Reducing Wasted Food at Home

image of male scraping pasta off of plate into trash can. Text reads: About 95 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. Source: EPA

In the United States 40 percent of food goes uneaten. That is on average more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Some factors that lead to food waste are:

  • Misunderstanding of expiration dates.
  • Food spoilage.
  • Improper storage.
  • Impulse and bulk purchases.
  • Inadequate planning.

Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Good planning, storage, preparation, conservation, donation and composting practices can help your household waste less food:

Planning

  • Always make a shopping list. Plan your meals for the week before you go shopping and buy only the things needed for those meals.
  • Make your shopping list based on how many meals you’ll eat at home. Will you eat out this week? How often?
  • Include quantities on your shopping list noting how many meals you’ll make with each item to avoid overbuying. For example: salad greens — enough for two lunches.
  • Look in your refrigerator and cupboards first to avoid buying food you already have, make a list each week of what needs to be used up and plan upcoming meals around it.
  • Buy only what you need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils.
  • Keep a running list of meals and their ingredients that your household already enjoys. That way, you can easily choose, shop for and prepare meals.

Why reduce food waste?

  • Saves money from buying less food.
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.
  • Conserves energy and resources, preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling food (not to mention hauling the food waste and then landfilling it).
  • Supports your community by providing donated untouched food that would have otherwise gone to waste to those who might not have a steady food supply.

Storage

  • Store fruits and vegetables so they stay fresh longer. Visit Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste.
  • Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables — especially abundant seasonal produce.
  • Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen, making other nearby produce spoil faster. Store bananas, apples, and tomatoes by themselves, and store fruits and vegetables in different bins.
  • Wait to wash berries until you want to eat them to prevent mold.
  • If you prefer to eat fruit at room temperature, but it should be stored in the refrigerator for maximum freshness, take what you’ll eat for the day out of the refrigerator in the morning.

Preparation

  • When you get home from the store, take the time to wash, dry, chop, dice, slice, and place your fresh food items in clear storage containers for snacks and easy cooking.
  • Befriend your freezer and visit it often. For example:
    • Freeze food such as bread, sliced fruit, or meat that you don’t plan on eating immediately.
    • Cut your time in the kitchen by preparing and freezing meals ahead of time.
    • Prepare and cook perishable items, then freeze them for use throughout the month. For example, bake and freeze chicken breasts or fry and freeze taco meat.
Infographic/illustration: Image of an empty plate with fork and knife. Text on empty plate is average dollar amount of value range that average household wastes in food. Text reads: $1,350 to 2,275 annually.

For the average U.S. household of four, food waste translates into an estimated $1,350 to $2,275 in annual losses. Source: Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill

Conservation

  • Shop in your refrigerator first. Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.
  • Have produce that’s past its prime? It may still be fine for cooking. Think soups, casseroles, stir fries, sauces, baked goods, pancakes or smoothies.
  • If safe and healthy, use the edible parts of food that you normally do not eat. For example, stale bread can be used to make croutons, beet tops can be sautèed for a delicious side dish, and vegetable scraps can be made into stock.
  • Learn the difference between “sell-by,” “use-by,” “best-by,” and expiration dates.
  • Are you likely to have leftovers from any of your meals? Plan an “eat the leftovers” night each week.
  • Casseroles, stir-fries, frittatas, soups, and smoothies are great ways to use leftovers too. Search for websites that provide suggestions for using leftover ingredients.
  • At restaurants, order only what you can finish by asking about portion sizes and be aware of side dishes included with entrees. Take home the leftovers and keep them for or to make your next meal.
  • At all-you-can-eat buffets, take only what you can eat.

Donate

  • Unopened and untouched food can be donated to local food banks to help those in need.

Compost

  • Compost food scraps rather than throwing them away.

Infographic/ illustration - Image of half a grapefruit with 1/3 of segments missing, with “1/3” figure in empty space.Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted. Source: Food and Agriculture Organization

More Ways to Help

Start a campaign in your community

Food: Too Good to Waste contains an Implementation Guide that is designed to teach local governments and community organizations how to implement a food waste reduction campaign in their community.

Become a gleaner

A gleaner is someone who picks up produce left in fields and orchards after the harvest. This food is then provided to people in need. Become a volunteer gleaner with After The Harvest.

Food service donation made easy

If you manage a grocery store, restaurant, bakery, cafeteria, catering company or other food-service business, you can play a crucial role in reducing food waste. Local food banks such as Harvesters make it easy to donate surplus product inventory and prepared foods. And the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects the donor and recipient agency against liability.
 



The MARC Solid Waste Management District is an endorser of the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge (FRC). FRC Endorsers provide resources to others to reduce their generation of wasted food.