If you can believe it, more than one third of all food at the retail and consumer level is wasted. All this food wastage has a huge impact on the planet, the economy, and our community: it translates to greenhouse gas emissions, strains on our agriculture systems and supply chains, and it also means that all that food should have been distributed to the community but wasn’t.
Though there is some innovative technology to reduce food waste on the market today, one of the best things we can do is address our consumption at the source. We’re going to share with you 23 ways to start on a food waste reduction journey in your own home.
Let’s begin with why food waste is such a big problem in our world today before we dive into 23 simple ways to combat the food waste problem.
Why is food waste a problem?
Food waste is a problem because it shows how inefficient our food system is. Besides costing billions of dollars of lost revenue, food waste creates a huge strain on farming systems and natural resources. Plus, when food goes to the landfill, it creates the extremely potent greenhouse gas methane.
Americans waste so much food: A staggering 133 billion pounds of food is wasted in America every year. This translates to $161 billion lost in revenue and about 30-40% of all food produced in the U.S.
Most food is going to the landfill instead of being composted: According to the University of Washington, about 95% of food waste is going to the trash. So many nutrients that could be going into healthy compost, which is one of the most valuable resources for growing food, is ending up in landfills. Food does not break down in landfills, but instead emits the greenhouse gas methane, which is extremely potent and contributes to global warming.
Tons of food waste is happening on farms: The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that about 30% of food produced on farms goes uneaten. That is just a huge amount of food loss. Some of the struggles farmers face include the high costs of harvesting produce, the struggle of finding enough labor to process food, and transporting produce that quickly perishes. Grocery stores only want to sell the best, most beautiful produce from farmers, so most food with slight blemishes creates massive food loss and waste.
Food insecurity is common: About 38 million people are suffering from food insecurity, or a lack of consistent access to healthy food, in the U.S. When the U.S. is wasting one third of all food they produce instead of feeding hungry people, that is how you know food waste is a huge problem.
Food waste contributes to climate change: This happens in a few different ways. We know that up to 40% of all food is wasted, from farms, restaurants, grocery stores, and consumers. All the energy it takes to produce and transport the food translates to carbon dioxide emissions, one of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. We also know that when food ends up in the landfill, it creates methane, another greenhouse gas causing the earth to heat up. Plus, destructive farming practices and the widespread use of plastic to store and transport produce are part of an unsustainable food waste problem in the country.
Now that we understand why food waste is such a big issue, we can start to think about ways to address it. Here are 23 easy tips to start reducing food waste.
Solutions to food waste: 23 simple ways to combat food waste
If you’re ready to start reducing food waste, read on! We’ve hand-picked 23 smart and simple food waste solutions for you here.
#1. Get familiar with your eating habits
Sometimes, one of the easiest ways to stop wasting food is to actually understand your eating habits and patterns. The best way to do this is to track a few things:
- The foods you reach for first when you come back from the grocery store. This can tell you what kinds of food you like the most and are least likely to waste.
- The foods you regularly don’t get enough of, or get too much of. Are you always running out of granola bars? Letting spinach wilt because you can’t get through it fast enough?
- The foods that always seem to go bad, no matter how much you try to eat them.
Take notes for a few weeks to try to learn as much as you can about your shopping, eating, and food waste habits. This information will help you so much when you go back to the grocery store.
Pro tip: You don’t need to buy a special notebook just for the occasion! The notes app in your phone is often the most accessible and easiest way to keep track of your habits.
#2. Truly understand your food waste
If you aren’t up for the thoroughness of Tip #1, but you still want to get a handle on the food you keep seeming to waste, scale back and focus only on the food you always throw out.
Make a mental (or physical) note every time you notice something in your fridge or pantry that is expired or that went bad. Taking the extra step to truly notice will help keep you mindful while you’re shopping. This might take some trial and error; picking up smaller packages, skipping one kind of produce for a hardier one, or trying something new can all be little methods to try as you start to understand your food waste behavior.
