cups from home, and reusable cups with lids are easy enough to find these days for a fairly low cost.

There are even chains that no longer use plastic straws at all. Paper or wooden straws, utensils and biodegradable cups are becoming the norm. If you find cardboard straws annoying, like my family members do, then there are options such as bamboo or metal straws that you might look for instead. These can be washed and used over and over, instead of going in the trash bin.

Some coffee shops even offer discounts now for bringing your own mug instead of using a take-away cup!
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Buy in bulk

As for candy and other little snacks, that's a big one at our house. Sour candy, chocolates and chips. No excuses for that one, we have our favorite junk food just like everyone else. But for reducing the trash from candy wrappers and chip bags, the best advice I can offer is to look around for bulk food stores. Many of them have a section for treats, candies and party snacks like chips and various nuts.

If you can find one in your area, see what kind of containers they use. You might be able to bring your own jars or Tupperware, or they might even have biodegradable paper bags instead of plastic sleeves. Not only would this cut down on the waste you throw out, but bulk food shops tend to let you buy a lot for cheap. Save cash, waste less, and you get more for it! Win, win, win.

As an aside, many bulk food stores will also have staples like coffee, flour, spices, tea and even foods like peanut butter. If you can bring your own containers, you can buy bigger quantities and save money on things that grocery chains often charge high prices for.
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Gardening and composting

When I used to work at a local coffee shop, we frequently had neighbors popping in to ask for the used coffee grounds we were going to put in the trash. They were our local gaggle of organic gardeners, looking to get free ingredients for their next batch of compost.

Gardening allows you to save a little bit of money by growing some of the food you like at home. Especially in the time of inflation and shipping lane disruption, producing some of your own food can really help cut down your grocery bill. And rather than spending tons of money buying expensive fertilizers, composting allows you to create healthy soil for your plants without extra cost. You'd just be using up the grocery leftovers you would normally chuck in the trash!

Methane and other gases produced when plant matter begins to rot actually contribute to climate change in a big way, so this is important for several reasons. Even if you don't personally garden, I'm willing to bet you know someone who does. That person would absolutely benefit from fresh compost to spread around their plants. You might even get a gift of fresh garden veggies if you make a habit of contributing.
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Think about all of things you normally throw out every week. Cardboard? Paper? Vegetable scraps like potato peels, onion skins and the tough part of the cabbage? All of these things can be used to make good, hearty compost for gardening. 
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See, soil is a living thing, full of microorganisms and fungi. Lifeless dirt is no use, it won't support healthy plant life and it will require frequent amending in order to make a garden function. On top of the benefits for health and plant vitality, composting helps to reduce the amount of waste being created by landfills.

If you have a house and lawn of your own, starting a garden couldn't be simpler. You might have to check the local bylaws to make sure you're complying with the rules, but most places allow at least a small well-tended garden plot without a fuss.

A basic compost bin is not difficult to find and requires minimal tending, especially if you go the route my household did and get one that you can simply spin instead of having to stir it up. Good compost requires turning to bring in air, so being able to spin it just saves you time and energy.

In an apartment, a container garden might be the way to go instead. Many vegetables and herbs do just fine in pots, so long as they're large enough for them to spread their roots and they have good drainage. You just need to do a little research about the right place in your apartment to set it up, and how to take care of them. The biggest issue is usually sunlight. If you have a balcony or even just a south facing window, you're probably just fine. If you live in an apartment, composting on your own might be difficult. While properly made compost doesn't smell terrible, the scent might still be noticeable- especially if you forget to turn it every day. Not to mention, the size of the bin you could have in the apartment would be tiny, and it could get messy.

Instead of having a bin in your apartment, maybe ask your landlord if they would be willing to let you set up a small one outside. If the answer is no, check with your friends or family members. If you can't find anywhere to keep a compost heap of your own, try searching for composting drives in your city. If your city or town has a community garden, there's a good chance there's a compost depot too. These places might allow you to simply drop off kitchen scraps and cardboard in the same way you might bring cans or bottles to be recycled. For an added bonus, these places will often also take grass clippings, raked leaves and other yard waste as well. If you have one nearby, call them up and see what kinds of things they take. They may even be willing to come pick it up, saving you the trip!
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Buying less

Of course, the most obvious way to reduce waste in your household is simply to buy less. Obvious, but not always easy. Stores are laid out with impulse shopping in mind, putting cheap junk food near to the checkout where they know you'll be standing in line, looking out at all of the delicious treats around you. The number of times we've been shopping for groceries and wound up walking out with half a cart full of random items is beyond counting.
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Plan your meals

Part of the problem is that we go in with only a vague idea of what we plan to do with it, and you know what they say about good intentions. To counter this, the best solution I can think of is meal planning. Good for reducing waste, and great for reducing your spending as well.

If you buy in bulk and cook in bulk, then making meals for the whole week ahead saves a lot of time and cash. Before your next grocery trip, try taking an inventory of everything you have in your fridge and pantry. Make a list of what you've already got, and then sit down with everyone in the household to do a little research.

Recipe hunting is actually kind of fun, at least in my opinion. And it really helps spark creativity. Maybe that half bag of rice in the pantry could become a pilaf. That dry pasta could be mac and cheese, or maybe minestrone soup. The possibilities are endless.

Once you know what you already have, you can look specifically for recipes that use those ingredients. Plan to make more than one meal out of it if you can. Making a giant stock pot of soup, stew or chili is a great way to save money. Not only does it taste better the next day, but it is easy to portion out and freeze for later meals. That way instead of reaching for easy microwave meals, you have something you can pull out and reheat without any effort. Not only is it tastier, but it's better for you, too.

Going to the grocery store with a couple of recipes written down helps keep you focused, and can help prevent you from wandering around and just filling up your cart with whatever looks good in the moment. Setting aside one day out of the week to meal prep also saves you time. How often do you come home from class or work and find yourself too tired and hungry to cook a real meal? How often do you reach for the phone and order expensive take-out deliveries just for the convenience? With meal prepping, you have a low-effort dinner ready made and waiting for you.
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In conclusion

With inflation running rampant and prices rising all around us, it's easy to feel desperate and anxious about money. Streamlining your purchases and reducing the volume of waste in your home is one way you can give yourself a break from stress.

Being more choosy about where you buy things and what kind of containers and bags you use can drastically reduce the amount of garbage you need to throw away.

Composting and gardening can help you save money, improve the local environment and contribute to the food security of your friends and neighbors as well.

Buying less, planning ahead and preparing your meals for the week can take away a big source of worry. You won't need to fret about where your supper is coming from or if it's going to be tasty and nutritious.

Whatever methods you choose to implement in your home, reducing food waste is great for your personal finances and for the world at large. There's really no downside.
Samantha Woods

Sam Woods

Content editor and contributor at YouthStald Coaching. Visit my blog to read more of my articles and stories.