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Reducing Wasted Food from Households

Americans waste about 25 percent of the food we purchase. We waste food by not preparing it before it goes bad and by not eating all the food we do prepare. There are multiple consequences for wasting food:

  • Most of our wasted food ends up in a landfill where methane gas is generated as it decomposes in the absence of air. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, contributes to climate change.
  • Wasting food wastes resources. Growing, packaging, transporting and refrigerating food uses labor, water, energy, and other inputs. When we waste food, we also waste these resources.
  • In addition to the environmental impacts and the waste resources, financial resources are wasted. The value of uneaten food per US household is almost $1000 per year.1

Tips to Reduce Wasted Food

We can reduce the amount of food that we waste through changing our behaviors while shopping preparing, storing and eating our food. King County in Washington State has been on the cutting edge of food waste reduction. Much of the content below highlights key items from the King County food waste prevention website (leaving DEC's website).

For additional tips to reduce wasted food community wide, including an implementation guide for local government, visit Food: Too Good To Waste - Get Your Community Started (leaving DEC's website).

Shopping

  • Make a shopping list based on how many meals you will eat at home and when you plan to shop next. If you will likely eat out several times this week, factor that into your shopping list.
  • Be wary of sales that encourage you to buy more than you need. If you buy two bags of oranges at half price, but only eat part of one bag before they spoil, you have wasted money and food. Sometimes discounted fruits and vegetables are no longer fresh. Check carefully before buying.
  • If you are at the store and don't have a shopping list, you can access free mobile apps and web-based tools to shop smarter (leaving DEC's website).

Preparing

One of the reasons why we discard so much food is that we don't take the time to properly prepare what we buy. The fresh produce that seemed like a good idea in the store, doesn't match reality when you only have half an hour or less to prepare a meal. By preparing perishable foods soon after shopping, you'll be ready to prepare meals later in the week even when time is short.

  • When you get home from the store, wash, dry, chop, dice, slice and place your fresh food items in clear storage containers for snacks and easy cooking.
  • Freeze food such as bread, sliced fruit or meat that you know you won't be able to eat in time.
  • For ways to transform leftover food into new meals, visit Recipe Resource (leaving DEC's website) and Love Food Hate Waste Recipes (leaving DEC's website).

Keep Fruits and Vegetables Fresh

The foods we waste the most are fresh vegetables and fruit. This is typically because we have bought too much or didn't use it in time. By storing fruits and vegetables for maximum freshness, they will taste better and last longer, helping you eat more of them before they spoil. Storage tips:

Eat What you Buy

Move food that is likely to spoil soon to the front of the shelf or a designated "eat now" area each week.

Going Out to Eat

  • Request smaller portions. Restaurants will often provide half-portions upon request at reduced prices.
  • Eat Leftovers. Ask your restaurant to pack up your extras in take out containers so you can eat them later. Or bring your own container to the restaurant. Freeze the extra food if you don't want to eat it immediately. Only about half of Americans take leftovers home from restaurants.

Compost Inedible Food

Composting inedible food and food scraps can reduce their climate impact while also recycling their nutrients. Food scraps make up almost 20 percent of the New York State's residential waste stream, but a much higher percent of landfill-caused methane. To learn more about composting visit NYSDEC's Composting at Home website.

Other Resources

The following links leave the DEC Website.

USEPA's Food Recovery Website

King County's food prevention website

Food: Too Good To Waste - Get Your Community Started

Mobile apps and web-based tools to shop smarter

King County's Recipe Resource

Love Food Hate Waste Recipes

Still Tasty: Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide

Eat by Date: Shelf Life of Food

NRDC's Saving Leftovers Saves Money and Resources

1Buzby, Jean C. and Jeffrey Hyman. "Total and Per Capita Value of Food Loss in the United States." Food Policy, 37(2012):561-570.


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