The Environmental Action Everyone Overlooks: Five Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste

If you’re reading this, chances are you care about the earth and try to make decisions that minimize your environmental footprint. You probably turn off the lights when you leave the house; you probably recycle; perhaps you’ve installed a low-flow showerhead, use public transportation, ride a bicycle for local errands, carry a reusable water bottle and frequent the farmers’ market to buy local, organic foods… but have you thought about how much of your food you end up tossing in the trash?

In the US, we waste roughly 40 percent of all the food we produce. This is totally insane – and it’s an environmental nightmare. Food production is resource intensive, requiring water, energy, land, soil, human labor and an elaborate web of production, processing and distribution infrastructure. When we throw away food, all these resources are squandered. And we pay for it! Every year, we trash about $165 billion worth of food, then shell out an additional $750 million to dispose of it, mostly in landfills, where it decomposes anaerobically, releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas that exacerbates climate change. (You might be surprised to note that food waste is responsible for approximately 23 percent of total US methane emissions.) The extraordinary waste of food is even more lamentable given the shameful reality that 50 million Americans struggle with hunger every day.

Fortunately, the food waste dilemma is solvable. And while the problem must be addressed at all sectors of the food system, from farms to retailers to restaurants to municipalities, as food consumers, there are plenty of ways we can help reduce waste – especially since there’s so much room for improvement; US consumers now throw away roughly 25 percent of the food they buy, which costs the average household of four an estimated $1,350 to $2,275 per year! If you’re anything like me, you’d probably rather put a couple thousand dollars in your wallet than in the garbage. And if you’re interested in embracing a more sustainable lifestyle, eliminating food waste is a tremendously important (and remarkably easy) way to start.

Five Incredibly Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Reducing your food waste is actually really simple: all you need to do is buy what you need and eat what you buy. Or if you want to be a little more specific (and make the list fit conveniently in blog-friendly “Top-Five” format), you can expand this to: Buy what you need, Eat what you buy, Keep food fresh, Don’t toss before it spoils and Avoid the trash. Here are the details:

Buy only what you need

If you continually buy more food than you can eat, you’ll eventually have to throw some away.  Avoid waste by shopping smarter.

Eat what you buy

Sounds simple, yet few people manage to do this effectively. Make a conscious effort to keep track of the food you have – and then remember to eat it.

Keep food fresh

Learn to store foods properly to keep them fresh as long as possible. Eureka! Recycling created a dazzlingly comprehensive storage guide along with a one-page quick reference sheet to stick on your fridge. Or check out Frugal Foodie’s food storage overview.

Here are some food storage highlights:

Don’t toss food before it spoils

Sometimes – as in the case of the fuzzy mystery food decomposing in the back of the fridge – it’s clear that food needs to be discarded. But often, perfectly edible food is thrown away as a result of confusion about expiration dates and/or unjustified fear of spoilage.

Avoid the trash

Sending food to landfills wastes valuable resources and ultimately exacerbates climate change.  Do all you can to keep it out.

Did we miss anything? Share your favorite ways to reduce food waste in the comments below.

Visit GRACE’s new Food Waste section to learn more about the issue, what you can do and to find information about other organizations, institutions and agencies working to develop solutions.

This post originally appeared on the Ecocentric blog.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.

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View Comments (9)

  1. Friday, May 3rd, 2013
    My dog and chickens eat most of the foods I prefer not to eat. The moldy ones usually go to my worm bin (much easier than conventional compost, which I've never gotten the hang of). And my city has finally set up for composting food scraps, so anything else goes in the green bin.
  2. Susan
    Sunday, May 5th, 2013
    We belonged to a CSA (community supported agriculture) for a while but found that, because we weren't in control of what came in the box, we had to freeze extra greens and compost other things that went bad before we got to them (sometimes we just didn't want to eat anymore turnips!). We now just go to the Farmer's market and get what we really want and can eat that week. If we do have to throw out food - and we do because the kids don't always want to eat as much as I think they might - it now goes to the chickens! They'll pretty much eat anything. And we get fresh eggs. It's win-win.
  3. Tammy Carter
    Monday, May 6th, 2013
    I have farm fresh veggies year round. Some leftovers go to our chickens, but for the most part any thing else goes into my "stock bag" in the freezer. All carrot peeling, celery bottoms, onion and garlic skins, plus stems from greens. It all goes in...every month I have the best veggie stock for free! 6 cups waters, boil, simmer, strain, easy peasy! As for the lady above with turnips, they make the best slaw!
  4. Deanna
    Monday, May 6th, 2013
    I would encourage everyone to seek out a local sustainable farmer with livestock that will use your food waste, then freeze any and everything accordingly to pass on to him or her. We have begun doing this in hopes of getting a couple of pigs ourselves in the near future - planning ahead will save on the feed bill!
  5. Andrew
    Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
    Great article. The only thing I'd add is that for home gardeners, you can swap (or sell) your excess home-grown produce at
  6. Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
    Dropping a sheet of FreshPaper into your produce drawer or fruit bowl helps keep food fresh for longer. FreshPaper is made only with organic spices and is a new, all-natural way to reduce food waste!