Updated: Jan 7
The holiday season is like the Superbowl for plants. It’s their time to shine as decorations, garnishes, gifts, and of course delicious meals of all kinds. It can also put a spotlight on one of the world’s greatest environmental issues - food waste.
Globally 1.3 billion tons of edible food is wasted each year. In 2017, the U.S. alone generated 40.7 million tons of food waste.
This food waste has a carbon footprint equivalent to 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere every year.
Globally the direct economic consequences of food waste (excluding fish and seafood) is $750 billion annually (1). In the U.S. a single person can save an estimated $370 per year by reducing food waste (2).
Imagine what an extra $370 worth of plants would look like in your home!
Reducing food waste is a simple way to save money, reduce your environmental footprint, and even green your home. Here are a 'few' ideas to get you started.
1. Enough is as good as a feast!
Very likely you plan more for holiday meals than you do in a regular week which is great. Power-up your planning. Go a step beyond simply making a grocery list based on a recipe. Think carefully about the number of people you are feeding and serving sizes. Plan to have 3-5 extra portions; not 10.
2. Evolve family traditions.
If it is a tradition to have a certain dish (aka a giant turkey at Thanksgiving or a casserole from a particular relative) but in reality you throw half of it away two days later - it’s likely time to evolve that tradition. If people in your family really don’t like a dish or only eat a small portion for the sake of tradition - try a slow but intentional evolution.
(a) Make a smaller portion than normal (roast turkey legs instead of a whole turkey).
(b) Try a competition. Host a competition to see who can make the best new version of a family staple. (Make sure the prize is something very embarrassing they will have to take many photos with for enjoyment at future gatherings).
3. Ready to Go.
Encourage guests to bring containers to your holiday dinners so they can pack extras to take home. Or, provide containers for them that you don’t need returned.
4. Don’t leave me here!
Do a refrigerator clean out before you leave for holiday trips.
(a) Freeze items that can be reused later.
(b) Make a soup the day before you leave. This is an easy way to use up vegetables, proteins, grains - pretty much whatever you have. Slip whatever soup you don’t eat into the freezer for any easy hot meal to come home to.
(c) Pack traveling snacks instead of leaving them to rot in the fridge. You can’t take water through airport security but you can take food!
STORE FOOD PROPERLY
5. Keep the temperature of your refrigerator at 40° F or below and your freezer at 0° F to ensure food safety (3).
Wash lettuce as soon as you get it home. Spin or lay flat to air dry. Store in a bag in the fridge with paper towels or a thin cloth napkin.
Store mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator. This will prevent them from getting slimy.
8. Potatoes and Onions
Store potatoes and onions outside of the fridge in a cool, dry, and dark area. Use a basket for storage if possible to allow air flow to the items on the bottom. (If you use a plastic bin, try adding a few holes at the bottom for air flow).
(a) Treat cut annual herbs like fresh cut flowers. Basil, Cilantro, Dill, Parsley, and Mint can be stored in the fridge in a glass with an inch of water. Change the water every few days and cut away any parts starting to go brown. (If they are still getting brown, try moving your glass outside of the fridge. It may be too cold in there).
(b) Woody/hardy herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, chives).
Arrange lengthwise on a damp paper towel, roll up and keep sealed in a plastic bag or container. Store in the refrigerator.
(c) Grow your own herbs. Have fresh herbs whenever you want, minimize cost, and reduce food waste. Win+Win+Win. Try the Hortiki Plants Indoor Herb Kit to get started.
10. Ethylene producers
Store apples, pears, tomatoes, and bananas away from other produce. They give off a natural gas (ethylene) as they ripen that could cause other produce near them to ripen more quickly than you’d like.
To keep berries fresh, layer them between paper towels (or thin cloth napkins) in a sealed container. This will absorb excess moisture and reduce chances of molding. Remove any moldy, crushed, or spoiled berries from the bunch so they won’t cause others in the bunch decay (4).
Need help remembering all that? Download this quick reference guide on how to store food. Keep on the refrigerator as a handy reminder on how to keep foods at their maximum freshness.
MAKE SMART FOOD EXPIRATION DECISIONS
12. Use foods based on actual quality not based on “sell by” or “use by” dates on packaging.
(a) Those dates do not indicate how safe your food is to eat.
