Everyone Loves Lettuce, But It's Such A Wasteful Grocery Store Purchase

Although it's a common occurrence, food waste is a problem in America. Feeding America reports that 119 billion pounds of food in America go to waste annually. That staggering amount of waste contributes to the ongoing climate crisis and further exacerbates greenhouse gas emissions across the country and steals opportunity from the 34 million Americans suffering from food insecurity.

Lettuce is a refreshing, affordable vegetable that fills out salads, adds texture and nutrients to burgers, and can even be distilled in water for a night-time sleep aid. There's just one problem — it often goes bad faster than we can actually consume it. In fact, in a survey conducted by market research company OnePoll, the majority of participants said that lettuce is the most difficult food to use up before it goes bad. In an interview with Food52, Civil Eats editor Twilight Greenaway estimates that because they're rampantly overgrown, only a quarter of the lettuce that's grown on American farms is actually harvested for consumption.

When you waste lettuce, you're also wasting the 15 gallons of water per pound it requires to grow the lettuce. And if you're buying bagged lettuce, the plastic packaging inevitably ends up decaying in landfills where it releases methane — a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to the climate crisis.  

But what's the point of dissecting a problem as big as food waste if there are no solutions?

Solutions for lettuce waste

Although lettuce might be a mainstay on your grocery list, it's important to not let it go to waste. The new good news is that there are preventative measures you can take to ensure your lettuce isn't wasted. 

If you buy a head of lettuce, rip off any suspicious-looking leaves and then wrap the head in a paper towel before storing it in the refrigerator. This slows the expiry process by mainintaing the humid conditions that help lettuce thrive. If you do end up with sad-looking lettuce, don't immediately throw it out. Unless slimy, stinky, or past the 7-10 day window of safe consumption, then you can submerge lettuce in an ice bath to revive it.

If you're purchasing bagged lettuce, check the expiration date and only buy lettuce that you know you can finish before it goes bad. Consider re-purposing the plastic packaging for a bathroom trash can, or even a dog poop bag! Food-prepping meals that call for lettuce is another great way to put all of your green produce to use. In the event that you do end up with rotten lettuce, consider composting. Composting is like recycling, but instead of plastic, it's used for organic materials. When you compost leftover food, its nutrients eventually find their way back to the earth where they can be regrown into a fresh new head of lettuce.

While we all love lettuce, we can also enjoy its many benefits while simultaneously reducing the impact its waste has on planet Earth.