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20 Ways To Reduce Food Waste in Your Home

Author Icon By Stephanie Koncewicz Updated 01/14/2024

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average American family of four throws away roughly $1,500 worth of food every year. Household food waste might include uneaten leftovers, expired pantry essentials, or produce gone bad. This tendency to throw out food contributes to a larger problem.

Over one-third of all food produced in the U.S. goes to waste, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And 60% of that unwanted food ended up in landfills in 2019—that’s more than 130 billion pounds. While this is a bigger problem than any consumer can tackle, there are changes every household can make to help mitigate food waste.


What Is Food Waste?

Food waste refers to edible food thrown away or kept for so long it expires—and it creates a problem far beyond filling up the landfills.

Wasted food creates a higher demand for food production, increasing the strain on agricultural workers and distribution channels. This also means farmers have to clear more forests for agriculture and apply an uptick in pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

In the United States, 30% to 40% of the food supply is wasted. Excess household food waste “requires more frequent pickup, which generates added transportation emissions,” adds Alannah Hardcastle, the social impact manager of the climate action group Random Acts of Green. “It’s also worth considering how our current food systems could be altered to help combat world hunger.”


The Benefits of Reducing Food Waste

Helping the environment is just one of the many benefits of reducing food waste. We’ll explain other advantages of combating food waste below.

1. Environmental Benefits

We already discussed how food waste contributes to landfills, but reducing the amount of food we throw out can also help decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Organic waste breaks down over time. In landfills, where garbage is piled up in layers, oxygen is removed from the process. When that happens, the microorganisms that break down the waste emit methane and other greenhouse gases.

2. Economic Benefits

Saving money is the most obvious economic benefit of reducing food waste at home. When you spend money on food you throw away, you’re essentially throwing that money away. Plus, the less food we toss out, the less we have to buy to replace it.

3. Food Security and Hunger Reduction

As mentioned earlier, more than one-third of all food produced worldwide is wasted. By reducing the amount of food wasted, we could increase the food supply without increasing production. This would help to ensure there’s enough food to meet the needs of the world’s growing population.

4. Conservation of Resources

When we waste food, we aren’t just discarding the end product. We’re also discarding the resources needed to produce it, including farmland, water, and the energy sources used to transport, process, and store food.

Each year, enough water and energy to supply more than 50 million homes is used to produce food that ends up wasted, according to the EPA. Reducing our food waste leads to more efficient use of multiple resources.

5. Promotion of Sustainable Practices

Wasting food increases demand from our agricultural systems, contributing to deforestation and habitat loss. It threatens not only the environment but future long-term food security.

6. Odor and Pest Prevention

Having a lot of leftover food waste in your garbage makes for an unpleasant smell and can attract unwelcome visitors. Pests such as cockroaches, wasps, and rodents are attracted to decomposing food, so eliminating your food waste may also reduce the risk of having to call a pest control company.


20 Ways To Reduce Food Waste in Your Home

We’ve discussed why reducing food waste is important, but things are often easier said than done. Below are 20 tips for reducing food waste in your home.

1. Plan Your Meals

Planning ahead is one of the best ways to ensure you don’t over-buy food. Make a reasonable meal plan before you head to the store, and try to plan a few meals that use the same ingredients so you know you’ll use everything you purchase.

2. Make a Shopping List

A shopping list can help you stay focused at the grocery store. After making a meal plan, create an inventory of your fridge and pantry. Note what you already have and make a list of things you need. When you get to the grocery store, stick to the list and avoid impulse purchases.

3. Buy in Smaller Quantities

While buy-one-get-one deals are appealing, they only save you money if you’ll actually eat the extra food. The same applies to buying in bulk. If you have a large household or plan to cook for others, go for it. Otherwise, stick to the amount of food you know you’ll eat.

4. Store Food Properly

Many packaged foods have labels with proper storage instructions. Here are some basics for maintaining freshness:

  • Store potatoes, onions, and garlic in a cool, dry, dark place with good airflow.
  • Store leafy veggies in your fridge’s high-humidity drawer.
  • Store rot-prone veggies, such as mushrooms and peppers, in the low-humidity drawer.
  • Wait to wash produce until you’re about to use it.
  • Use food storage containers with tight seals.

