According to the United Nations, roughly one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption – approximately 1.3 billion tons – gets wasted every single year. In the United States alone, 30% of food grown and purchased is thrown away each year. Wasted food also has a negative environmental impact; wasted food means wasted water, fertilizer, and other resources for growing as well as extra methane gas that’s produced by rotting food in landfills.
Food waste happens for a variety of reasons, only some of which we, as consumers, have control over. Poor storage, pest infestations, and spoilage during transport are all ways that food is wasted before it can ever reach grocery shelves.
Once food reaches retail stores – and then your home – there are more opportunities for food waste. “Ugly” but safe-to-consume produce is often discarded because it’s bruised, too small, or slightly off color. Raw meats, fruits, and vegetables get thrown away because their sell-by dates have come and gone while they sit in the fridge and on the counter.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can make a concerted effort to minimize food waste by taking small actions and educating others to do the same.
How You Can Reduce Food Waste
Shop with a Plan
Making a shopping list before you head to the supermarket is key. Take inventory of ingredients you already have on hand, which will help you avoid buying duplicate items. Although you might be tempted to buy in bulk, research has shown that this practice can lead to more food waste.
Store Foods Correctly
Improper food storage results in an astronomical amount of food waste, as it can lead to food ripening and going rotten more quickly. Some foods produce ethylene gas, which can speed up ripening, so it’s important to store these foods away from those that don’t. Culprits include:
- Green onions
Refrigerating foods that should be kept at room temperature can also cause them to go bad more quickly. Tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, and onions should all be stored at room temperature (anywhere from 20–22°C / 68–72°F).
Learn How to Preserve Food
Canning, pickling, and fermenting are preserving processes that have been around for thousands of years. Preserving food can extend shelf life, shrink your carbon footprint, save you money, and reduce food waste. Be sure to learn how to properly can, pickle, or ferment certain foods, as the bacteria potentially produced during these processes could be harmful.
Use and Repurpose Leftovers
One of the easiest ways to prevent food waste is eating all the food you cook. While you can simply store leftover meals and eat them later in the week, you can also repurpose the leftover components into an entirely new dish. Remember that leftovers can be kept in the fridge for three to four days; any longer than that, and you risk getting food poisoning.
Shopping local farmers’ markets is a great way to invest in your community, enjoy produce at its peak nutritional value, lower your carbon footprint, and reduce food waste. Many small farms use certified organic practices, which reduces the number of synthetic pesticides and chemicals that can pollute the soil and water
Food waste contributes to landfill volume, emits greenhouse gases, and is a lost opportunity to create naturally enriched soil that can grow new, healthy foods. While it’s often assumed that you need a large patch of land to compost, tabletop and in-home compost appliances are becoming much more commonplace. Plus many cities have composting programs that allow compost to be picked up at your residence, similar to trash and recycling, or you can bring compost to your local farmers’ market.
Zero-Waste Food Recipes
Cooking can be a relaxing, productive, and enjoyable hobby, but it can produce an enormous amount of waste. Tops, stems, skins, and bones can be transformed into new dishes, to avoid wasting food. These recipes utilize the often-discarded trimmings and turn them into something delicious.
Vegetable Scraps Stock
From Garlic & Zest
- 3‒4 cups trimmings from carrots, celery, onions, fennel, turnips, potatoes, or other vegetables
- 2‒3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 10‒12 whole peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- Place vegetable trimmings in large stockpot or Dutch oven. Fill pot to just above trimmings with cold water; add crushed garlic cloves (skins and all), peppercorns, and bay leaves.
- Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 25‒30 minutes.
- Place large sieve over bowl and pour through contents of pot. Press on solids to squeeze out extra liquid. Discard solids.
- Broth will last 1 week in refrigerator or 3 months in freezer.
Carrot Top Pesto
From Milk & Cardamom
- 2 cups carrot tops
- 1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves
- 1/3 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
- 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast, to make vegan)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Add all ingredients except olive oil to food processor and blend until smooth.
- Scrape down sides of bowl; slowly drizzle in olive oil while pulsing pesto.
- Spoon into glass jar and top with enough olive oil so pesto is completely covered.
- Store in fridge for up to 1 week or in freezer for up to 6 months.
Sweet and Spicy Sautéed Kale Stems
From The Endless Meal
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 10‒12 kale stems, picked clean of leaves and chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons finely minced onion
- 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon sriracha
- Pinch chili flakes
- Pinch sea salt
- In medium-size frying pan, warm olive oil over medium-high heat. Add kale stems and onion, cooking for 5‒7 minutes, or until kale stems have softened but still have a little crunch.
- Remove from heat and stir in honey or maple syrup, soy sauce, sriracha, and chili flakes; season to taste with sea salt.
Broccoli Stem Noodles with Sesame Ginger Dressing
From All Day I Dream About Food
- 4 large broccoli stems
- 2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon coconut aminos or soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- Wash broccoli stems and trim ends.
- Cut into “noodles” using spiral vegetable cutter or peeler. Place noodles in large mixing bowl.
- In small bowl, combine sesame oil, apple cider vinegar, coconut aminos or soy sauce, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
- Drizzle over broccoli noodles and toss to combine. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Root Vegetable Peel Chips
From The Spruce Eats
- 3 cups dried vegetable peels, and/or fruit peels (e.g., russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, beets)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, plus more for serving
- Preheat oven to 400° Lay peels on 2 paper towel‒lined rimmed baking sheets and pat dry. Let sit for 10 minutes to continue to air-dry.
- Place peels in large bowl, then add oil, salt, and nutritional yeast. Toss to coat evenly.
- Discard paper towels from rimmed baking sheets, evenly divide peels between sheets, and spread out in single layers.
- Bake for 20 minutes (checking at 15 minutes, as oven temperatures vary), or until peels are golden brown and crispy, rotating baking sheets halfway.
- Taste chips; adjust seasoning with more salt and nutritional yeast if desired.
The Bottom Line
As individuals, we can make small changes to reduce how much food we waste. While we may never be absolutely zero waste, making the effort is what matters most. Making changes to the way we shop for, cook, and eat food will help reduce the environmental impact and create a healthier planet.