Make the most of your groceries with these simple tips to reducing food waste.

By Chris Malloy
April 19, 2021
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Climatarian_food waste: animation showing use of all parts of a carrot
Credit: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Of all the things we waste, food is one of the prime areas where we can make a serious impact. Why? Because in the United States, more than 35 million tons of food gets landfilled per year, and food waste produces some 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, there is more food in landfills than any other kind of waste. As this food decomposes, it emits methane, a warming gas that the EPA says is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. All said, food waste produces some 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse-gas-emitting country in the world.

If you're thinking about all of the food your family tosses out every week, don't worry. There are easy ways to waste fewer ingredients at every phase of the cooking process, from grocery shopping and food storage to figuring out what's for dinner tonight and how you tidy up afterwards.

Support Organizations Working to Reduce Food Waste

According to Project Drawdown, a nonprofit focused on climate change, reimagining food waste will be part of the climate solution. "Roughly a third of the world's food is never eaten, which means land and resources used and greenhouse gases emitted in producing it were unnecessary," one of its reports says. "Interventions can reduce loss and waste, as food moves from farm to fork, thereby reducing overall demand."

Reducing food waste can be accomplished with tools at our disposal now—both at the grocery store and in the home kitchen—but it's also important to note that large-scale grocery stores and related organizations are pitching in, too. For instance, some are actually rescuing food that would otherwise be landfilled.

In Colorado, Boulder Food Rescue works with eight stores to save 1,200 pounds of food a day. "Our mission is to create a less wasteful food system," says Hayden Dansky, executive director. "So we redistribute produce that is donated from grocery stores, and we take that directly to low-income housing communities and people who need food." States across the country are home to groups with similar missions.

Imperfect Foods, a grocery delivery service, sells food that would otherwise be wasted. Imperfect foods are fresh, but lack the cosmetic perfection you find in the grocery store, like apples with blemishes, cauliflower with black spots, or mangoes with slight sunburn. "Our mission is to save food from waste and to build a better system for everyone," says Maddy Rotman, the company's head of sustainability.

How to Limit Food Waste in Your Own Kitchen

Think like a chef

In the restaurant business, making money requires using every bit of food. Green scraps and stems? Not trash, but the beginnings of pesto or green goddess dressing. Chicken bones? The base of a great stock to be used for soup, risotto, or sauce. Brown bananas? Perfect for pancakes, muffins, or baked oats. Leftover herbs? Infuse them into olive oil. You can even use your Parmesan rinds for soup.

Get creative with leftovers

In the kitchen, leftovers can drive cooking. If you have random leftovers—say, chicken breast, hardboiled eggs, broccoli, and black olives—make a kitchen-sink fried rice or pasta salad. With leftover fruit, dream up your own delicious smoothie recipe. Tacos, sandwiches, and so many foods can be anchored by what you happen to have lingering in the fridge. Getting creative is half the fun.

Shop smarter

Tackling food waste begins with shopping. If you throw out food often, consider where you might be able to buy less (your wallet and the planet will both reap the benefits!). For instance, if you toss three bananas, half a bag of mandarins, and a head of romaine every week, that's a great starting place. Planning out meals for the week and jotting down a list before shopping can really help mitigate impulse purchases.

Store food properly

Once you have your food, storing it right is also key. Investing in great, freezer-friendly food storage containers works wonders. Pickle and preserve your produce. And when the time comes, take a quick peek inside your fridge before you shop to avoid accidentally buying doubles of anything hiding in the back.

RELATED: Reorganizing Your Fridge Is One of the Easiest Ways to Combat Food Waste—Here's How

Consider composting

In some metro areas, there are composting services that will drive to you, take your scraps, make compost, and deliver it to you on a later visit to pick up more scraps.