The average American throw out over 6 pounds of food per week (over 400 grams per day). That’s about 340 pounds per year! Food waste accounts for 20% of what we send to landfill. Despite its organic nature, food can take years or even decades to break down in landfills because there isn’t enough oxygen to facilitate decomposition. This leads to the release of methane into the atmosphere. So it’s really important to go beyond reducing food packaging waste and reduce your food waste as well.
Before I started lowering my impact, I threw out a lot of food. I forgot about leftovers and was not able to compost until mid-2018. I had to take out my garbage before it was full because of the smelly foods inside. But now my food waste is mainly limited to dairy that my compost can’t accept and the occasional forgotten leftover (I’m still working on this one!).
I’ve come up with 12 great ways to reduce food waste that span from before you go shopping to after you’ve eaten. Let’s get started!
1. Shop when full
Shopping on an empty stomach will tempt you into buying more than you need or items that you should avoid (packaged, sugary treats). When you aren’t hungry while grocery shopping, you can more easily focus on sticking to your list. Speaking of which…
2. Make a plan and stick to the list
Before you even step food in the store or farmers market, you need a plan. What meals are you planning for this week? What is already in your kitchen you can create meals around? What needs to get used up before it expires? Answering these questions will help you create a list of the ingredients you’ll need for that week. You will be less likely to overbuy amounts that will go bad before you get around to it, buying duplicates of items, and wasting leftovers from last week.
3. Take the oddball fruits and veggies, single bananas, and slightly imperfect foods
Be less picky when it comes to selecting produce. Small blemishes and odd shapes do not make an item inedible. Single bananas often get left behind in favor of a connected bunch, but the table usually has a good number of singles ripe for the taking (bad pun…).
Global Waste is a documentary on Netflix that highlights the already high standards a fruit or veggie needs to meet before getting to the store, meaning so much is already being wasted. Imperfect produce left on the stand will be tossed out if no one sees past the brown spot or “unnatural” shape. There are services that will actually ship you some rejectable produce. Check out Imperfect Foods (previously Imperfect Produce) and Misfits Market!
4. Check the “Yesterday’s Bakery” and markdown sections
A few grocery stores around me (Stop & Shop and Shaw’s) have a Yesterday’s Bakery section as well as markdown sections for dairy and other goods that are nearing their sell by date or have damaged packaging. I always make sure to stop by these shelves in case I can save something from being wasted and get a good deal at the same time.
5. Only buy what you need for that increment between shopping trips
Buying only the quantity you will use between shopping trips has the same benefits as creating a meal plan. You won’t have all this extra food to quickly eat before it goes bad. With less to store, you will be able to more readily see your ingredients and avoid that hidden jar in the back of the fridge that went bad last month.
6. Have meals at the end of the week specifically be “leftover” meals to clean out the fridge
If you still have meal portions left over at the end of the week, be sure you eat them before they spoil. By planning in leftover meals before your next shopping trip, you won’t find moldy leftovers you promised you’d get to but this week’s meal prep was too delicious to pass up.
7. When food is served buffet-style, take less than you want and get seconds if you need them later
Grocery shopping is not the only place to reduce food waste. When at parties or out to eat, taking less than you think you want will prevent excess food waste. You can always ask for more later, but you can’t put back what you’ve already taken.
8. Eat out less
The less you eat out, the more control you have over how much food you receive, where it comes from, and how it was packaged. At home, you can make the amount of food you know you’ll be able to finish in one sitting. I find it’s less tempting to leave a few bites on the plate at home than in a restaurant, especially if you forgot your own container and would have to use a single-use one instead of grabbing one out of the cabinet in the kitchen.
9. Learn to properly store food items for longest life
Despite following what our moms and dads did, we might not actually know the best ways to stores our ingredients. For example, place herbs in a glass of water like flowers in the fridge, separate your bananas to slow the ripening process, or keep tomatoes on the counter instead of in the fridge.
Check out these links for more food storage info!
If you want to keep your items longer than they will last in the fridge or countertop, consider canning or freezing them.
10. Don’t throw out foods based on the printed date on the package
The “Best By” and “Use By” dates are not hard safety dates on food items. They refer to when the peak quality period has ended. It is perfectly safe to eat foods beyond their date so long as they have no signs of going bad (smell, mold, etc.). The only time a date is for safety reasons is the “Use By” date on infant formula.
11. Donate what you won’t use and accept leftover foods from others
Apps like Olio can be used to give away foods you won’t use to others who will, including businesses/restaurants. Olio is free to use and works both ways. You can accept other people’s items as well as give. Too Good To Go is another option to save food from going to waste. They began in Europe but recently launched here in the US.
You can also donate non-perishables to your local food bank or share with friends and family directly. Finally, always take home leftovers after eating out or at an event if possible. Be sure to bring your own containers!
For me, composting is one of the best ways to reduce food waste. Food scraps from cooking and bad leftovers can be composted to create nutrient rich soil for growing new food. There are many options for composting: barrels, piles, small bins, and pick up or drop off services. But don’t worry if you don’t have access to composting. You can still you most if not all the other 11 tips above!
Which waste reduction techniques do you use at home? Are there any others ways you reduce food waste? Let me know!