We are a pretty typical Brooklyn family. My husband has a corporate job, and I’m a freelance writer and cookbook author. My most recent book, Eating in Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for You and Your Family helps parents get their kids excited about eating brightly hued fruits and vegetables. In our spare time we love looking for fun stuff to do in the area with our kids, Willa, 5, and Leo, 21/2.
We live very close to the gorgeous Prospect Park and each year the park hosts a wonderful celebration for Earth Day, which we always take the kids to. As we get closer to this important day, and as our family expands (I’m having kid number three in June), I’ve been thinking about how to not expand the amount of waste we produce.
Though we recycle daily and try not to overuse paper products, the fact is that we create a lot of waste just through the basic things we do—cooking, eating, wiping up endless spills, changing diapers, doing art projects, etc. I wanted to explore ways that maybe we hadn’t yet thought of to reduce our impact on the planet.
It’s pretty amazing, but most of us send about half of our waste to the landfill. GLAD’s® Waste in Focus (www.wasteinfocus.com) project is helping to put that in perspective this year by working with photojournalist Peter Menzel to document what families around the country are recycling, composting and sending to the landfill in an average week. After learning about this cool project, I decided that our family should take on the challenge of reducing our waste over a week.
Since we already recycle plastic, glass, metal, cardboard and paper, I really wasn’t sure how else we could cut down on what we actually throw in the trash. But a little creativity and a lot of family participation showed me that there were plenty of ways that we could trim a little more from our weekly waste. Here’s what we did. I’m hoping these ideas might help inspire your family to lighten your impact on Mother Earth too.
Day One: Compost!
We have a brand-new juicer, which we love and have been using a lot. The juicer produces a lot of produce pulp, which is perfect for composting. Our building is going to be part of a pilot program in New York City that provides curbside pick up of compost. This is great because we don’t have a garden to use our compost in.
If you don’t have a garden either, or if you just have too much of it, find a local composting center (link to http://www.findacomposter.com). Community gardens in urban centers are another place where you can bring your food scraps and organic waste for them to compost. For those lucky folks who do have the space to compost and garden in their backyard, there are plenty of resources to help you get started (like GLAD’s® Quick Guide to Composting). Most state universities with agriculture or horticulture programs have local extensions that provide composting help within the community.
Day Two: Farm to Family
Today, we signed up fora share of a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)as we havethe last two summers. CSAs allow you to get produce and fresh flowers directly from a farmer, which cuts down on packaging waste. Every two weeks, we bring our cloth and nylon bags to the pick-up location at the community garden and load up our share of the bounty.
We have a share of fruit, vegetables, flowers and eggs. It’s fun to bring Willa and Leo along, because we never know what we’re going to get and they can help pick out the tasty produce we go home with. If you’d like to join a CSA, but you’re not sure if one exists in your neighborhood, go to www.localharvest.org. Not ready to commit to a CSA? The site also helps you locate nearby farmer’s markets.
Day Three: Trash … or Treasure?
Today, I thought I’d ask Willa’s pre-K teacher if she could use any paper or cardboard, and she was thrilled! It turns out that she was planning a “found art” project and needed small cardboard boxes, tissue paper boxes, toilet paper and paper towel rolls. Considering how much of that stuff we generate, I’m happy to see it being used for a fun and beautiful purpose.
Day Four: Fridge in Focus
Today, I did my weekly fridge clean-out. I’m a big believer in taking a thorough look through each shelf before taking a trip to the grocery store. This is a great way to cut down on food waste, because it keeps you from buying stuff you already have. Plus, if you notice that the “Use by” date on ground beef or chicken sausage is coming up and you know you won’t cook it in time, you can freeze it.
Since I’m a registered dietitian, I know a bit more about what those “Use By,” “Sell By” and “Best By” dates mean than most folks. They don’t mean that food is no longer safe to eat, as many people think. They’re actually related to flavor, quality and freshness. “Sell By” tells the retailer how long to display the item; “Use By” is the date by which to use the product for peak quality; and “Best By” indicates the date to consume by for best flavor and quality. Understanding these terms can keep a lot of perfectly good food out of the trash!
For instance, milk is good for two to three days past the sell by date; butter can be used safely for one month after the sell by date; eggs are OK for three to five weeks after purchase; bread will last about a week after you open the loaf. All of this assumes you’ve stored the product properly and that there are no off odors or colors (if that’s the case, go ahead and put them into the compost bin).
You can freeze nearly everything: butter, bread, even berries (just place them in an even layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid; then transfer to a zip-top bag and into the freezer for up to three months).
Day Five: The Poop on Plastic
We end up with a lot of plastic bags in our household—FreshDirect, a local grocery delivery service that we use, packs frozen items and even soup in plastic, and we collect them from other sources too. I hate throwing them out, so I’ve come up with the perfect use for my stash: poop bags for our dog Millie’s bathroom runs. Bags from home-delivered newspapers, carryout and produce are also handy for this. That might not be the most glamorous use, but such bags are the largest source of plastic in New York City’s residential waste stream, so I feel better that they’re getting a second life.
Day Six: Packing It In
There are so many great reusable products to help busy moms pack more Earth-friendly lunches—cute fabric bags, metal and plastic containers—and we have them all. Still, if I’m sending my kids to school with a sandwich, I generally wrap it in aluminum foil, which goes right into the trash after lunch. We just started using Glad® Matchware, which come in a ton of different sizes, all with one-size-fits all lids, making early morning lunch-packing easier.
Day Seven: Pint-Size Portions
Among the eye-opening facts we’ve learned this week: Food waste makes up the biggest chunk (by weight) of landfill garbage. I’d bet that much of it comes from kids, judging by what’s left on Willa and Leo’s plates after dinner. In an effort to cut down on what we throw away, I tried placing family-style bowls of food on the table and then serving my kids small portions of each item. Little kids can get overwhelmed by large portions (and they can always ask for more broccoli!). Plus, what’s left untouched in the bowls can be saved for another night.
GLAD® is continually offering innovative products to help consumers waste less, like ForceFlex bags you can overstuff, composting and recycling bags, and trash bags made with less resin that saves 6.5 million pounds of plastic to landfills each year.
Frances Largeman-Roth, is a nationally recognized nutrition expert and New York Times best-selling author whose most recent book is Eating in Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for You and Your Family.
Read more about others taking the challenge and enter our Waste in Focus Sweepstakes for a chance to win up to $2,500!