6 Simple Ways to Reduce Food Waste

December 18, 2018

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I’m the girlfriend you text when you’re scratching your head reading labels in the grocery store, the confidante you blurt your “I can’t tell anyone else!” bathroom shenanigans to and the handy science nerd who comes through with the best cost-cutting, time-saving health tips you don’t know how you ever lived without.


How much food do you think you waste every month? I know for a fact, I could do better. And while not a glamorous topic when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, food waste is actually a relatively easy way to offset your personal carbon dioxide footprint, not to mention it’s budget-friendly.

Ways to reduce food waste

A few facts:

  • About 40 percent of all food, about 160 billion pounds of food per year, produced in the United States does not get eaten. That’s like buying five bags of groceries and dropping two in the parking lot without bothering to pick them up. 1
  • 30 percent of food is wasted globally across the supply chain, contributing 8 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • It’s estimated that about 20% of the food waste in the U.S. can be attributed to “sell by” labels. 2
  • If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming.3

6 ways to reduce your food waste

1. Shop with a plan.

Plan your meals ahead of time and buy only what you need.
Personally, I always do a quick scan of the items in my fridge/pantry before I head out to the grocery store. I take note of items I may need, which items I am low on and/or which items I need to finish up before I buy new. This ensures that I don’t buy more lettuce if I already have a head of lettuce, etc. If I need to completely re-stock, I’ll take a few minutes to look up a few recipes and then make a list of the items I need. The key is to stick to your list while shopping.

Tip: Write down the ingredients and items you need for the week in a small booklet. Once you’ve placed the items in your cart at the grocery store, check said items off your list. This has really helped me stick to my meal plan!

2. It’s OK if food isn’t “perfect,” ugly produce is better than wasted produce.

Basically, just because fruits, veggies, nuts, etc. aren’t perfectly symmetrical, colored, etc. doesn’t mean they’re bad.

3. Get creative with leftovers, use what you already have.

Not every meal has to be beautiful and perfect. Sometimes you just have to get creative with the ingredients you have on hand and improvise. Ronna Welsh, chef and author of the cookbook, The Nimble Cook, and I talk about this on my podcast. She has some amazing ideas when it comes to getting creative with items you already have on hand in your kitchen and how to reduce food waste. You can check out our conversation “How to Make the Most of Your Ingredients.” Plus, her cookbook is full of amazing recipes.

Tip: Big Oven, MyFridgeFood , Super Cook are three sites that will help you create and search for awesome recipes using the ingredients you already have on hand.

4. Don’t take “use by” dates on packages so literally.

The sell-by date is about quality, i.e. when food is the freshest, not about safety. Generally speaking, if items are stored properly they’re still perfectly safe to eat.

“Best if used by” simply means, that if used before that date, “the product is at its peak — or freshest — if consumed before that date.” “After that date on the package, [the foods] may taste a little stale, but they’re still perfectly safe to consume,” shares Meghan Stasz, vice president of sustainability and packaging at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. 4

So, don’t toss something just because it is a few months past the listed “sell by” date. Obviously, they’re not referring to extremely perishable items such as milk, etc. But, when in doubt, do a smell test!

5. Learn how to store and/or freeze food.

Save the Foodhas some really great tips on how to store food. Plus, they also have some great recipes for cooking foods that are “past their prime!”

Check out the FoodKeeper app to help you understand how to better store food and beverages. It will help you maximize the freshness and quality of items. By doing so you will be able to keep items fresh longer than if they were not stored properly. (Available as a mobile application for Android Apple devices).

6. Compost

Contrary to what you might think, organic food scraps, such as fruits and veggies, do not break down in the landfills. Why? Because “landfills are not designed to break down waste, only to store it,” according to the National Solid Wastes Management Association. 5 Rather, collected waste slowly decomposes in a sealed, oxygen-free environment where bacteria, due to the lack of oxygen in the waste, produces methane gas. 6

Landfills are the third largest source of methane (CH4) emissions in the United States, accounting for 16.4% of total CH4 emissions in 2016. (Methane is generated in landfills as waste decomposes and in the treatment of wastewater.) 7  Over the last 250 years, the concentration of CH4 in the atmosphere increased by 163%  8

Tip: I’ll be writing a separate blog post on how to compost but a few quick tips include:

  1. Store your leftover compostable food scraps in your freezer and then dispose of them at a compost collection site.
    Note: some farmer’s markets will also collect compost.
  2. Check to see if your city has any organizations that will collect your compost curbside.
  3. Want to compost at home? Check out EPA’s “How To Compost At Home” guide.
The Wise Consumer
  1. Natural Resources Defense Council
  2. NPR
  3. U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization
  4. NPR
  5. Live Science
  6. Live Science
  7. EPA
  8. IPCC 2013; NOAA/ESRL 2017b

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