5. Organize Your Pantry and Fridge

Try to set up your food storage spaces so you can see everything. Staying organized will help you keep a running inventory of what you have on hand and track what you might be over-purchasing.

6. Practice FIFO (First In, First Out)

Rotate your food items and place newer groceries behind older ones to help you use up the older items before they expire. It will also help you make informed purchases moving forward because you’ll learn how often you use ingredients.

7. Get Creative With Leftovers

With the right planning, last night’s leftovers can take on new life at lunchtime. When you store leftovers, portion out enough for lunch the next day. Leftover ingredients such as pasta or veggies are easy to incorporate into other meals.

8. Preserve Excess Produce

Freezing is a zero-cost option for no-fuss preservation. Label the container with the date you put it in the freezer. Even frozen items have a shelf life.

9. Use the Whole Ingredient

If a recipe only calls for half an onion, go ahead and chop the whole onion. You can freeze half to use later in another dish.

10. Portion Control

Portion control means adding an appropriate amount of food to your plate. While we often consider this a dietary strategy, it also helps reduce waste. Smaller portions on your plate mean you’ll throw out less food after a meal.

11. Donate to Food Banks

If you won’t be able to use up items in your pantry before expiration dates start rolling in, donate them to a local food bank. Try to do this before any trips out of town to ensure you don’t come home to a pantry full of stale food.

12. Compost Food Scraps

Composting involves saving food scraps to use in your garden. It’s a great way to dispose of the inedible parts of produce. We’ll dive into composting in more detail in the next section.

13. Reuse Packaging

Food waste doesn’t just involve food but also the various containers needed to transport and store it. Use resealable tubs to store leftovers and jars to preserve food for future use. Use reusable produce and grocery bags wherever possible.

14. Shop Consciously

Shopping consciously means paying more attention at the grocery store. Don’t get distracted by cravings or advertisements for food you don’t need. Your grocery list will come in handy here.

15. Check expiration dates

Check expiration dates before you buy, and make sure you’ll be able to use the food according to the date. Also, note the different dates listed on food packaging:

  • “Expires” means you shouldn’t use the products past these dates.
  • “Best by” and “use by” refer to optimal freshness. You can generally eat the food past this date, but it might not taste as fresh.
  • “Sell by” is intended for merchants rather than consumers. There’s wiggle room for using these foods after that date.
  • “Pack date” is when the food was packaged and doesn’t indicate a deadline but can be used to determine optimal freshness.

16. Learn Preservation Techniques

Food preservation techniques include freezing, canning, pickling, and dehydrating or drying. Each method has pros and cons that depend on your preferences and habits. Regardless of your chosen techniques, preserving food is a great option to reduce waste.

17. Share Meals With Others

If you overdo it and end up with a lot of extra food, phone a friend. Invite someone for dinner, ask your neighbors if you can bring them leftovers, or surprise your coworkers with a snack.

18. Monitor and Track Waste

If you want to be thorough about managing your personal food waste, you can start to track your household waste. Apps such as NoWaste can help you keep tabs on your food habits.

19. Educate Children

If you have kids, teach them the importance of eating responsibly. We don’t mean the old tactic of “there are starving children in the world, so eat your peas.” Have your kids help you take inventory of your pantry and check expiration dates. Give them some say in the meal plan and explain why it’s important. If you have a garden, let the kids lend a hand.

20. Spread the Word

Share your knowledge and experiences with friends, family, and social media to inspire others to reduce food waste in their homes.


How To Start Composting To Reduce Food Waste in Your Home

Composting is essentially the practice of helping nature recycle waste back into the soil, and it’s one of the most popular ways to reduce food waste in your home. Many gardeners compost for the added benefit of having fresh, fertile soil.

“Compost provides many benefits to soil and plant growth, including adding and retaining nutrients, balancing soil density, and helping absorb water,” says Hardcastle. She encourages everyone to compost but encourages sharing food first. There are food donation and distribution centers in most communities, but if there isn’t one close to you, she recommends apps such as ShareWaste.

