Have you ever felt like you just bought some lettuce and it’s already gone bad, turning soggy and gross? Or what about that milk — how can it already be past its expiration date? Buying food and then throwing it out before you eat it because it’s gone bad is a common problem for people — in the United States, it’s estimated that people throw out up to 40% of the food they get. What a waste, literally! Not only is that food filling up landfills, accounting for some 31 million tons of waste each year, but it costs people a lot of money too. Each month, it’s about $33 per person wasted, adding up to about $400 for a person in a year.
For this Instructable, I decided to answer the following question: Which foods are thrown out most frequently in my household, and how much money is it costing me? In other words, if I bought those foods in smaller amounts (because I’m not eating them before they go bad), how much money would I save? My hypothesis was that the foods we’re throwing out the most are vegetables (especially lettuce) because I feel like I throw them out a lot, but I don’t think it adds up to that much money — maybe $10 for our household in a month.
A little background about my household: It includes two adults who compost, have chickens, and have a vegetable garden. This basically means that none of our food is actually ever thrown in the trash — any bits that are still good go to the chickens, and everything else goes into the compost. Additionally, we get some food from our vegetable garden (although when I did this investigation in the early spring, the garden wasn’t producing much yet), and doing this Instructable is good to help you know what you should plant in the garden (i.e., what you’ll be able to eat before it goes bad), and what you shouldn’t plant or should plant less of in the future.
I created a spreadsheet to keep track of all of the perishable food we got over time. I printed out the spreadsheet and stuck it on the refrigerator so it was easy to fill out when we put away new food. This included foods from the grocery store, our garden, and leftovers (but because of time restraints, I didn’t include foods that didn’t expire for months). For each food, I kept track of the following:
You can see a picture in this step of some of the data I actually collected. In this step I’ve also included a blank, revised spreadsheet (as a PDF and Excel spreadsheet) so you could use it to do your own investigation!
Determining Whether Food has gone “Bad”
This was usually done by visual inspection — see the pictures for examples. If a food item had an expiration date, such as milk, and it was past its expiration date, I still “tested” it (by visual inspection, smell, or taste) to see if it had actually gone bad or not. Use this method with caution :)
Testing Time Period
I did this investigation for a total of 48 days (from March 3, 2014, to April 19, 2014). I analyzed the data for foods that were obtained during this time period and either completely consumed or thrown out. (Foods that were obtained but not yet completely eaten/tossed weren’t counted in the data analysis.) It’d be great to do this investigation for a longer amount of time, especially since I’m sure there will be seasonal variation as vegetables in the garden are ready to harvest, but I was restricted by time restraints.