Food is energy. From farm to store to table, food production requires significant resources and energy use; the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that “getting food to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the United States.” In financial terms, Americans are throwing away $165 billion in food each year, which equates to about $1,350 to $2,275 for a family of four.
Although much of the waste happens on the production side, there’s a lot we can do to reduce food waste in our homes. Start by checking out these 10 tips on how to reduce food waste at home.
1. Watch what you throw away. Before you start thinking about how to waste less food, first you need to figure out where you waste food. For one week keep track of everything you throw away. (It might be handy to keep a notebook nearby, or maybe a dry erase board or chalkboard on the fridge.) Look for patterns and evaluate how you can change your habits to waste less food.
2. Buy local. Most grocery store produce was grown and harvested far away and has traveled days (sometimes weeks!) to reach you—all of which means it will spoil sooner. Locally grown food has less distance to travel, meaning you have more time with the food before it will start to spoil. (For more benefits on buying local food, check out the article The Benefits of Eating Locally Grown, Seasonal Food.)
3. Hit up the bulk aisle. The beauty of buying in bulk is that you can take only as much as you need. So the next time a recipe calls for specialty flour, consider scooping out only what you need from the bulk department instead of buying an entire bag and letting the rest go rancid in your cupboard. The same goes for buying meat. Instead of buying prepackaged meat, order exactly what you need from the deli counter or butcher.
4. Don’t be fooled by labels. Most food products are labeled with a “use-by” or “sell-by” date. These should not be mistaken for expiration dates./ Don’t mistake these for expiration dates. Food manufacturers set these as recommended dates by which to consume food for “peak quality.” The result? Consumers will throw food away faster, allowing the manufacturers to sell more. Use-by and sell-by dates are not federally regulated and don’t indicate if a product is expired or not. For more on use-by and sell-by dates and how they contribute to food waste, check out the blog Understanding Food Labels.
5. Go to the grocery store more often. The more days’ worth of food you shop for at a time, the more time you allow for produce to spoil. Instead of buying everything during one weekly shopping trip, stock up on staples for the week, then visit the store midweek to pick up foods that will spoil sooner.
6. Store foods properly. Storing foods improperly can cause them to spoil faster. Keep foods fresh longer with a few tricks such as storing vegetables in breathable containers or keeping nuts in the freezer. For more than 20 ways to help preserve the life of fresh produce, check out the article How to Keep Food Fresh Longer.
7. Take smaller portions. Much of the food that ends up in the trash can comes from our plates. Instead of heaping a giant portion of dinner on your plate, take less, then come back for seconds if needed. Food that has been partially eaten is less likely to be saved for leftovers.
8. Freeze leftovers. If the thought of eating those leftovers one more time makes you sick, freeze them instead. (The next time you’re in a crunch for dinner, you’ll be glad to have them!)
9. Use what you have. Before you go shopping for new food, eat what you already have. Clean out the fridge with a dinner of leftovers. Turn soon-to-spoil produce or leftover meats into homemade stocks, or save them in a jar to turn into stew.
10. Compost! If all else fails, turn your veggie trimmings and eggshells into nutrient-rich compost for your garden. Check out our guide to composting for DIY bin plans and tips on getting the most from your compost.