Any talk about energy conservation usually begins with energy saving bulbs and ends with Toyota Prius. A little more educated people will tell you about blinds with reflective coating and insulating attic. It’s weird that in peoples’ mind conservation = buying stuff that conserves. Less often thought is given to how we ourselves can change, consume less, plan more and also save money in the process.
Open a refrigerator in a typical home and you will see it overflowing with stuff. Vegetables, milk, eggs, different types of fruit juices, and what not. Many of us will come home, take a look at the refrigerator, then either feel too overwhelmed with the available choices, or feel there are not enough choices, and then pick up the phone to order pizza.
On a good weekend morning, we again attack the fridge, find a lot of stuff with expiry date over, pick it and toss it in garbage.
What if we try to keep count of how much food we waste? What if we are able to cut down on this expenditure and save food as well as save money?
Here is an article that talks about the wasted food statistics in USA. A average family of four in USA tosses about $600 per year in terms of wasted food. A total about 100 billion pounds in weight, this food would be enough to feed 700 million people.
And talk about environmental costs of that food. Take a simple bread as an example.
It takes fertilizers to make crops grow. Those fertilizers are produced from crude oil derivatives. It takes oil to drive the giant machines that cut and clean the crop. It takes energy to build and operate the machines that separate the grains and chaff. Then machines are used to grind the grains, processes the flour and bakes the bread. Then again energy and more materials for packing, then transport. Here is a link to Fat Knowledge blog which further contains a link to a collection of research papers (warning: megabyte PDF file). Conclusion: One kg bread (roughly 2 lb) takes about 4.4 MJ energy to just produce and transport to average consumer home. That comes to about 1 million calories of energy. If the bread is thrown away, then there is additional energy to transport it as trash. This means wasted money, wasted energy and wasted environmental resources.
Don’t we know that there are hungry people? Yes. Don’t we know that we are wasting money when we waste food? Yes. Don’t we know that we are wasting energy and precious environmental resources when we are wasting food? Yes we know.
Yet we continue to do so.
Because we are the byproduct of the society we live in. In today’s society, a good part of our buying decisions, like what we buy, when, how much is sometimes dictated more by business models of the companies than our individual needs.
The size of packaging, the expiry dates, the buy-one-get-one-free deals, everything kind of seduces us to do things we don’t really need to do.
I remember one thing distinctly. When I came to USA a few years back, one thing that struck me was the giant size of sliced bread loaf. Not only each bread slice was almost double of what I was used to in Bombay, the length of loaf was also almost close to double. There are smaller loafs available, but the half sized loaf almost costs the same as the big one. So you invariably end up buying the big one, because that’s more food per $.
You eat that a couple of times, and then you get bored eating that giant bread. It goes on the back shelf. You are busy and you are continuously buying more stuff. So that goes on back shelf. Some time later, you notice it, you pick it up and throw in trash.
Assuming average1$ perpound of food, $100 Billion are being wasted every year in food in USA. As mentioed above, all that money and energy to make it, transport it, store it , then discard it as trash and dump it goes waste when that food is wasted.
So what to do? How to manage food inventory better?
This inventory management question is a complex one and a lot of research has been done on this question. Here are some things we can do.
1. Start keeping track – First step of changing anything is being aware of it fully. When you buy food, keep track of it. When you eat food, make a note somewhere. When you throw away food, make a note. Do a food balance sheet somehow. This will help you identify a lot of bad habits.
2. Plan food- This is easier said than done. But worth trying. Even if you come up with a plan with one good point, it is worth in the long run.
3. The Toyota solution- Buy just in time. Do not buy a bulk of food in advance. Buying in bulk might save you some money in the food price. But your preferences change, your get bored, something else comes up. So you end up wasting food you bought and the savings go down the drain. So if possible, buy only two or three days worth of food at a time and buy that well planned. Decide how many lunches you will eat and what you will eat for each lunch, etc.
It is difficult to estimate all the energy saved when you save one pound of food from going waste. Tremendous amount of energy goes in farming, harvesting, cooking, packing, transporting, shelving, then transporting to your house, then getting picked up from your house, transporting to landfill. This entire energy spent over food life cycle will be saved.
Money wise, as mentioned above, average family spends $600 worth of food per year. Even if 15-20% of it is saved, it would mean saving about $100 per year extra (after tax saving). Nice eh? I am pretty sure you can find good use of $100 extra in your life.