How much money are you throwing away each year?

I’m not an environmentalist or an environmental advocate. I am just a regular citizen of the world that happens to have a personal finance blog. Having said that, in the last number of years, I have seen environmental changes first hand. Here in Vancouver, it is now getting increasingly hotter in the summer, devastating forest fires are now a regular occurrence in BC every single summer, and we have been getting wetter fall and spring, and snowier winter. I have no doubt in my mind that global warming is real and it is having a direct impact on our daily lives.

We need to do something about it!

A while ago I wrote about how frugality can prevent catastrophic disruption of life on earth. In the post, I suggested doing simple things like turning down the thermostat, turn off lights when not in use, take shorter showers, buy used rather than new, walk, bike, or take public transportation, air dry clothes, drink tap water, etc. All these simple things not only can save us money at end of the day, they also reduce our energy consumption and greenhouse emission. I had also suggested being more mindful consumers by eating less meat, eating more local and in-season as a way to reduce our carbon footprints. These are all very simple and easy steps we can all take as individuals. If each of us can cut down on our energy consumption and how we consume food, collectively we will make a significant difference. Best of all, these simple steps can save you money too!

Recently Mrs. T and I watched an interesting documentary called Wasted! The Story of Food Waste where world-renowned chefs and leaders discussed the problem of food waste. Being a FIRE household, as a way to reduce our grocery expenses, we have been very conscious of our food consumption and food waste. However, our minds were blown by some of the key statistics from the film.

  • 40% of food in America is wasted, and 90% of wasted food ends up in landfills.
  • 1/3 of the food grown annually for human consumption is never eaten.
  • The annual cost of food waste in the US is $1 trillion!
  • 1.3 billions tons of food is wasted every year. And there are 800 million people that are starving!

While you might think the food waste that ends up in landfills can decompose quite easily, therefore not doing any harm to the environment, you are absolutely wrong. You see, landfills are the worst place for food waste to go to. Because in landfills, food waste is trapped under a mountain of garbage & dirt. Without any oxygen, food waste takes much longer to decompose. Furthermore, the lack of oxygen means the food waste will produce methane gas as they decompose. Oh, and methane gas is 25 times worse than carbon dioxide!

How long do you think a head of lettuce takes to decompose in a landfill?

TWENTY FIVE FREAKING YEARS!!! 

Yes, you read that right. 25 years!

Mrs. T and I looked at each other in the eyes in complete disbelief when we learned that.

If we just aimlessly throw out a head of lettuce in the trash, rather than put it in the compost bin, the head of lettuce will sit in the landfill for 25 years before breaking down. That is absolutely insane! One little misstep in our daily lives can lead to a catastrophic result.

We need to change how we think about food waste and what we do with food waste. Another benefit of examining your food waste? You can put more money in your pocket.

 

We mindlessly throw away $1,500 each year

According to the film, the average American family throws out $1,500 worth of food each year. What does that consist of? Extra food that you made, spoiled left-over food, expiring food in the fridge or shelf, etc. It’s crazy to think that the average American family throws $1,500 in the garbage each year without any hesitation! And I am sure us Canadians aren’t that much better either!

Imagine that you’ve been throwing away $1,500 worth of food every year for 10 years. Or $125 every month for 120 months. How much money would you end up if you were to invest that money instead?

Starting at $0, contribute $125 every month for 10 years, with an annual return rate of 8% and a monthly compounding interval, at the end of the 10th year, you’d end up with $23,020.71!

Increase the year to 30 years and you end up with $187,536.90!!!

And people complain that they can’t save up enough money for retirement? Well, perhaps the first step is to stop throwing money in the trash every day!

 

Stop throwing money away

How do we stop throwing $1,500 away every single month? There are a few simple things we can do.

Plan your meals

First, take a look at what you have in your fridge and the non-perishable items on your pantry shelves. Then see what you can make. Next step in meal planning is to allow you to become more efficient with grocery shopping and buy only what you need and plan your meals so you fully utilize all the different food items. This will help you reduce food waste by having fewer unused items.

Understand the expiration date

Everything we buy nowadays seems to have an expiration date. Some expiration dates are “consume by,” some are “best before,” and some are “sell by.” But some expiration dates don’t make any sense at all.

Water now has expiration dates.

Honey now has expiration dates.

Seriously? I don’t think water ever goes bad. Honey doesn’t ever expire!

Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe that expiration date means that once you are past the date, the food items are no longer safe to consume. But this is completely not true. The expiration date does not have anything to do with the risk of food poisoning, the date solely indicates the freshness of the product. Just because something has gone past its expiration date, it doesn’t mean it immediately become inedible.

Furthermore, the different words used in conjunction with the expiration date are inconsistently and create a lot of confusions. According to Times:

  • “Use by” and “Best by”: These dates are intended for consumer use, but are typically the date the manufacturer deems the product reaches peak freshness. It’s not a date to indicate spoilage, nor does it necessarily signal that the food is no longer safe to eat.
  • “Sell by”: This date is only intended to help manufacturers and retailers, not consumers. It’s a stocking and marketing tool provided by food makers to ensure proper turnover of the products in the store so they still have a long shelf life after consumers buy them. Consumers, however, are misinterpreting it as a date to guide their buying decisions. The report authors say that “sell by” dates should be made invisible to the consumer.

What can we do?

First of all, take a look in your house and consume food items before their expiration dates if you can. For items that are past the expiration dates, use the smell test. Does the food item smell funky? If it does, it’s probably no good anymore, so compost it. If it doesn’t smell funky, it’s most likely still good to consume.

