Updated April 27th, 2015.
Cutting back on food waste should be on everyone's to-do list. With an estimated 40 percent of food wasted in the US, our ever-growing food waste epidemic is not only costly for consumers and businesses, who toss billions of dollars in the trash each year, but also takes a toll on our environment. So, unless you're looking to lose extra weight from your wallet this year, simply making sure that your leftovers get eaten could be your way to save money and lower your environmental footprint.
Luckily, avoiding food waste is also getting easier. Innovators have begun to take advantage of convenient web and mobile platforms that make spending time on your phone mean the difference between tossing out that week-old chili and enjoying delicious, low-cost, leftover meals (or avoiding leftovers in the first place). Check out these tools that put the fight against food waste at your fingertips.
Measuring Your "Foodprint"
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Food Waste Management Cost Calculator pinpoints where your food and money are slipping through our current waste-friendly system. After creating your waste profile, the accessible Excel-based program conducts a cost comparison of your current disposal methods versus alternatives, like donating and composting.
- While the EPA food waste profiler is useful, you need to feed it precise data to get the best waste estimates. Apps like Food Waste Diary are designed to help you actually get a handle on how much food you toss. Save entries documenting each food casualty in your own personal waste database and you will begin to see how much money you've wasted as well as what you waste the most, and how. Similar tools include Love Food Hate Waste's Food Waste Diary printout and Unilever's Wise up on Food Waste app.
- Food businesses are also prone to waste, which has inspired services like LeanPath to help quantify food waste and help kitchen managers make adjustments. Also check Unilever's Your Kitchen tips, app, and research reports.
Planning Perfect Meal Portions
Preparing too much food can really increase your food waste, and your waistline. This is where tools like Love Food Hate Waste's Portion Control webpage come in handy. Tell the calculator how many people you're feeding and what you're serving, and it will return estimated amounts (in grams) that you should put on the table. Similar applications can be found here; although most focus on healthful portions, the outcome of gauging correct meal sizes will help you to prevent food waste.
Stocking Your Pantry
How often do you choose a recipe only to realize that you're missing a number of key ingredients? Or wonder what can you do with those random perishables on the edge of edible? Apps like Love Food Hate Waste, Big Oven, Spinning Meals, and Handpick can help you find recipes for what you already have in the fridge, and some even help you track your inventory and plan ahead. ChefSheet helps track inventory for free for smaller pantries, and at a monthly or yearly rate for business kitchens.
Track Expiration Dates: Is It Safe to Eat?
If you're prone to letting food go bad, these apps could change your life. Fresh Pantry and Fresh Food allow users to list items they have and associate the items with expiration dates. Technologies may start to integrate these services, such as LG's Smart Refrigerator and app that help consumers manage what goes into their fridge. Ecocentric readers know that expiration dates printed on foods are not representative of actual spoilage dates, and that's where Still Tasty steps in. The website and app provide a quick ingredient search offering general information about how long various perishables will last, including handy storage tips, so you can customize your dates more accurately. Also, check out the USDA's FoodKeeper app for similar storage and spoilage advice.
Eat Your Leftovers
The price of food plummets when you make two meals for the cost of one. Check out the Love Your Leftovers app for quick recipes incorporating those last bites into a brand new dish.
Food and Buyer Match-ups
Suppliers, including restaurants, grocers and producers throw away staggering amounts of food at every stage of the process. Despite scrutiny from health departments, it's clear that tools connecting people with unwanted food have a place in our society.
- Use Sustainable America's Food Rescue Locator to search a directory of organizations across the United States that rescue, glean, transport, prepare, and distribute food to the needy in their communities.
- Food Cowboy is a company built on this concept, redirecting unwanted food shipments to food banks, caterers and other establishments. The company has gone local with an app because there is a huge need for food sharing at the municipal level. Individuals and organizations can use the app to coordinate food deliveries to donation sites.
- Help a family in need through Hungry Harvest, which donates surplus produce shares for every share purchased.
- The Leloca app matches consumers with deals at restaurants seeking to fill empty tables, which in turn cuts food waste at participating eateries.
- Bloomfield Farm in California realized that crates of produce they didn't sell on market days were going to waste, so they advertised excess produce to the community using Facebook updates, prompting a tremendous response. The general manager took the idea a step further, creating Crop Mobster, a California-based website that connects local food items with ready buyers.
- Meanwhile, Keep Austin Fed connects restaurants and producers in Austin, Texas, with volunteers who distribute excess food to people in need.
- And it's not just for food producers and distributors - with the recent release of Leftover Swap, anyone with leftovers can advertise and sell their food to anyone with a smartphone.
- As a shopper, you may soon be able to help grocery stores avoid waste as well. Although still in development, EcoBasket, FoodLoop, PareUp and MobBucket are four brilliant apps ideas that would help shoppers capitalize on deals on expiring items. Forget food waste - if you're into bargain shopping, these apps could turn last-choice veggies, fruits and other perishables into a real savings.
Even if you think you have it all figured out in the food department, giving your foodprint another look is worth a shot to cut back on inefficiencies. By finding the right apps for your food waste problems, you can go from wasting time on your phone to cutting waste in your kitchen.