Step 1. Choose a Composting Method

Determine the composting method that suits your space and needs. There are various options for both outdoor and indoor composting. Outdoor composting uses bins, piles, or tumblers. You can compost indoors using a small compost bin or vermicomposting (composting using worms).

Step 2. Select a Compost Bin

Common options include plastic storage containers, wooden crates, or garbage cans. No matter what you use, you’ll want a bin with a lid and holes for airflow.

Step 3. Gather Compostable Materials

Compostable materials are categorized into nitrogen-rich “green material” and carbon-rich “brown material.” You’ll need to know the difference when you get started. Below is a breakdown of what you can and can’t throw in the compost bin:

Green Materials To Compost

  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Crushed eggshells
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Lawn clippings

Brown Materials To Compost

  • Dry leaves and twigs
  • Plant stalks
  • Shredded cardboard (without tape, glue, or wax coating)
  • Shredded, non-glossy paper
  • Untreated wood chips

What To Avoid Composting

  • Aggressive weeds
  • Bones
  • Compostable cutlery or bags
  • Cooked food
  • Diseased or infested plants
  • Fats, oils, and grease
  • Glossy paper
  • Meat and fish
  • Pet waste or litter
  • Plants treated with herbicide
  • Treated or painted wood

Note: Chopping larger pieces before adding them to the pile will help them break down faster.

Step 4. Set Up a Kitchen Compost Bin

No matter where you’re composting, it’s good to have a small bin in your kitchen to collect your scraps throughout the day. Empty it regularly to avoid unpleasant odors.

Step 5. Start Composting

When you start composting, you’ll want a ratio of 3:1 brown material to green material. That means you need to save up some dead leaves and cardboard before throwing all your kitchen scraps into the mix.

Layer several inches of brown material. This will help absorb any moisture and allow for airflow. Then add a layer of green. Always sandwich green material between layers of brown.

Step 6. Monitor Moisture Levels

Make sure your compost stays moist, not wet. The air holes in your container should help drain any excess moisture, but you want the materials to be about as wet as a recently wrung-out sponge. If it looks too dry, add some water. If it looks too wet or develops a smell, add some brown material to soak up some moisture.

Step 7. Turn or Mix the Compost

Turning and mixing the pile will speed up the decomposition process. You can do this with a shovel or a gardening fork. Some compost bins may come with their own mixing mechanisms.

Step 8. Have Patience and Time

As you continue composting, you’ll see the materials break down to create new, rich soil. It takes about three to five months for compost to break down. If you maintain your compost pile over the winter, it should be ready to add to your garden in the spring.

You’ll know the compost has finished decomposing when it resembles soil—looking brown and crumbly and emitting an earthy smell. It typically happens first at the bottom of the pile, so you can move it to a new bin to let it rest or cure. It will need to cure for about four weeks. After that, if there are any pieces that haven’t been fully broken down, you can add them back to your active compost.

Step 9. Use Your Finished Compost

Compost is a great fertilizer for gardening. You can either mix it into the soil or apply a layer on top of the soil. Don’t have a garden? Find someone who does, and share your black gold with them.


3 Organizations That Can Help You Combat Food Waste

If you’re finding it difficult to complete some of these tasks on your own, look for community resources to help you reduce food waste. Below are organizations that offer helpful resources and ways to get involved in the fight against food waste.

A Food Bank Near You

If you want to donate food, it’s worth checking out local organizations. Community centers, shelters, and churches are good places to start.

Food Recovery Network

The Food Recovery Network (FRN) is a student-led organization that helps distribute unused food from campuses. It has many valuable resources on its website and opportunities for business owners and event organizers to get involved.

ReFED

ReFED is a national nonprofit that works to reduce high-level food waste. The organization works with businesses and government leaders to form data-driven solutions to food loss. It offers many resources regarding food waste on its website.


Our Conclusion

Food waste is a global problem that has many negative impacts on the environment, agricultural workers, and our wallets. Taking small steps to reduce food waste in your own home can save you money and wasted resources while addressing a larger issue.

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