Pro tip: Having a hard time keeping track of your food waste throughout the week? Try taking a photo or getting a friend to monitor their waste alongside you. Staying accountable throughout the process is important!
#3. Shop seasonally and reduce your carbon footprint
For the hardiest, freshest food that will last longer in your kitchen, try shopping seasonally. Shopping for fruits and vegetables according to their growing season will make you feel better overall, causes less strain on the food system, and the food has traveled less to get to your plate.
When you shop seasonally, you’re also voting for a food system that has a smaller impact on the planet.
Pro tip: Check out what’s in season right now using the Seasonal Food Guide!
#4. Shop and cook for YOU and your body
This solution sounds easy, but it might be tough to put into action: listen to your body. Be realistic; if the healthy version of you goes shopping and only picks up veggies you don’t like, you’ll be more likely to waste them. Buy food you really like and will actually look forward to eating; that way you’ll be more likely to clear out your whole fridge!
You don’t have to challenge yourself to eat foods you think will make you healthy. The best way to reduce food waste is to make sure your kitchen is stocked with foods you love and make you feel good. Just make sure you’re eating a balanced diet! The more you look forward to opening your fridge, the less likely you’ll let food go to waste.
Pro tip: Buying foods you love doesn’t always mean sticking to a boring routine; understanding the foods and produce you’ll always eat may take a bit of trial and error.
#5. Plan and strategize around leftovers
Overshopping can lead to more food you weren’t prepared to handle. For example, if you go shopping for 5 dinners and 5 lunches, chances are you’ll end up with tons of leftovers you could have taken for lunch instead.
A simple solution is to strategize! Cooking larger meals at dinner and storing the leftovers into a lunch-sized container is a perfect way to reduce food waste, save time in the morning, and save money at lunchtime when hunger strikes. No need to order lunch if you’ve already brought a delicious meal!
Pro tip: Whether you live alone or with others, sizing up meals at dinnertime is usually as easy as doubling the recipe. Making the most of your leftovers is a game changer!
#6. Pickle, preserve, and can all the food!
Preserving food is a time-tested method of preventing food waste. In the past, before freezers were widely available and food was only eaten locally and seasonally, families would spend days canning summer tomatoes for sauce through the winter and pickling cucumbers to add to sandwiches.
This classic food waste solution is becoming popular in the modern day, with tons of easy recipes to help you transform your old vegetables into vibrant pink pickled onions, delicious berry preserves, and more.
Creating something new and long-lasting from food you would otherwise throw out is a resourceful way to practice food waste reduction. You might also be interested in our guide to creating a zero waste kitchen!
Pro tip: Try adding your pickled veggies to salads, sandwiches, tacos, and more! There are so many creative recipes for you to follow online.
#7. Freeze vegetable scraps for stock
Saving your food scraps for stock is one of the easiest ways to combat food waste. Once you have saved up enough in your freezer to fill a soup pot about halfway, cover it with water and simmer for a few hours. You can continue to taste it to achieve the desired flavor concentration.
While some people only save certain scraps for their stock, others choose to freeze it all. Some of the most flavorful stocks come from a mix of onion skins, beet roots, carrot peels, and even mushroom stems and leafy greens.
If your family eats meat, save the bones and skin to freeze for stock as well! You’ll be saving money by passing the stock and broth aisle at the grocery store, you’ll get some additional nutrients out of your groceries, and you’ll be reducing food waste. Win-win-win!
Pro tip: Try different combinations of veggies in your stocks; some people love adding beets for the vibrant pink color, while some avoid beets at all costs. It’s always a fun experiment to make your own food!
#8. Transform greens into something magic
Do you have some wilting veggies in your fridge that you’re just not sure how to use? One of the simplest ways to clear out your fridge is to make a smoothie! Now, don’t just toss everything into a blender and drink it; chances are, you’ll be making a brownish-greenish mush. Instead, pick one or two veggies, a bunch of fresh or frozen fruit, and some milk or juice. Then, add a protein source like nut butter, yogurt, or some seeds. Top it off with a drizzle of maple syrup or honey, and then blend. This is a perfect, wholesome breakfast food!
