15 Ways to Reduce Food Waste at Home—and Why You Should
Want to save money, make the most of your food budget, and help the environment while you're at it? Make these steps to reducing food waste part of your weekly routine. Learn how you can reduce food waste at home.
Why Reduce Food Waste in Your Home?
According to a new study from the World Resources Institute, 1.3 billion tons of food (an estimated market value of $940 billion) are lost or wasted each year. This accounts for an estimated 8 percent of yearly greenhouse gas emissions, a quarter of all water used by agriculture, and requires an agricultural area equivalent to the size of China. So on a global scale, reducing waste matters a lot.
But on an individual level, there are also significant benefits to reducing the amount of waste produced in your own home. A study by the United States Department of Agriculture found that the average American wastes nearly a pound of food per day. Over time, reducing the amount of food waste your produce can lead to big savings. Here are small steps you can take towards reducing food waste every day.
Ways to Reduce Food Waste
1. Meal Plan Like a Pro
Reducing food waste starts with your grocery list. The simplest way to know you're buying only what you need is to make a list of what you plan to eat for each meal, and use that to make your shopping list. Although this might seem like another chore to add to your never-ending to-do list, meal planning is your secret weapon to reducing that mid-week dinner stress. Follow our guide to A Month of Easy 5-Ingredient Dinners for all the meal planning and shopping lists you'll need to get started.
2. Shop Your Fridge
When putting together your shopping list, it's easy to overlook ingredients you already have when they're tucked in the depths of your overcrowded fridge. Learn to organize your kitchen so that foods reaching their expiration date are stored at the front, while newer foods are stored in the back. Before you start planning your weekly meals, look at what you already have in your fridge and try to plan meals around those ingredients.
3. Buy Only What You Need
While buying ingredients in bulk has become a popular way of reducing trips to the store and saving money, it only works when you actually use all of the food before it goes bad. Try to only buy ingredients in bulk that you can use before they expire, like nuts, pasta, grains, canned foods, and frozen foods. Make more frequent trips to the grocery store to buy just what you need for the upcoming days. This will help you to reduce the waste that comes for going on less frequent, large shopping trips.
4. Store Food to Stay Fresh Longer
Fruits and vegetables are the most commonly wasted type of food, so learning to properly store them can make a big difference in your no-waste quest. Store fruits and vegetables in different drawers in your refrigerator, as they require different humidity levels to stay fresh. Some fruits, like bananas, avocados, apples, and tomatoes, give off gases as they ripen, which can cause nearby produce to spoil. Store these separately for maximum freshness. You can even give berries a "vinegar bath" to keep them fresh longer. If your bread is getting a little stale, here's how to freshen it up instead of throwing it out.
5. Learn the Truth About Expiration Dates
Contrary to popular practice, the "best if used by" date on your milk is not necessarily the date you should throw it out by. According to the USDA, "best if used by/before" indicates when a product will be at peak flavor or quality. "Sell-by" tells the store how long to keep an item on the shelf, and "use-by" is the last date recommended for the use of the product at peak quality. None of these labels are safety dates. With the exception of infant formula, the USDA says that a product is still safe after the date passes until spoilage (like change in flavor, odor, or texture) is evident. So turns out, you can actually get more use out of your food than you might think.
6. Start With Less
Overeating is a large driver of food waste, as it cases us to lose sight of how hungry we are. Rather than filling your entire plate with food, start with less. You can always go back for more if you're not satisfied. But filling your plate and then scraping the leftovers into the trash is only going to increase your food waste (and overeating eating will increase your other waist).
7. Keep a Log of What You Waste
As you begin to become more conscious of how much food you're wasting, keep a log in your kitchen and write it down whenever you throw away food. While you may think you're doing pretty well on the whole food waste thing, seeing the amount you waste in writing can help open yours eyes to what ingredients you typically waste, and how you can make the most of them in the future.
8. Eat the Whole Thing
While this may seem obvious, we sometimes forget that much of our food waste is tied to the parts of the plant (or other food products) we discard. Things like skins, yolks, seeds, and stems are all tossed without another thought given to them. I'm not saying you need to start munching on the stems of your leafy greens, but you can get creative with them by adding them to smoothies for added fiber and nutrients.
People often avoid egg yolks for fear of cholesterol, but dietary cholesterol has been found to have a very small effect on your overall cholesterol levels. And apple skins are loaded with fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants — so skip the peeling step altogether. Put pumpkin seeds to use by making them into a tasty snack, liked these Roasted Pumpkin Seeds. You can even add berry stems to water for flavor. The possibilities are truly endless when you start getting creative with food that you used to consider "waste."
9. Make Homemade Stock
Save yourself a trip to the store and $$$ by using leftover vegetables or meat scraps (even bones!) to make your own stock. Discover some of our top-rated recipes for chicken stock, vegetable stock, and bone broth.
10. Have a Spa Day
If you've got a few avocados that are past their prime, try mixing them with a little honey to make a natural hair or face mask. Leftover coffee grounds make an excellent exfoliant, and overripe bananas can be mashed and mixed with oatmeal and milk for a moisturizing mask. And don't forget a little cucumber for those eye bags!
11. Preserve What You Can't Eat
If you're looking to reduce food waste at home, you'll need to start getting comfortable with your freezer. Learn to freeze leftover fruits and vegetables for later use. Everything from cookie dough to casseroles to soups can be frozen — learn the best ways here. But freezing foods isn't the only method of making them last longer. Preserve your food by pickling, canning, fermenting or using any other food preservation method. Pickling has been used for thousands of years, helping to reduce waste and make food last through those cold winter months. Learn how to can and preserve, it's easier than you might think!
12. Save a Day for Leftovers
As much planning as you put into your weekly meals, you're still likely to end up with leftovers. Be flexible with your meals and set aside a day to eat up all the leftovers in your fridge. Whether you have a lot of one thing or a little of everything, reheat your leftover food for an easy dinner that makes room in your fridge for the next trip to the store.
13. Bring Your Lunch to Work
Packing work lunches ahead of time requires planning, and you may be tempted to just skip it altogether and head to lunch with your coworkers. But this is costly for both your wallet and the environment. Instead, make going out to lunch a special treat, and try to pack your own lunch for work. You can also use work lunches as an opportunity to use up leftovers that are on the brink of going bad. Get started with these 7 Work Lunches to Win the Week.
14. Donate to Local Food Banks or Farms
If you end up with any untouched food that you don't want to see go to waste, consider donating to a local food bank or local farm. According to the USDA, food is still safe to donate after its date so long as it doesn't show signs of spoilage. Food banks and other organizations are often happy to accept food past its date, but be sure to check with organization about its guidelines for food donations. Local farmers will also sometimes accept expired food to feed to livestock. Not only will this help to reduce your own personal food waste, but it will also help you fill a need in your community.
15. Compost Whatever's Left
Even after all that planning, storing, preserving, and donating — you'll likely still end up with some food scraps that cannot be salvaged. Rather than dumping them in the trash, consider composting them. Composting helps to reduce food waste by breaking down organic matter (everything from banana peels to apple cores to your jack-o-lantern) into a nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be used in your garden. Learn how to DIY Compost.
While composting is an important piece of the food waste equation, it shouldn't be your first stop. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, composting is last on the food recovery hierarchy, only preferred over disposing of food in a landfill. So while it can certainly make a difference, look to reduce your food waste through other means first.