(b) Except for infant formula, those dates are not required by Federal law and are put there to help consumers and retailers decide when food is of the best quality.
(c) While your food items may not be at peak freshness after the date passes, they are likely still safe to eat.
(d) Instead of relying on the date, carefully check your food for signs of spoilage. If you don’t find any - feast on!
*Find more information on use-by and sell-by dates from the United States Department of Agriculture - Food Safety and Inspection Service.
COOK WITH FOOD SCRAPS
Minimize food waste by fully utilizing all your supplies
13. Onions, garlic, shallot, celery, green onion - use the cut pieces to flavor and color broth. Onion peels can add a rich golden tone to broths and add extra flavor and nutrients too.
14. Carrot, apple, pear peelings - add these to muffins for a fiber boost that won’t significantly alter the flavor of what you are making.
15. Citrus peels and cucumber peels - add to water for fresh flavor boost.
16. Meats - make broths or stews using the bones from your meat. Also consider freezing to flavor future pots of beans, lentils, and broths.
17. Toast squash and pumpkin seeds for a crunchy and nutritious snack
18. Create flavored oil and vinegar with leftover herbs, cranberries, and citrus peels. Check- out this tip-sheet from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension to learn how. Bonus Tip - Citrus peel vinegar is a safe and effective household cleaner.
19. Carrot, potato, and apple peels make fiber rich, pet safe treats when turned into pet ‘chips’. Drizzle washed and dried peels with olive oil. Bake in a 400 degree oven, until brown and crispy, about 15 minutes.
20. Remove bones from over-cooked meat, or scraps of meat you won’t eat and share with your pet for an extra treat.
21. Don’t give your pets chives or onion, but other herbs like oregano, basil, mint, and parsley are okay. Chop and add as a garnish to their food.
If you’re unsure whether or not it is safe to feed a particular plant to your pet, check the ASPCA Toxicity Database.
DIY BEAUTY CARE WITH FOOD SCRAPS
22. Make a body scrub out of used coffee grounds. Mix with salt and olive oil to make a moisturizing exfoliant.
23. Freeze used tea bags and cucumber peels. Use as eye masks to soothe tired eyes and reduce puffiness (5).
24. Banana peels.
(a) Banana peels contain phenolics, which have strong antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. They contain bioactive compounds, such as carotenoids and polyphenols which have anti-inflammatory properties (6).
(b) Use as first aid to reduce inflammation and irritation from bug bites, burns, and rashes.
(c) Rub on skin to brighten skin, help fade scars, and moisturize.
GROW PLANTS FROM FOOD SCRAPS
25. Lettuce bottoms in water.
Place the bottom of lettuce heads in a small bowl of water to regrow. Change water every few days and harvest in 2-4 weeks.
26. Carrot tops, potato eyes, onion bottoms in soil.
Place these scraps in soil to regrow. Keep lightly moist while waiting for germination. Potato vines can also be grown in a glass with water and they make lovely ornamental vines. Check-out this previous post to learn how: Now is the Time - Sweet Potato Vine.
27. Dry and save vegetable and fruit seeds for spring/summer planting.
You may not get true fruits (the exact type and flavor of fruit) from the seeds, but it’s fun to experiment and an inexpensive way to add greenery to your home.
28. Add used tea and coffee grounds to plant containers as a natural fertilizer for plants that thrive in acidic soils. Herbs like lemongrass, oregano, thyme, and rosemary can all tolerate soils with a pH as low as 5; Blueberries and some houseplants (African violets, impatiens, Phaleonopsis orchids, and dieffenbachia) can also receive your leftover grounds safely.
If you try all the ideas above you shouldn't have much food waste left at the end of your upcoming holiday feasts. But ensure that whatever is left doesn't end up in a landfill. Start a home compost bin or check your neighborhood for area composting facilities. Community gardens are a great place to start as many grow their own compost for use in the garden and will welcome your scraps.
Okay. That's it! Hope these ideas help you save money, reduce your environmental impact and green your life. Are there any ideas you are planning to try? Let me know in the comments below. Hortiki and I would love to cheer you on!
Victoria LeBeaux, PhD
Founder, Hortiki Plants