The best part of this food waste solution is that you’ll be making a healthy and balanced meal. Plus you’ll be getting in more veggies before lunch than most people will have eaten all day.
Pro tip: Some of the best veggies to add to a smoothie: greens like spinach, kale, or any kind of leafy vegetable top; broccoli stems and carrots; cooked pumpkin or beets; get creative!
#9. Get creative in the kitchen
Some people love following a recipe to a T; they pick a recipe, shop for the ingredients, and get busy. But what happens when you have an odd combination of foods in your fridge and pantry? Instead of heading back out to the store to get new ingredients (or giving up and calling for takeout), try to get a little creative.
Even if you’ve only followed a few recipes, chances are, you’ve learned valuable skills about how to prepare really great meals. Take what you’ve learned and try to apply it to what you already have. You might just discover your new favorite dinner; and you were able to create something totally new! A little flexibility, creativity, and skill can transform potential waste food into a nutritious meal.
Pro tip: Most recipes really only need a few simple elements: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. You can quite easily make a stir-fry or roast a pan of veggies and a protein. Sometimes, simple meals are the best, and you’ll be saving yourself the money and time of an extra trip to the store!
#10. Grow your own food
If you are able to have a garden, even the smallest plot of land or window box can help you reduce waste in a fun and productive way.
People who garden are able to appreciate the food system as a whole. They can appreciate where their food comes from, and how much work it takes to reap just a few fruits and vegetables. Besides enjoying the reward of preparing fresh food from your garden to eat, you will also be able to get closer to the land and the intricate processes of growing food.
Pro tip: If you only have a window space, try window box planters! You can quite easily find planters at Home Depot for less than $20.
#11. Get to know your farmer
Besides shopping seasonally, you can also connect with local farmers at farmers markets. Sometimes, the best way to reduce waste is to just learn as much as we can about where our food comes from. Creating relationships with the people growing your food can make a huge impact on the way you think about and treat food in the future. They also might take your compostable items for their own compost pile!
CSA’s are also a great way to try new produce, seasonally. CSAs, or community supported agriculture, are yearly investments in your local farmer in exchange for a weekly bundle of fresh foods. You’ll hardly have to think about what to get at the grocery store; the farm will take care of your veggie needs! Keep things fresh in your kitchen and reduce waste at the same time.
Pro tip: Small farms often welcome volunteers to help out in the fields. Do some research on farms or gardens near you that could use your help, and get to work!
#12. Store food correctly
One of the simplest ways to reduce food waste is to store your produce correctly. It seems obvious, but most foods will go bad more quickly if you don’t make sure they’re actually stored with their freshness in mind. Knowing how quickly you should be eating certain foods, like meat and dairy, will help you shop and cook smarter, as well.
Here is a quick guide to storing your food properly:
- Put all refrigerated food away within two hours, including leftovers.
- Quickly check all your non-produce items; if anything really needs to be refrigerated, it should say so on the package.
- Keep apples separate from your other produce–apples release ethylene gases which ripen (and rot) foods quicker.
- Using glass containers can help you see exactly what’s in your fridge. They are also perfectly airtight, which means you can store produce in them to keep it fresher for longer.
- Keep carrots, celery, and asparagus in a glass of water to keep them crisp.
- Wash leafy greens and wrap them in a damp towel. You can keep them like that, or store them in a sealed plastic bag to keep the moisture in.
- Keep other fruits and veggies away from apples; they produce ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process and more food will end up getting wasted.
Pro tip: Even though it might be a pain, washing, preparing, properly storing all your produce, and organizing your fridge as soon as you come back from the grocery store will save you time throughout the week and will reduce your waste.
