What You Can Do to Reduce Food Waste

How much do you think about food waste? Probably not much, based on current statistics. In the United States, about 30 to 40 percent of the food supply ends up as waste. That comes out to about 20 pounds of food waste per person every month, or 1,160 pounds of wasted food by every American family a year!

As I sit here and write this, I am realizing I need to clean out my refrigerator and throw out old food. As much as I try to prevent food waste by reinventing leftovers into other meals and freezing food, it seems inevitable.

But that's me, in my home. Let's look at food waste generated by businesses for a quick second. Say your local grocery store has a prepared food section with a soup bar. The store likely throws away all of its leftovers at the end of the day. While that soup in the garbage may seem like a big deal (Who cares about soup?), let me put in terms of amounts. Let's say there are three soups for sale. At the end of the day, two gallons of each soup remain. That six gallons of soup thrown away each night adds up to 42 gallons per week, or 2,184 gallons per year. 

Now, before you run out to the store to buy up all the soup from the deli to prevent it from being thrown out, contact the store and ask them their policy. Some stores already donate to soup kitchens, food pantries and other charities, but some don't. Ask your local grocery store to donate that soup and other foods to food pantries. Don't let them tell you that they fear litigation for expired foods. The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, signed into law in 1996, protects from such lawsuits. Hunger is a real issue and so is food waste.

3 Things You Can Do to Fight Food Waste

While several cities such as Seattle and San Francisco have municipal recycling and composting programs, most of the United States does not. But you have other options for reducing food waste.

  • Only Buy Food You Need
    Write out a menu for the week in advance, and shop according to the menu. Whenever I fail to do this, I have a lot more food waste. Having a menu and grocery list forces me to take an inventory of the food in the refrigerator and pantry. As an added bonus, I spend a lot less time and money in the store. 
  • Cook from the Pantry, Freezer or Fridge
    This means using the foods you have that are ready to expire. I like to use up vegetables that are getting past their prime by making a frittata or soup. I also freeze leftover soups and meat to use at a later time. Doing this saves time and money because some days I don't want to make a big dinner. It's comforting to know there is leftover soup in the freezer that will be good for a weeknight dinner. 
  • Compost Food Waste
    Even if your local government doesn't require it, you can still start your own compost bin. Look online for websites and resources about starting and maintaining a compost bin.

These are just some ideas to get started thinking about food waste. I encourage you to enact steps in your household to reduce food waste and become a more knowledgeable consumer. 

Marcy Gaston, MS, RD, CD
Marcy Gaston, MS, RD, CD, is a Food Service and Culinary Arts Instructor in the Hospitality Management Program at Montana State University. While earning her master’s degree in Sustainable Food Systems from Montana State University in 2014, she collaborated on many projects including a community food truck, which sold affordable fresh produce to low-income residents in Bozeman. Marcy writes many recipes, many of which are on her blog, Cooking Sustainably. Her blog also covers issues pertaining nutrition and sustainability. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, baking, gardening and watching movies.