Again, this is where meal planning goes a long way. By doing a bit of planning each week, you should be able to determine food items you have that are about to expire and consume them before the expiration dates.

Another thing to consider, if you are consistently finding certain food items going past the expiration date in your house, a good practice is to stop purchasing such an item or purchase a smaller quantity. Even though it may be cheaper to purchase at a larger quantity, if you end up throwing out 80% of the item, you are still throwing money away!

Eat or freeze left-overs

Have left-over from your meal? Don’t just throw it out! Bring the left-over for lunch the next day. This way you get to save some money by not having to buy a lunch. If you have a large batch of left-over and can’t consume it immediately, pack it in a container and put it in the freezer. We regularly do that in our household. For example, when we make lasagna, Mrs. T usually makes 3 or 4 large baking dishes worth of lasagna. We usually eat 2 or 3 of these lasagnas over a week and freeze one of two of them so we can eat them on a later date.

 

Final Thoughts

As citizens of the world, we cannot and shall not turn a blind eye on food waste and think food waste does not matter to our daily lives. Food waste is a global issue and we can improve and possibly resolve the issue if we take actions together.

To learn more about how you can take action check out these resources:

And finally, watch the documentary. You won’t regret it! If you’re in Canada, you can stream it on CBC instead of paying to watch the film.

 

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Joe
    November 26, 2018 at 7:54 am

    We rarely throw food out. It’s not that hard. We buy just what we’ll eat and don’t stock up too much.
    I thought most of the food waste is upstream. Grocery stores get rid of food that doesn’t look nice anymore. Lots of it go to the food bank and local NGO, but I’m pretty sure a huge percentage ends up in the landfill.
    Is there a break down that shows where the food gets thrown out? I can’t believe people throw that much food away. That’s crazy…

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      November 26, 2018 at 11:08 am

      They didn’t show the breakdown but the food waste is throughout the food stream. One example they mentioned in the upstream is broccoli. The broccoli we eat are flowers from the plant and that’s about 40% of the plant. The rest of the plant get thrown out. Restaurant, especially buffets, throw out a lot of still eatable food items. What makes things worse is that these just go straight to the landfills rather than compost bins.

      The film actually broke down the different levels of where food waste should go and used. Very interesting info.

  • Reply
    Dividend Deluge
    November 26, 2018 at 9:50 am

    In my country (and most likely in many other countries too) grocery stores are not allowed to donate food that is going to expire soon and they have to throw it away, even though it would be edible for at least a day or two. At the same time we have a lot of people on the breadline and they don’t have enough food for everyone. I think this is just stupid.

    I personally don’t throw that much food away, since it makes me feel bad to waste food and money.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      November 26, 2018 at 11:09 am

      It’s interesting you mentioned that, they actually mentioned that in the documentary and stated that there has been 0 reports that linked to someone getting sick and expiring food. We simply need to look at food and food waste differently as a society.

  • Reply
    Mr. Tako
    November 26, 2018 at 11:34 am

    I’m with you Bob, food waste is a gigantic waste of money that’s relatively easy to fix! Although some of the statistics you sited are not entirely ‘waste’ — That 1/3 of produce that never gets to market is usually consumed by animals (livestock) or ground-up/composted and tilled back into the soil. So that one at least really isn’t all *that* terrible.

    It’s unfortunate, but consumers usually expect perfect produce. You garden, so you’ll know that produce is rarely “perfect” One of the reasons why I like my local asian grocery store is that they’ll sell imperfect produce at a reduced price.

    Great post Bob!

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      November 26, 2018 at 4:43 pm

      Hi Mr. Tako,

      Yes 1/3 of produce gets consumed by animals but do pigs really need to be fed soy? Or can they be fed with left-over food? That’s what Japan is doing with their pigs and apparently, the pork tastes amazing (it was in the film). And you’ll be surprised how much stuff is getting thrown out instead of being composted and tilled back into the soil.

      Shopping locally and support your local farmers is a great thing to do. I think growing your own veggies and utilize the veggies fully is another thing to do.

  • Reply
    Chris @ Mindful Explorer
    November 26, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    We purposely search out the past the date products at the grocery as they are always marked down and on clearance. We buy the brown bananas, we buy the bruised cauliflower for .99 and the bags of lettuce for 1.99 because it is on the best before date. So much waste and don’t get me started on the horrible amount of food waste/energy waste/pollution that is along path of putting a piece of chicken or meat on your plate (hence why we are vegetarian now).

    I honestly feel that there should be regular random household waste audits in our municipalities. If you curbside garbage is found to have organics, compostables and recyclables in the mix you are imposed an additional levy or fine.

    Thanks for adding this post to you message Bob !
    Also for additional info this couple did amazing work with both of their documentaries based out of Vancouver
    Clean Bin Project > https://youtu.be/7YKHLiwdBDY
    Just Eat It > https://youtu.be/zkASAZGIuu0

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      November 27, 2018 at 9:48 am

      We regularly purchase marked down items in grocery stores too. I’ll have to watch these documentaries later. Glad that we aren’t the only ones keeping a close eye on food consumption and food waste.

  • Reply
    TR
    November 30, 2018 at 8:14 am

    We don’t have kids so we find that it is hard to finish all the food. We can buy a small bag of potatoes or a large one for like 50 cents more but we will eventually have to throw some out because they go rotten. Same with onions.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      November 30, 2018 at 12:11 pm

      Perhaps the solution is buy simple ones rather than a small bag? And perhaps try to use the potatoes and onions in all of the meals you’re making. 🙂

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