#13. Research new recipes
If you buy the same old ingredients every week, you might be getting bored of the same old meals. We’ve all been there: checking out the fridge and just ordering takeout instead because nothing in the kitchen looks good. Boredom in the kitchen makes for too much extra food waste–why not try some new recipes?
Whether you invite some friends over as an excuse to try something new or you just surprise yourself with a different recipe, sometimes shaking up your regular routine can help you fall back in love with cooking again, kicking that food waste habit.
Pro tip: Pick new recipes that feature ingredients you’ve always been curious about, but know there’s just no way you can figure out what to do with it before it goes bad. You just might find your new favorite veggie!
#14. Keep your pantry and fridge organized
It might sound silly, but an organized pantry and fridge could be the ultimate food waste solution. How many times have your leftovers gotten shoved to the back of the fridge, just to sit there and fester? There’s a better way.
Whether you divide your fridge into designated sections, or you label every item, or you splurge on helpful fridge organizing bins, any effort you put in to creating a sustainable organization system for your kitchen will prevent food from ending up in the garbage. You’ll become familiar with everything in your kitchen at all times, you’ll be able to see every ingredient, and you’ll get the most out of the space.
Looking for more products that make having a zero waste kitchen a breeze? Check out our hand-picked list of 30 kitchen products that reduce food waste.
Pro tip: This might just be your sign to pick up some kitchen and fridge organizing items. We found this fridge organization starter kit at The Container Store!
#15. Start labeling your food!
A super simple and quick solution to combating food waste: labeling food in containers. Whether you are storing food in clear glass or opaque tupperware, it’s always helpful to make a quick label before putting it in the fridge.
If you clean up dinner and put your leftovers in a container, write down what’s inside and include the date. That way, you’ll be less likely to forget what is in your fridge and it will be easier to visualize exactly how long everything has been in there.
Pro tip: Even though masking tape and a good sharpie work just as well, we found these amazing fridge labels at the Container Store for less than $10!
#16. Understand the expiration date
Whether you’re looking at packages of unused food in the fridge or cartons of food in your pantry, it can be really difficult to understand the differences between ‘best by,’ ‘use before,’ and other expiration date signs.
Up to 90% of Americans misinterpret expiration labels and throw away perfectly edible food. Consumer education is much needed to help Americans understand the healthy range of a food’s lifespan before it goes bad. Keeping track of the expiration dates in your fridge and pantry can seem complicated with all the different terms used on packaging, but the USDA published a handy guide to help you.
Pro tip: Check out the USDA’s guide to food product dating here!
#17. Forget the trash bin: electric composting with Lomi
One of the best ways to prevent food from completely going to waste is to transform it back into nutrient-rich dirt to add to your garden or plants. The Lomi electric countertop composter is a device about the size of a breadmaker. You can add all of your food scraps and even Lomi-approved bioplastics into the barrel, and in a matter of house, Lomi will create nutrient rich dirt.
It is one of the easiest ways to reduce food waste because once you add it into Lomi, all you have to do is press a button and Lomi does all the work. This machine is changing the game for food waste recycling solutions; preventing it from going to the landfill.
Pro tip: Put Lomi on its Grow setting, and at the end of its cycle, you’ll have microbially-rich compost end product you can use right away in your garden!
#18. Add household waste to a traditional compost pile
If you have a little extra space in the yard, or you’re already planning on planting a garden this year, there’s no better way to reduce food waste entirely than starting your own compost pile. A traditional compost pile combines brown organic matter, like dead leaves, paper, sticks, and other yard waste, with green organic matter, like your kitchen scraps, into rich, dark compost.
All you need to do to get started is designate a spot in your yard that gets a good mix of sun and shade. You can either build a box, set up a barrel of chicken wire, or just start making a pile. In about 6 to 10 months, you’ll have an incredible pile of rich compost, and you’ll have found an amazing (and simple!) food waste solution. Composting leftover food is an easy way to reduce food waste.
Check out our guide on how to start composting for beginners.
