Fight Food Waste and Rising Costs by Using What's Already in Your Fridge

There may still be lots of life left in those sad, limp ingredients.

mother holding son looks in fridge for ingredients

Ben Bloom / Getty Images

Earth Day has come and gone, but our efforts to help the planet should continue every day. One thing you could try is cutting down on food waste. Such an effort helps reduce the amount of food going to landfill, where it emits methane and contributes to global warming at a faster rate than carbon dioxide.

The amount of food you waste personally may not seem like a lot, but multiplied across millions of households worldwide, it's a significant problem, measuring roughly 1.3 billion tons. An estimated one-third of food produced globally for human consumption never gets eaten, so this is an area in desperate need of improvement.

According to Project Drawdown, "Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8% of global emissions."

Curbing food waste will also save you money—always a good thing, but even more relevant these days with rising food costs. These price increases are driven by a number of factors, including the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, labor and energy costs, but as Sylvain Charlebois, director of Dalhousie University's Agri-Food Analytics Lab, told Global News, "The difference between now and a decade ago is we believe this increase is going to sustain itself. We are expecting many months of higher food inflation rates, higher food prices." 

The problem's not going away, so we need to adjust how we shop and use the ingredients we buy. Charlebois says the best way to save money is to reduce food waste: "So whatever you buy, make sure you eat it. That’s really the key here." 

We all know that's easier said than done, but British cookbook author Jack Monroe, aka the Bootstrap Cook, has some great suggestions for how scraps can be made scrumptious. In an Earth Day partnership with Twitter UK, Monroe tweeted a collection of recipes and ideas for repurposing some of the most commonly wasted ingredients.

The first one, salad-bag pesto, is surprising in its simplicity and brilliance. Those bags of salad mix that are often marked down because they go bad so quickly are in fact an excellent base for pesto. Blend with oil, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, and optional Parmesan cheese for a pesto that can be used on pasta, bread, eggs, or whatever you like. (You can use a variety of other greens for this, too.)

Monroe explains that apples past their prime work as a great substitute for eggs in baking, thanks to pectin that's a natural binding agent. Even banana peels can be washed and blended into banana bread—who knew? Sour milk, of course, is still good for baking and can be mixed into a quick soda bread with flour, baking soda, and a drop of vinegar; and stale bread can be added to soup for texture and thickness.

Monroe's Twitter feed and website are a treasure trove of zero-waste and budget-friendly cooking tips, so if you're looking to cut down on cost and waste, do check them both out. There are also lots of clever tips from commenters in the Twitter thread, from mixing stale bread into omelets to using thinly-sliced broccoli stalks as a substitute for water chestnuts in stir-fry to turning limp fruit into refreshing granita. 

Last night, I was about to toss a heel of bread into the compost, when I thought of Monroe. So I blitzed it in the blender, dumped the crumbs into a bag, and tossed it in the freezer. Now I have breadcrumbs on hand for whenever I need them next. Sometimes we just need little reminders that small actions add up, and ingredients that may look like they've reached the end of their lives still have some usefulness left in them. Hopefully you'll find Monroe's resources as inspiring as I did.

You can also check out Treehugger's extensive archive of stories on reducing food waste, such as 8 strategies for fighting food waste at home and creative ideas for using up ingredients.

View Article Sources
  1. "Methane: A Crucial Opportunity in the Climate Fight." Environmental Defense Fund.

  2. "Worldwide Food Waste." Think Eat Save.

  3. "5 Facts About Food Waste and Hunger." World Food Programme.

  4. "Reduced Food Waste." Project Drawdown.