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Be smart with your fridge, and get rid of the old one

Your fridge doesn't have to be this old to qualify for BC Hydro's Fridge Buy-Back Program. Call BC Hydro by April 8, 2011 to arrange for pickup and recycling and, not only will you get the usual $30, you'll be entered in a draw for $1,000 in groceries.

Posted by Blaine Kyllo

Last week I was looking for some ingredients to make my famous savoury stew. When I opened the produce drawer in our refrigerator, though, the mushrooms had shrivelled, the carrots had withered and I found an English cucumber that had transformed into a liquid inside its plastic wrap.

We had scrambled eggs for dinner that night. And I resolved to take control of our refrigerator so our family could minimize the amount of food we waste.

The perils of food waste

World Vision Canada estimates that about 25 percent of the edible food in North American households ends up in the landfill. Other organizations put that number higher, suggesting that one-third of the food we purchase gets thrown out.

When I disposed of the mushrooms, carrots and liquid cucumber, all I could see was how much money I had thrown away. But the money wasted on unused food – and the wasted food itself – are only two measures of waste. There's also the electricity that was used to store that food in the refrigerate.

And it's not just the food that is lost, but all the energy and resources that were used to grow, transport and sometimes package the food in the first place.

And rotting food releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change issues.

Now's the time to recycle that old, second fridge

The reason we're able to store food in our homes is because we have refrigerators and freezers. They have enabled us to preserve food for much longer.

But as much as these appliances have benefited us, they are among the biggest users of electricity in our households. That's why BC Hydro is willing to pay you $30 when it picks up and recycles your old, second fridge, and – in a contest eligible to all those who call by April 8, 2011 to arrange pickup of a qualifying fridge – is serving up a grand prize of $1,000 in groceries as an added incentive.

If you have a second, old fridge, now's the time to take advantage of the sweetened Fridge Buy-Back Program.

Is your fridge an energy hog?

You can determine how much energy your refrigerator and freezer are using with bchydro.com's appliance calculator.

If you have a fridge that is 10 years or more old, you're best served by replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR® model. Doing so will save $40 or more each year on your operating expenses, and your new fridge will start to pay for itself.

Keep it organized

The next step to minimizing food waste is to know what's in your refrigerator. Clean out the drawers and doors before every shopping trip. That will help you figure out that you really need pickles, but you don't need more ketchup.

When you put things into the fridge, organize them. Put big items in the back so they don't hide smaller things, keep condiments in the door, and group similar items – kids snacks, for example – together.

This will make it easier for everyone to find things when they need them, which means less time with the fridge door open.

And don't refrigerate things that can be stored at room temperature or in an underground pantry or cold room. We now keep much of our produce in a back yard shed that is protected from the elements and hungry critters.

Keep it fresh

Another way to make sure you aren't regularly throwing out produce is to buy less, more frequently. The broccoli and apples you eat will be more fresh, and you won't have to try and figure out how to eat two pounds of lettuce in one sitting.

Volume discounts are great, but not if you end up throwing out most of what you purchase. Paying a bit more for that asparagus is a better deal if you actually get a chance to eat it.

Friends of ours swear by Spud.ca, a service that delivers local organic produce to customers across the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

Every week they get a bin of fresh, organic produce in quantities that are perfect for the size of their family. They often get to sample fruits and vegetables that they might not otherwise have tried, so Spud has been expanding their culinary world.

If Spud seems like an interesting solution, note that Team Power Smart members can get an exclusive coupon for $65 off their first four orders.

Love your leftovers

After your food has been prepared and enjoyed, don't rush to throw out the leftovers. Even a single portion can be frozen and eaten later. When my family is away for a weekend, I'll take something out of the freezer that is just enough to feed me.

You can also get creative and combine leftovers into new dishes.

When you save food, be sure to do so using safe food handling procedures so that your edibles don't get spoiled or contaminated.

Allow foods to cool before putting them in the fridge, and always cover them. This will also help reduce the amount of energy your fridge needs to use. And consider getting some see-through containers for leftovers so you can always see what's inside them.

Our family will occasionally have a meal during which we have a smorgasbord of the leftovers we've recently been storing. We treat it like a tasting menu at a fancy restaurant, complete with candles sometimes.

Love Food, Hate Waste is a social website where people from around the world contribute ideas on how to make the most of food. It's a good place to get leftover recipes and tips on how to safely store food.

Dispose of food waste properly

If you do have to dispose of food waste, don't mindlessly throw things into the garbage. Compost whenever possible.

Where to learn more

Natural Resources Canada has suggestions about buying efficient refrigerators and operating tips to save energy and money.

Visit the BC Hydro Green Guide for more ideas on how to be efficient with refrigeration.

Blaine Kyllo is a North Vancouver-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Unplug This Blog! and the Connected eNewsletter.