How Can I Reduce Food Waste?
A large part of the American food supply is turned into waste. In fact, the average U.S. household wastes around 31.9% of its food. That comes out to 125 to 160 billion pounds of wasted food every year. Not only is food waste contributing to our climate crisis, but it’s also wasting money. So what can we do to reduce food waste?
Fortunately, there are several steps we can take to reduce food waste at home. Learn more about why food waste is so bad for the environment, and then discover some simple steps you can take to start reducing your food waste and saving money.
The Problem With Food Waste
Whether it’s uneaten leftovers or produce that’s gone bad, most people don’t realize how much food they throw away every day. While people get frustrated because wasting food is also wasting money, the problem goes much deeper than that.
Only 5% of food in the U.S. is composted. This means that uneaten food is the single largest part of municipal solid waste.
When food ends up in the landfill, it doesn’t get any oxygen. The lack of oxygen causes the food to rot and form methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s responsible for global warming.
Growing food also requires clear land and a large amount of freshwater consumption. Since food production requires so many natural resources, it’s important we make sure the food we produce isn’t wasted.
13 Tips for Reducing Food Waste at Home
So now you understand why it’s important to reduce food waste. But you’re also wondering, how can I reduce food waste at home?
Fortunately, it’s not that hard. By simply following these 13 tips and making a few adjustments to your everyday routines, you can significantly reduce food waste and create an eco-friendly kitchen at the same time.
1. Store Food Properly
Did you know that different fruits and vegetables should be stored in certain ways to extend their freshness as long as possible? For example, the best way to store celery is upright in a glass of water in your refrigerator.
Also, some foods produce ethylene gas when the ripen. Ethylene speeds up ripening, so those foods could cause other produce to ripen too quickly and spoil.
Foods that produce ethylene gas while ripening include:
- Green onions
These should be stored away from ethylene-sensitive produce, such as apples, berries, leafy greens, peppers, and potatoes.
Save the Food has an outstanding interactive food storage guide that shows you how to properly store all types of different foods to keep them fresh.
2. Understand Food Labels and Dates
There’s a lot of confusion about what those “sell by” and “expires by” dates mean on food packaging. Here’s a handy guide to help you understand the difference and reduce unnecessary food waste.
- Sell By: The sell by date is not an expiration date. It’s the date stores should either sell or remove food from the shelves. You have time after this date to consume the food.
- Best Before: The best before date is also not an expiration date. It’s simply the suggested date you should use the food by to enjoy it at its freshest. You have time after this date to consume the food.
- Use By: The use by date is an expiration date. Manufacturers believe their products are no longer safe to eat after this date.
The important part to remember about all of these dates is that you should use and trust your senses. If food smells, looks, or tastes spoiled, that’s when you should throw it out.
When you’re shopping, make sure you pay attention to these dates so you can ensure you’ll use the food before it expires.
3. Meal Plan and Write a List
Although it seems incredibly simple, planning your meals in advance and then writing a shopping list are two of the best ways you can reduce food waste.
At the beginning of each week, I write down what I’m going to make for dinner each night. Then, I look through my pantry and refrigerator to see which ingredients I need to get and write them down on my list.
This way, when I’m at the grocery store, I’m not wondering if I need to get carrots, buying more carrots, getting home and realizing I still have carrots, and then throwing away carrots because we couldn’t eat all them before they started to go bad.
Once I started following this routine, I realized that not only were we reducing a lot of food waste because I wasn’t buying things we already had, but I was also saving money at the store because I was purchasing exactly what we needed and not a ton of extra stuff I wasn’t sure if we needed.
4. Use Your Freezer
Your freezer can be your best friend when you’re trying to reduce food waste at home. Freezing is one of the easiest ways to preserve food, and just about every type of food can be frozen.
If you notice your bread is starting to go moldy, stick it in the freezer. Are your berries rotting before you can eat them? Puree them in a blender, put them in freezer-safe bags, and then use them later for smoothies.
Every once in a while, do a survey of what’s in your freezer so you can use things before they succumb to freezer burn.
5. Make Good Use of Leftovers
Saving your leftovers so you can eat them the next day is a great way to reduce food waste – as long as you actually remember to eat them!
Put your leftovers in clear glass food storage containers so you can easily see what’s in there. Also, keep your leftovers front and center in your refrigerator so they don’t accidentally get pushed to the back and forgotten.
