It takes about 460 gallons of water to produce 1/4 pound of beef and 13 gallons of water to produce a single orange. Not to mention the added fuel, processing and packaging before it even touches the shelves.
Tossing those old leftovers or moldy strawberries may not seem like a big deal, but according to a 2012 NRDC report—Americans throw away 400 lbs of food per year… per person!
According to the NRDC, Americans throw away 40% of its food. That’s like buying 5 bags of groceries and leaving two bags in the parking lot.
That’s a lot of wasted nutrients, resources, money and calories—on top of the environmental impact of all that waste going into landfills.
By reducing your food waste, you’re ensuring all the time, energy and resources that went into producing that food, is not wasted. You can save money AND reduce your carbon footprint by reducing your food waste.
So what can you do about all this? Start by reading our 75 tips to reduce your food waste from planning to shopping to storage and more. Start small and choose a couple to start with to reduce your food waste at home.
75 tips to reduce food waste
- Plan meals ahead of time – This can save time and can help keep you on track. Have a plan for everything you buy.
- Plan a leftovers night – Plan one night of the week to eat up or repurpose leftovers. Enjoy leftover meals, or get creative with those odds and ends.
- Use what you already have – Old carrots and wilted greens? Chop them up for pasta, frittata, or a soup or salad. Check out our Pursuing Zero Food Waste: Carrots for more tips on using carrots and their greens!
- Can it – Learn how to can fresh produce. It’s easiest to start with foods like salsas, jams and jellies. Here’s your canning 101.
- Befriend your freezer – Bought too many green beans? Berries look sad? Wash, cut, and freeze on a baking sheet. Once frozen, combine in a container and they’ll last for months. Same goes for wilted spinach and herbs — even try creating herb and olive oil “ice cubes”.
- Revive wilted greens by placing them in an ice bath for a couple minutes.
- Eat the skins – Fruit/veggie skins contain a lot of great nutrients and fiber. You can eat the skins of cucumber, potatoes, peaches, apricots, zucchini, eggplant, kiwi, and the list goes on.
- Store tomatoes on the counter and on the vine as long as possible, vine side down.
- Save the seeds – When carving out pumpkins or squash – save those seeds for a crunchy baked snack.
- Save your scraps – Save veggie ends, cheese rinds and chicken bones for an easy homemade stock. Store everything in a freezer bag until you have enough for stock.
- Plan to use delicate produce first (greens, tomatoes, peaches), while hearty produce can last longer (beets, potatoes, cabbage).
- Use clear storage containers and make a habit of clearing out the fridge before buying more.
- First In, First Out – Use your oldest foods before going for the newer ones you just bought.
- Proper produce storage – wrap greens in a towel, keep potatoes away from onions, and separate bananas and peaches (and other ethylene-emitting fruits like apples).
- Buy less + shop more often – Shop smart by only buying what you need, especially perishable foods. Plan to hit the farmer’s market or grocery store once a week instead of once a month to get your fresh foods. Check out our Zero Waste Grocery Shopping post for more grocery shopping tips.
- Buy from bulk bins – this doesn’t mean you need to buy large amounts, but you can purchase just what you need. Also bring your own bulk bags! Look for bulk bins in your grocery store. You can also check out the BulkFinder app for stores with bulk in your area.
- Write a list – Reduce impulse buying and buy just what you need with a simple list.
- Buy frozen foods – Frozen fruits and veggies will have basically the same nutrient content as fresh, but they last longer and can help reduce food waste, especially if you have trouble getting through the fresh versions before they go bad. Keep in mind, frozen does come with packaging so be mindful of your shopping habits.
- Pack leftovers for lunch – Make extra for dinner so you have leftovers for a healthy lunch.
- Turn extra or mushy apples into applesauce, apple chips or delicious baked apples.
- Use the blender – soft berries, wilted greens, and brown avocados are all great smoothie additions. Our latest smoothie concoction: bruised peaches with cucumber juice – you can add just about anything to a smoothie…
- Date items to keep track of what needs to be used first.
- Embrace ugly produce – The aging apple, bruised banana and crooked carrot still need homes too, and they’re still totally edible!
- Regularly clean out the fridge – I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “out of sight, out of mind”? Search the whole fridge for hidden foods. Don’t let those berries tucked in the back go bad before you realize. Prevent food spoilage by keeping things clean and visible.
- Understand food labels – Use by, sell by, and best by all mean different things. Also know, these labels aren’t regulated (except for baby formula)and there are no universally accepted descriptions used on food labels for dating so be sure to use your senses.
- Use your senses – Look for changes in color, smell and texture and use your best judgement. Also remember, when in doubt, throw it out..
- Don’t finish your plate if you’re full – overeating is not the solution for food waste. Store extra for leftovers or reassess the meal size for next time.
- Pickle it – cucumber, green beans, cauliflower, beets, carrots, radishes, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, even watermelon rinds.
- Save citrus peels – they work great to flavor water or make a natural household cleaner. Check out our Pursuing Zero Food Waste: Lemons for more tips on using citrus peels.
