Want to reduce food waste while teaching your kids about climate change? Try regrowing vegetables from scraps with this simple sustainability science experiment.
Were you raised with the phrase, “Don’t waste your food”? I know I was. I quickly learned as a young child that leftover night could actually be a thing of beauty; a buffet of food where I could pick and choose what I did (and did not) want to eat for supper. What couldn’t be repurposed for another meal was either made into a soup, taken to the compost bin, or fed to the dogs.
Don’t worry, we were very cautious as to what we fed to our pups.
Fast forward 30 years, and here I am teaching the same principles of avoiding food waste to my own two children. However, it feels even more important now, as the practice isn’t done just to save money, but to do our part to save the planet.
The Importance of Reducing Food Waste
Globally, food loss and waste account for a tremendous amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The World Resources Institute stated that “if food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases – surpassed only by The United States and China.”
One main reason that wasting food is a serious issue relates to how it decomposes. When food is placed in the trash and sent to a landfill, it breaks down anaerobically, which means in the absence of oxygen. This decomposition process creates carbon dioxide and methane gas.
When food is composted or breaks down naturally (like an apple that falls from a tree and rots on the ground) it breaks down aerobically, which means in the presence of oxygen. The decomposition process creates carbon dioxide and water vapor.
The problem of food waste in landfills lies with the production of methane gas. Scientists have determined that this gas is really good at trapping heat in our atmosphere – approximately twenty-five times better than carbon dioxide. Methane’s heat-trapping power, along with its lifespan in our atmosphere, makes it a key player in raising our global temperatures, which causes our climate to change.
Ways to Reduce Food Waste
There are many individual ways to avoid food waste. Some simple tips that you can implement in your home are:
- Planning your meals ahead of time
- Purchasing only what you need
- Eating your leftovers
- Freezing food scraps to make soups
- Regrowing your food scraps
- Trying recipes that utilize the food you have
- Creating an “eat me first” spot in your refrigerator for foods that may be closer to their expiration date
Each of these tips is easy to implement and, once started, can work towards decreasing the amount of food that is wasted in your home.
Regrowing Vegetables from Scraps
The process of regrowing your vegetable scraps is nothing short of magical! By introducing young learners to this technique, they will practice multiple mathematical skills while learning about the importance of food waste reduction.
During this experiment, students will be able to:
- Make predictions about the growth of the plant.
- Collect and record data
- Measure accurately using units
- Create a graph to depict the growth of the plant
- Determine if the predictions made about growth were accurate
- Discuss the importance of reducing food waste and its relationship to climate change
You may notice that the skills listed above mirror the scientific method, the problem-solving steps scientists use to plan, execute, and evaluate an experiment. Practicing these skills enhances students’ critical thinking and will prepare them for making logical decisions.
Over on Thoughtfully Sustainable, I’ve shared the full materials list and instructions for this science experiment to help kids regrow vegetables from food scraps. You can also download a free science packet to help your young scientist make the most of their experience, document their findings, and analyze the results.
Head on over and check out all the details and download the packet to bring this sustainability science experiment into your home!
About The Author
Jess Purcell, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a science educator who is dedicated to making the science of sustainability accessible to all learners. She creates sustainability science lessons and nature activities written for students of all ages to be done in the classroom or at home to foster critical thinking skills and a love of the natural world. You can find more of her work at Thoughtfully Sustainable.
Jess lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and two cats and can usually be found outside, working out the kinks of an experiment, upcycling trash into “treasure”, hiking with her family, or attempting to read a book while being cajoled into a game of hide-and-seek.