Not everyone is a pro when it comes to the tree-hugging, environmentally-friendly lifestyle. Unfortunately, the food industry at large isn’t very good at being kind to the planet, either.
Roughly one third (approximately 1.3 billion tons) of the food produced for human consumption every year goes to waste. From an environmental standpoint, food waste translates to giant amounts of methane being released by rotting food, not to mention additional fertilizers, pesticides, and water that are wasted in the production process.
It’s no secret that humans are taxing the planet with unconscionable waste, but it’s hard to know how to avoid harming the environment without going completely rogue and living in an electricity-free shack in the woods.
Let’s assume you’re already aware of the basic no-brainers, like utilizing reusable shopping bags and reading the signs on recycling bins. There are many other easy practices that you can adopt to minimize your impact on the environment, like saying no to receipts and holding off on water refills. Being green really doesn’t involve as much effort as you’d think.
We’ve rounded up 10 tips to make you feel good about your impact on the earth while you continue to do what you do best: eat and drink.
SKIP THE TAKE-OUT UTENSILS WHEN ORDERING SEAMLESS
What to do: Chances are, you have your own set of utensils at home. (If you don’t, then that’s a problem, and you need more help than we can offer.) Most restaurants on Seamless have an option that allows you to opt out of plastic forks and knives in take-out bag. Do the earth a favor and CLICK IT, then use the utensils you’ve already got at home. (Photo: Paper Goods)
EAT LESS MEAT
What to do: The industrial meat industry is the number one source of methane in the world, releasing over 100 million tons of the toxic gas per year. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the livestock business contributes more to global warming than transportation. These are just two of the many reasons why your vegetarian friends have said goodbye to meat.
But what if you just can’t get yourself to say no to a juicy steak? Try going meat-free for just one day a week, and certainly buy organic and local whenever possible. Locally-produced meat saves the energy it takes to haul a cow from New Zealand to your plate. Meanwhile, going organic means antibiotics and growth hormones (which suck and are unnatural) aren’t going into the animals that you’re eating. (Photo: Cyprus Valley Meat Company)
SKIP THE BUFFET AND CAFETERIA
What to do: Self-service, buffet-style restaurants that have everything pre-made end up tossing a ton of food every day. Often, they don’t even wait until the trays are empty before replenishing them. Try to eat at made-to-order places, as opposed to buffets and cafeterias. Not only will less food be wasted, but your meal will be fresher and tastier. What’s more, people tend to get “eyes bigger than stomach” syndrome when they’re at buffets, which also contributes to food waste. (Photo: Healthy Tipping Point)
SAY NO TO RECEIPTS
What to do: Restaurants—especially fast-food/counter-type joints—are starting to give eaters the option of having their receipts sent to them via email. Receipts are barely good for anything (besides a place to put your chewed-up gum), so skip out on paper receipts whenever possible. (Photo: Experimental Theology)
HOLD THE REFILLS
What to do: A lot of water ends up getting wasted at restaurants. If you’re not thirsty, stop the waiter from refilling your glass. Ultimately, it’s just a useless gesture that could easily be avoided if you speak up. (Photo: MNN)
REUSE AND REVAMP LEFTOVERS
What to do: Why throw away last night’s dinner when you can easily reuse the odds and ends to craft another delicious meal? We get it: Eating the same meal twice in a row is boring, but this is when your creativity needs to come into play. Throw some take-out General Tso’s chicken into rice and fry away, or make tacos out of leftover steak. Too much sushi in the fridge? Break the rolls up and toss them around with some salad greens. For more ideas, here are 10 genius ways to revamp leftover ingredients. (Photo: Food52)
What to do: 1.5 million tons of plastic are used to produce billions of plastic bottles every year. That’s a hell of a lot of harmful plastic being thrown away, and a lot of energy used up to produce it. Give the environment a break by choosing to drink tap water from a reusable cup or bottle (yeah, it’s time to clean out that Nalgene). If you’re a beer drinker, order a draft beer (preferably a local one) instead of a bottled one. (Photo: Mint)
DOUBLE UP ON RECIPES
What to do: Leftovers last twice as long as fresh produce sitting in the fridge, so double up on your recipes and cook enough meals to last you the week. This will save you time in the kitchen, and you’ll also be using less energy than you would if you cooked multiple meals. (Photo: Fit Day)
GROW YOUR OWN HERBS
What to do: Hit up your local farmer’s market and pick up some herb plants to start your own edible garden at home. Growing your own herbs will ensure that you’re not consuming harsh chemicals and fertilizers. It’s simple, it’ll save you money, and it’ll earn you green-eater bragging rights. About 14 million U.S. households already do it, and according to Eating Well, growing your own herbs will cost you an average of only $30 a year. (Photo: Earth 911)
GO FOR MINIMAL PACKAGING
What to do: Look for products that come with minimal packaging. While buying fruits and vegetables, try to avoid pulling at those rolls of plastic bags that just end up in the garbage once you load the fridge. When buying meat, get it straight from the deli counter or butcher, because they’ll wrap your meat in a single piece of paper, as opposed to unsustainable plastics and styrofoam that create hazardous waste and release greenhouse gasses. (Photo: Transition to Resilience)