- Compost – This is a great way to turn those food scraps into an amazing soil amendment. There are lots of ways to compost: a backyard set up, bokashi, vermicomposting, utilizing city composting, or even asking if a farmer composts and can take the food scraps.
- Used coffee grounds make for a great hair or face mask, act as an excellent exfoliant or can fertilize plants. Check out our Zero Waste Coffee post for more tips on reducing coffee waste.
- Use “past-their-prime” produce for self pampering. Use overripe avocado for a face mask or used tea bags to reduce under-eye puffiness.
- Make too much? Share extras with friends and neighbors.
- Store grains, cereals and crackers in airtight containers to keep from going stale.
- Make sure your fridge and freezer are set to the correct temperatures and have secure seals to keep them at the proper temperature. (fridge 33-38 degrees F, and below 0 for the freezer).
- Take the “Food: Too Good to Waste” challenge to keep good food from going bad.
- Shop from your fridge, freezer and pantry first. If you have any items left from last week, make sure to plan your meals around those items.
- Share plates when dining out – This can help keep portion sizes in check. You can also get a to-go container (or bring your own!) for easy leftovers.
- Use the FoodKeeper app for information on storing foods properly to maintain freshness.
- Create an area in your fridge for “need-to-use” items that are about to go bad. Make a point to eat these first.
- Follow the 2-hour rule. Don’t keep perishable foods out at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour if it’s warmer than 90 degrees F). Harmful bacteria can grow rapidly at room temperature. Food poisoning is not fun.
- Hosting a party? Have friends bring their own containers to take home extras.
- Serve smaller portions and have people get seconds if they’re still hungry.
- Be realistic with your meal plan – Plan for fewer days and use up leftovers first.
- If you have more food than you need, consider donating to a food pantry or food drive.
- Have a mishmash of items and don’t know what to make? Try soup, tacos, pasta, salad, stir fry, or a frittata.
- Buy in bulk – It can be cost effective, but be mindful of quantities. It doesn’t save money if you end up throwing it out.A cost effective way and easy zero waste approach to buying food.
- Freeze lemon zest and juice for easy use later.
- Keep track of what you throw away – then you can assess and make changes. Do you find yourself throwing away full gallons of milk? Go with a smaller container. Find your bread often moldy before you can eat it all? Store half in the freezer until you need it.
- Use everything! Use the broccoli stems and cauliflower leaves. Don’t throw out those beet and carrot greens. If you peel potatoes, roast the skins for a crispy snack. And use the chicken bones in stock.
- Buy the whole item – carrots with greens, the whole chicken using extra bits for stock.
- Keep mushrooms in a paper bag or another breathable container.
- Grow your own food – By growing your own, you can grab just what you need instead of buying the whole bunch. Like picking just enough mint leaves instead of the packages that you can never seem to finish.
- Keep a running grocery list – Just ran out of rice? Write it down! Makes next week’s grocery list that much easier.
- Prep items ahead of time – grab-and-go snacks and some simple meal prep.
- Use lemon juice on an opened avocado or sliced apples to slow browning.
- Stale bread? Make the bread into croutons, crumble into bread crumbs or bread pudding.
- Store sliced carrots, asparagus and celery in a jar with water to keep them fresh and crunchy.
- Freeze brown bananas – you’ve got future banana bread, banana pancakes and banana ice cream!
- Store berries and cherries with small towel, unwashed in the fridge in a sealed container to maintain freshness.
- Store woody herbs like rosemary and thyme rolled up in a damp towel, sealed in a container in the fridge.
- Plan meals that double up on ingredients – use cabbage on your bun mi sandwich and in the slaw for your tacos so you don’t end up with half a head of cabbage going to waste.
- Don’t store milk and eggs in the door of the fridge – the temperature fluctuates most often here.
- Store delicate herbs like basil, cilantro and parsley in a glass of water on the counter, changing the water daily.
- Create clean-out-the-fridge meals – meals like pasta, soups and buddha bowls are great for this.
- Use the often forgotten stems and leaves from your produce – roast or saute kale/chard stems and use celery leaves in your salad or as a garnish.
- Dry fresh herbs and use them dried.
- Wilty herbs? Make a pesto or chimichurri.
- Buy dried mushrooms, and rehydrate for use so you always have mushrooms on hand without them going bad.
- Know your amounts. Include quantities on your shopping list to prevent buying too much.
- Dehydrate foods for longer storage, or backpacking meals!
- Don’t shop when you’re hungry – this generally results in more impulse buys.
- Utilize technology – try apps like foodkeeper app, waste no food, spoiler alert. Check out these 16 apps that can help prevent food waste.
- Learn all you can about the food system and what you can do to help reduce food waste in your community.
- Start small – choose one thing you can start doing today to help reduce your food waste.
How do you work toward reducing your food waste? We’d love to hear!
We’re always striving to reduce our food waste. It’s a personal goal that can make a large impact. It’s not about a few people being perfect, it’s about A LOT of people doing it quite imperfectly. When people collectively reduce their food waste, we can make a real impact on the world of waste. So let’s make something delicious with our so-called waste.