Food waste + landfill = bad, and getting worse. Here's what you can do about it

Anna Vod · September 19, 2023 · Short URL:

There are ways to shop for food sustainably while saving money, too

Both condo associations where I rented over the past few years in Central Florida removed the recycling containers after too many residents dumped in trash without sorting. And with so few Americans recycling, what will it take to raise awareness about other pressing landfill issues like methane-emitting food waste?

First, let’s talk stats and impact. In the United States alone, between 30% and 40% of food is wasted. There’s no clear calculation for the land, water, labor, energy, pesticides, processing, transporting, packaging, storage and other labors and materials wasted along with that.

Then there’s methane – a greenhouse gas with 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the near term. And food is the main filler of municipal landfills thanks to you and me, the everyday consumer. According to the USDA, one American family trashes $1,500 worth of food every year.

And we trash our food not only if we let it spoil, but also when the expiration date is past due – which is another iffy point. The lack of federal regulations in this space leads consumers to discard perfectly safe-to-eat products. To name just a couple mislabeled products, StillTasty, a shelf-life guide that gathers info from official and academic sources, argues that eggs maintain their quality for about three weeks after the expiry date, while yogurt that’s been continuously stored in the fridge is usually good for up to two weeks past due date.

Now, to the main point.

Consuming sustainably

Today, many companies around the world are building their business around food waste. And while they all help save the planet, some of them also help save you money. Let’s close in on a few.

Misfits Market crossed the feed of my Instagram a few times. The company, based in New Jersey, claims its food delivery boxes will save you up to 40% on organic and high-quality grocery items including not just store-ugly fruit and veggies, but also meat and seafood, bakery items, dairy, and other foodstuffs. Misfits gets its products from “farms and food hubs across the Americas and occasionally beyond” and its cooking essentials and pantry staples from brands with excess inventory, according to its website.

Operating similarly to Misfits is Imperfect Foods, which also sports a quiz-based virtual cart pre-fill option to help save shoppers time. In addition, it makes self-branded items like chocolate bars that contain leftovers, funky-looking produce, and upcycled ingredients.

Hungry Harvest is similar, delivering a variety of farm-fresh produce and grocery items weekly to the doorstep, though it has yet to expand beyond a handful of locations. The company urges audacity and experimenting with new fruits and veggies in the kitchen, offering a variety of box sizes.

In Canada, there’s FoodHero, which sells grocery stores’ surplus at a 25% to 60% discount in a daily auction on its app. While you have to pick up the items at the store yourself, you pay no delivery fee like you would with the previous three guys. FoodHero has partnered with IGA, Metro, Rachelle-Béry, and Marché Tradition, and it plans to expand its network, it said on its website. The app also offers recipes and tips on reusing food leftovers, as well as ways to reduce disposables in your day-to-day.

Next up, Toronto-based Flashfood offers a similar experience, selling stores’ extra inventory at a 50% discount. Flashfood now counts more than 1,000 locations across Canada and the United States, and has more participating stores compared to FoodHero. I did a search on its app and was actually able to find some deals at a nearby store.

TooGoodToGo is another one, operating under the same concept. The company, founded in Denmark, has presence in major European cities and is increasing foothold in North America. Earlier this year, TooGoodToGo partnered with FoodCycle LA in Los Angeles, which takes surplus food to communities in need and whose mission states “feed people not landfills.” In my location, near Orlando, TooGoodToGo listed a restaurant and a bakery where I could pick up discounted food on this day.

Food scraps have purpose too

There is also a slew of companies that help you save the world when you purchase products they made from rescued ingredients.

Among them is San Francisco-based Regrained. The company makes healthy products like flour that are upcycled from beer-brewing grain leftovers – isn’t that something?

There's also Wtrmln Wtr in Denver, whose juices you've likely seen at your local grocery store. The company began from an idea to give a home for store-discarded watermelons. Then there's Renewal Mill, based in Oakland and founded by women, that sells baking mixes from upcycled ingredients. Its website inspires to "save the planet by being ridiculously creative with neglected nutrients." There's Barnana in LA, which makes delicious snacks from upcycled bananas and plaintains. 

Here’s another company set on reducing the amount of food waste with its technology: Mill. Got potato peels, egg shells, stale bread? – Why not turn them into chicken food? San Bruno, Cali-based Mill sends you a kitchen bin the size of a trash can that takes weeks to fill up: “It grinds, dries, and de-smellifies everything overnight. Plus, it’s a looker,” the startup’s website declares. When the bin fills up, just schedule a pickup through the app – and someone will take it to the farms.

So far, 1000s of homes in the U.S. are using Mill, the company told Vator in an email. "Households want to make sustainable choices, but it needs to be easy to do the right thing. Mill helps with that. Here’s the revolutionary part: It requires practically no intervention. Drop in kitchen scraps. Empty the bin every few weeks," Mill said.

A 2022 preliminary assessment estimated that a Mill membership can avoid a half metric ton of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) emissions per household per year, according to the company.

Currently, Mill has a wait list for individuals signing up for the service, but it promises to make it worth your while. Once you sign up with a $30 down payment, you’re in queue – and for every new month of waiting, a $5 discount is added onto your account for the future service. I’m actually in line for that one, that’s how I know.

There are lots more companies that did not make my list. Perhaps, I'll write a "Part 2" at some point. For now, I leave it to you to search for some local accessible options – because there are plenty of ways to be a responsible citizen of this planet.

By the way, I’m still angry at my COA for the absence of recycling containers because I have to hunt for alternatives. No joke, I take some of my plastic to the bins outside the nearest Publix.

Lastly, here's an infographic from the USDA with some tips on food-waste awareness practices in the household.

Infographic: USDA

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