When in human history have we ever not had to plan ahead for our needs? Overnight shipping is only a recent development.
Plan what you’ll eat
You don’t need to plan for every morsel you will consume for the entire week but a little bit of planning will help you reduce waste. You won’t buy too much food because you’ll buy only what you need according to your plan. This will not only reduce food waste and the methane emissions that wasted food generates in a landfill, it will also save you money. The average American family of four throws away $1,500 worth of food every year.
By planning ahead, you’ll also reduce your packaging waste. You’ll buy less packaged convenience food at the end of the day when you’re hungry and have no idea what to eat for dinner. Instead of grabbing the first thing that looks good, you’ll follow your meal plan.
To determine what you’ll put on the menu, start with a quick inventory of your pantry and refrigerator. What you find there will serve as the basis for what you’ll cook next. Go here for simple, 4-step meal planning.
Plan what you’ll buy and how you’ll buy it
Once you’ve figured out what you’ll cook, make a list of missing ingredients and only then buy more food. Figure out how many reusable cloth shopping bags, produce bags and jars you’ll need to take with you. This few minutes of planning will eliminate piles of packaging waste.
Always be prepping
I have bowls or jars of food fermenting or soaking on my counter pretty much at all times. This keeps my kitchen running efficiently. By prepping these components in advance for a dish, I create something like my own meal kit but without the cardboard box, single-use plastic bags for each and every ingredient plus throwaway freezer packs filled with goo.
In the picture above, I have:
- A bowl of wild rice and a bowl of moong dal with a pinch of fenugreek soaking to make dosas—thin, Indian crepes. (I can’t find the dosa-making staple urad dal in bulk to save my life so I’m using whatever small lentils I have on hand).
- Some of the sourdough discard left over from feeding my starter (bottom left) went into cracker dough (top right) which ferments for several hours on the counter before I either bake crackers the same day or refrigerate and bake them later in the week.
- The soaked beans went into soup.
All three of these delicious recipes that I prepped for also happen to cost very little.
With even just a handful of ingredients prepped, I lay the foundation for our next meal or two or three by building on what I’ve already started, rather than cooking every dish from scratch.
Plan how you’ll deal with waste
If we had to pay for the real price of disposal, we could close down landfills and incinerators. The cost to our planet would make buying anything but necessities exorbitantly expensive.
Shopper: “This sweater costs only $49 but the disposal costs to build and run the incinerator in which the sweater will go up in flames, plus the costs of curbside pickup, including the garbage truck and the fuel to run it and the wages to pay all of the waste management workers that sort through the trash, plus some sort of pollution tax adds up to $4,000.” Shopper puts sweater back on the shelf. “It doesn’t look that good on me anyway.”
(I’m totally making up numbers here but you get the gist.)
Since we don’t live in a utopia (one woman’s utopia is another’s dystopia), before buying more stuff, we can consider how to deal with said stuff at the end of its useful life. If the item won’t biodegrade naturally and we know we will not be able to repair, upcycle or reuse the item, we can avoid buying it in the first place.
Carry your zero-waste essentials
One of my favorite Indian restaurants serves fantastic chai. To avoid tearing into the individually wrapped sugar packets on the table, I bring a small container of sugar. I also bring a couple of containers to pack up any food we can’t finish. This way, I waste neither the food nor the throwaway container that the restaurant provides for leftovers. These actions require a bare minimum of effort and planning. And having leftovers all packed up and ready to go into a lunch the next day saves time.
Planning ahead like this forces us to live more intentionally, slow down and as a result, waste less. So while my tiny jar won’t save the world, the intention behind it will help. And all of our small actions do add up.