Pro tip: Make sure you’re adding lots of brown material to your pile. The more sticks and crumpled up paper, the more air will be able to flow through your pile, speeding up the process. Read more about how to speed up composting here!
#19. Curbside household waste compost pickup
If you don’t have the space or time to make your own compost, hundreds of cities around the U.S. offer curbside compost pickup services. The concept is super simple: pay a monthly bill, like you would for garbage or recycling, and the curbside pickup company will drop off a bucket for you.
All you have to do is put your food waste (and other compostable items like paper and cardboard) into the bucket instead of in the trash! Then, on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, leave your bucket out on the curb. The company will come pick up your compost and leave behind an empty bucket for you to continue to fill.
To reward you for your scrap contributions, lots of companies will even give you a free bag of compost to use in your own gardens. These grassroots organizations are diverting thousands or pounds of waste from landfills to turn into healthy compost for their community and beyond.
Pro tip: Simply search for ‘compost curbside service near me’ in Google and check out your options. This service is expanding rapidly, and is almost definitely available near you.
#20. Sign up for imperfect food deliveries to prevent food loss and waste
Food waste reduction isn’t just a responsibility in our kitchens. Farms often throw away produce that feature imperfections because they aren’t likely to sell in grocery stores. In fact, 16% of all edible food produced is thrown away on farms. To combat this practice, imperfect food delivery services like Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods collect these rejected food items and sell them at a huge discount.
Whether they are a bit too small, too lumpy, or have a small scar, all of the produce they redistribute is perfectly fine to eat; it’s just a bit ugly. Signing up for a subscription at either of these companies fights back against wasted produce at the source, and can be a really affordable way to buy your veggies.
Pro tip: If you don’t always eat a ton of fruits or vegetables but still want to try one of these services, try sharing a delivery with a friend or neighbor!
#21. Share extra food with your friends and neighbors
Creating community with people around you can be one of the most fulfilling food waste solutions. Did you go a bit overboard for your dinner party, and you end up with an untouched casserole? Wrap it up nicely and knock on your neighbor’s door or call up a friend who has been going through a tough time. Get to know the people surrounding you; sharing food can be an incredibly healing practice, and it prevents extra food from going to waste.
Pro tip: Getting to know your neighbors can be really intimidating. Start small; wave hi to them in passing, and then strike up a conversation. You never know when you might need a neighbor’s support, so it’s good to build up a relationship now.
#22. Donate fresh and untouched food
One of the best ways to prevent food waste and serve your community at the same time is to donate your uneaten food to your local food pantry. While we should definitely be donating regularly anyway, sometimes, if we happen to overshop, donating is the best way to stop uneaten food from going to waste.
Excess food waste doesn’t just result in economic losses in our homes; food waste affects our community. Just make sure you avoid spoiled food when you drop off your donation. Only fresh, unopened perishables and non-perishables will be accepted.
#23. Avoid the landfill at all costs
Sometimes, we can’t help but create some amount of waste that comes from food. Whether it’s fruit seeds, inedible skins, or something else, creating waste is unavoidable sometimes. Whatever you decide to do with your food waste, do your very best to make sure it does not end up in the landfill.
Food waste in the trash and landfills makes methane gas, a highly potent greenhouse gas. It is also a lost resource for healthy and productive compost. Whether you make your own compost or send it elsewhere, the important thing is that you take steps to ensure its safe disposal.
Pro tip: No matter what you decide to do with your food waste, pretty much any solution besides tossing it into the garbage bin is preferred.
Hopefully this guide was helpful for you! Reducing our food waste is one of the most impactful actions we can take on an individual level that will create a more closed loop system and sustainable food waste solutions.
You also might be interested in our guide to innovative food waste solutions, where we explain other tips as well as some of the most unique methods for solving our food waste dilemma. For those more interested in composting, you should consider buying Lomi. It’s a fast and simple way of creating nutrient-rich dirt in your own home, while ensuring that your kitchen scraps don’t end up in landfill!
Written by: Jess Savage