Another thing you can do is designate one day a week to eat up all the leftovers in the fridge. When I was growing up, we had Smorgasbord Friday because you never really knew what type of leftovers you’d be having that day.
6. Think Before You Buy in Bulk
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for buying in bulk — as long as you do it properly.
Yes, going to a store like Costco and buying one giant container of strawberries would certainly help you cut down on plastic waste. However, what happens if your family can’t eat all of those strawberries fast enough and they start to go bad? Then you end up throwing them away.
When you do buy in bulk, make sure you’re purchasing items that you’ll be able to store on your shelf for several months or use up before they expire.
7. Rotate Items on Your Shelf
When I bring back canned or jarred food items from the grocery store, I always make sure I employ the FIFO method, which stands for “first in, first out.” You can easily use this same method in your own home.
As an example, when you buy a new can of beans, place the newer can behind the old one. Since the older can is in front, it will get grabbed first, which ensures the older food gets used first and not wasted.
8. Track Your Trash
Doing a home waste audit is a crucial part of reducing how much trash you throw away. Similarly, keeping track of what types of foods you throw away can also help you reduce food waste.
For example, if you track your food waste and discover you often throw out oranges, you can make a plan to buy oranges individually instead of in a bag. Not only will this help you save money, but it will prevent you from throwing away food you don’t have time to eat before it goes bad.
9. Eat the Skins
A lot of people remove the skins of fruits and vegetables before eating them. The sad thing is this isn’t necessary. Not only does this contribute to extra waste, but it also means they’re throwing away some of the most nutritious parts of the food.
Not only do apple skins contain a large amount of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, and minerals, but researchers have also identified a group of compounds in apple peels called triterpenoids that may have cancer-fighting abilities.
And it’s not just apple skins. The outer layers of carrots, cucumbers, potatoes, eggplants, mangoes, and kiwis are all edible and packed with nutrients.
10. Start a Garden
There are several problems with relying on grocery stores for all of your food. When it comes to food waste, one of the biggest issues is time.
By the time produce reaches the grocery store, it has already been off its plant for several days. Sometimes even longer! This doesn’t give you a lot of time to eat your food before it goes bad.
When you grow your own food, you can leave the fruits and vegetables on the plants until you need them. In addition to helping to reduce food waste, this also makes your fruits and veggies more nutritious since they can stay on the plant longer!
Plus, if you think you can’t grow a garden because you’ve never kept a plant alive before in your life, think again. This guide on how to start a garden for beginners will teach you everything you need to know about starting a prosperous garden.
11. Preserve What You Can’t Eat
Whether you accidentally buy too much, or your garden starts producing more than you can eat, preserving is a fantastic way to avoid spoilage and make sure you still get to eat your food. Plus, preserving isn’t just pickling and canning food.
It can also include everything from turning extra apples into applesauce to dehydrating fruit that’s about to good bad into dried fruit snacks.
If you need some help on how to get started, here are some outstanding resources to check out:
- Beginner’s Guide to Preserving: Safely Can, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Freeze Food
- The Complete Guide to Pressure Canning: Everything You Need to Know to Can Meats, Vegetables, Meals in a Jar, and More
- Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Milk, and More
- Complete Dehydrator Cookbook: How to Dehydrate Fruit, Vegetables, Meat & More
12. Use Every Part
A lot of people end up throwing away food scraps they can actually use. Done with those coffee grounds from your morning pick-me-up? Use them to make this amazing DIY coffee body scrub!
You can use orange peels to make your own citrus-infused vinegar for natural cleaning. Soak banana peels in water to make an outstanding natural fertilizer for your plants.
Or you can save your vegetable scraps to make your own veggie broth. Plus, don’t forget you can save the seeds from your produce to grow your own food.
13. Compost Your Remaining Scraps
You’ve planned your meals, made your shopping list, stored your food properly, and done everything else on this list. But you’ll inevitably end up with some scraps you simply can’t use. That’s why you should have a compost pile.
If you don’t have the space to set up your own composting bin in your yard, there are other options you can consider. A countertop composter is amazingly easy to use and makes composting possible for everyone — even people with limited outdoor space.
Some community gardens will allow people to drop off food scraps for their compost pile. Other communities have curbside compost pickup services and drop-off locations.
How to Reduce Food Waste
Food waste is a major problem that not only contributes to global warming, but also wastes money. Thanks to these helpful tips, you now know how to reduce food waste to protect our planet and save yourself some money at the same time!
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