We asked our Instagram followers to send through their burning food waste and packaging questions so we could help them (and ourselves!) learn more about how to become less wasteful in our everyday lives. Our panel of sustainability pros came through with some informative and inspiring answers.
MEET THE EXPERTS
Krietta Marley is a Director of Operations for Foodprint Group, a New York-based (but globally operating) company that helps food and hospitality organizations reduce their waste and improve recycling processes. She's a certified TRUE Zero Waste Advisor and, full disclosure, also happens to be a long-time friend of mine!
Next up is Vivian Lin, architect-turned-founder of Groundcycle, a Brooklyn-based door-to-door service that picks up compost and delivers farm-fresh local produce to the borough's residents. Vivian started Groundcycle in 2020 after the city had officially stopped collecting compost. Since its conception, Groundcycle has diverted over 75,000 pounds (!) of organic waste.
And finally, there's me! I'm Lena Abraham, Delish's Senior Food Editor and casual sustainability enthusiast. I do my best to keep my food waste low as a recipe developer and I've picked up some tricks along the way.
Read on for hot tips for reducing your at-home waste.
What are some easy ways to reduce my plastic use?
KM: A good first place to start is choosing reusable products over disposable plastics. Try carrying a tote bag when you are out and about and bringing a reusable coffee cup or thermos when you get coffee. (Little-known fact: Coffee cups are lined with a thin layer of plastic, they cannot be recycled!) Opt out of utensils when you get delivery or takeout, and use your own silverware.
LA: There are lots of bar soaps made specifically for washing dishes, so you can finally kiss those plastic bottles goodbye. Or, if you're liquid soap-or-bust, get yourself a refillable soap dispenser and start buying your soap in bulk. (Bonus: This also saves money in the long run!)
What's something you wish more people knew about food waste?
KM: Food waste in our country is not only shameful because millions of Americans experience food insecurity today, but also because most of it ends up in a landfill. Landfills tend to be anaerobic—or low oxygen—environments and food waste needs access to oxygen in order to break down properly. Because it doesn’t have the what it needs in a landfill, it generates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Methane is around 25 times more powerful than CO2, and it ends up in our environment every time we throw food waste in the trash as opposed to composting it.
VL: It's not gross or smelly...if you keep it the right way! Frozen food scraps are the best and least messy to deal with. Food waste should never be thrown into the regular trash because it won't have the opportunity to decompose in landfill. If you compost it instead, it'll have the opportunity to turn into more food. It's a beautiful zero-waste cycle that everyone should participate in!
What is something you feel is often overlooked in convos about sustainability?
VL: Sustainability is for everyone, but it is not one-size-fits-all—what works for one person's lifestyle might not for someone else. There's also no perfection in sustainability. As long as we're all trying our best, that's all we can really ask for. Eco-anxiety is real and it's stifling, so try not to get bogged down by everything out there. Focus on the positive and spread the word.
Can I still compost if I don't have a garden?
VL: Yes! If you don't want to deal with it yourself, find a local community garden that accepts food scraps & make it a habit to drop it off regularly. ShareWaste is a great resource for finding a neighbor who can potentially take your organics to process. At Groundcycle, we try to make composting as easy and exciting as possible for our members. We'll provide you with a five-gallon garden bin to collect your scraps in, pick it up to bring to local farms, and swap it out with locally grown produce—all at the comfort of your own home. Lastly, if you want to put in a little extra work to process it yourself, worm composting, Bokashi fermentation, and tumblers are also great options.
How do I know when my compost is ready to use?
VL: It shouldn't resemble food scraps anymore, and if you bring it to your nose, it should smell earthy, not sour.
What small tweaks can I make to my everyday life to make me a less wasteful person?
KM: Cook at home (and eat your leftovers!). Buy grains and legumes in bulk. Shop at farmers markets—they use much less packaging, the food tends to be in season, and it travels less far to get to you. Shop in brick-and-mortar stores and avoid online shopping because shipped products often come with so much unnecessary packaging.
What are your favorite reusable products?
KM: I have about a million kitchen towels and I don’t use paper towels. I find those tend to really bulk up your trash, and most compost sites either refuse or don’t love taking a lot of compostable paper. If you have a bunch of kitchen towels, you can just use one as a paper towel and throw it right in the laundry!
VL: My Kinto thermos is so well-designed and my favorite on-the-go reusable product. It's the perfect size and keeps your coffee warm. If you want super compact, Stojos are also great and surprisingly leak-proof. I also love compact reusable bags that fold down small—a really fun one is Braceletote; it acts as an accessory and is super fun to open and close (look it up, trust me).
LA: If you're into baking, consider buying some Silpat baking mats! You'll save so many sheets of parchment paper and aluminum foil. It is worth noting that food-grade silicone (AKA Silpat material) isn't great for browning, so for crispy roasted veggies, it's best to roast directly on your sheet pans.
What is the most sustainable packaging? Plastic? Aluminum?
KM: In terms of disposables, aluminum and glass are great because they can be recycled infinitely. Metal has a much higher recycling value than glass in most parts of the US because our glass processing infrastructure is very poor. Cardboard also has high recyclability and value. Plastics are way down at the bottom of the list because they usually can only be recycled two-to-three times.
Products associated with sustainability aren't cheap. How can I save money but still be sustainable?
KM: I love this question! I’m going to sound like a broken record, but buying pantry items in bulk, cooking at home instead of getting takeout, and buying second-hand are some of my biggest strategies. Also, remember that reusables will last you a long time, while disposables have to be replaced over and over.
That said, it’s going to take a critical mass and political pressure for us to see the real cost of some of our most unsustainable products. Supermarket beef and corn products tend to be so cheap because these products are subsidized by the government, while small farms' whole foods don’t have that boost. Sustainable alternatives—like bamboo straws—tend to be much more expensive than their plastic counterparts because lower production and demand means manufacturers can’t achieve as much buying power and supply chain efficiency. It’s going to take a sea change culminating from our individual efforts to push these industries and our society toward more favorable—and accessible—sustainable options.
How do I make spinach last longer?
LA: Pick out any slimy or yellowed leaves, and store the rest in a cool spot in the back of your fridge. A kitchen towel placed on the bottom of your container is helpful for wicking excess moisture, but it's not necessary. You can find more tips on what to do with your nearly-rotten veggies here.