How to feng shui your refrigerator to reduce food waste and carbon emissions

Your refrigerator is probably a fairly modern, efficient, and carefully designed machine. But Jiaying Zhao, a behavioral scientist at the University of British Columbia, says it has a glaring flaw.

If you organize your refrigerator the way its designers intended, you store your fruits and vegetables in crisper drawers and place your most perishable items at the bottom of the bottom shelf, where temperatures are coolest. But that makes you more likely to forget about those foods that spoil quickly until it’s too late.

“The refrigerator is not designed with human behavior in mind,” she said. “The human mind is limited in its capabilities, and one of them is “out of sight, out of mind.” So if I don’t see something, I’ll forget it, and that leads to food waste. »

Zhao has a simple solution: feng shui your refrigerator. As she explained in a TED talk this year, this means redirecting the flow of your attention by rearranging your food so that the most perishable items are the most visible. It may seem trivial, she says, but “behavioral science shows that some of the smallest changes lead to the biggest impacts.”

The United States throws away about a third of the food it produces, according to ReFED, a nonprofit focused on reducing food waste. As food prices rise, food waste represents an increasingly costly burden for American households.

But it’s also a heavy burden on the environment: Food waste contributes to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, making it twice as harmful for the climate than the airline industry.

If you put fruits, vegetables, and herbs in your refrigerator doors, you will be reminded to eat them every time you open the refrigerator. (Video: The Washington Post)

Zhao suggests turning the standard refrigerator organization system on its head: place your perishables in the doors and hide your more durable items, such as ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard bottles, in the drawers.

“Every time I open the refrigerator, I see the fruits, vegetables and perishables, and I grab them before they go bad,” she said. “It’s a good visual reminder: Oh, hey, you need to eat these carrots or you need to eat this lettuce.”

Since Zhao began spreading the gospel of refrigerator feng shui, she says she’s been pushed back by people who fear their greens will wilt more quickly in the door, away from the cool, protective embrace of the refrigerator drawer. vegetables. But she says it’s a tradeoff between extending the life of your perishables or increasing the chances that you’ll remember to eat them.

“They fade a little (in the door), but it’s better than rotting,” she said. “If you leave them in the drawer, you probably won’t see them again until they rot.”

Additionally, she says, she’s started storing her greens in sealed containers that will keep them as fresh — and free of ripening ethylene gas — as the crisper would.

Drawers are the least visible places in your refrigerator. Save them for drinks and condiments that won’t go bad quickly. (Video: The Washington Post)

The other organizing principle Zhao suggests is “first in, first out,” a storage strategy that businesses and warehouses use to manage their inventory more efficiently.

She keeps all the oldest items in the center of her refrigerator rather than letting them gradually be pushed to forgotten, rancid corners at the back of the shelf. Instead, the newest food goes straight to the back and slowly moves forward as it eats the oldest food first.

It’s especially important to highlight raw meat, produce, and aging dairy products, as in many cases they only last for a few days in the refrigerator. Durable items like drinks and condiments can stay on the shelf a little longer because they have a longer shelf life.

This tactic has the added benefit of preventing a moldy menagerie of forgotten foods from accumulating on the bottom of shelves or in the back of drawers.

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