1. Shop Smart
Most people tend to buy more food than they need.
Though buying in bulk may be convenient, research has shown that this shopping method leads to more food waste (3). Make a point to use up all the food you purchased during the last trip to the market before buying more groceries. Additionally, try making a list of items that you need to buy and stick to that list. This will help you reduce impulse buying and reduce food waste as well.
2. Store Food Correctly
Improper storage leads to a massive amount of food waste. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, about two-thirds of household waste in the United Kingdom is due to food spoilage (4). Many people are unsure how to store fruits and vegetables, which can lead to premature ripening and, eventually, rotten produce.
For instance, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and onions should never be refrigerated. These items should be kept at room temperature. Separating foods that produce more ethylene gas from those that don’t is another great way to reduce food spoilage. Ethylene promotes ripening in foods and could lead to spoilage.
Foods that produce ethylene gas while ripening include:
Keep these foods away from ethylene-sensitive produce like potatoes, apples, leafy greens, berries and peppers to avoid premature spoilage.
3. Don’t Be a Perfectionist
Did you know that rummaging through a bin of apples until you find the most perfect-looking one contributes to food waste? Though identical in taste and nutrition, so-called “ugly” fruits and vegetables get passed up for produce that is more pleasing to the eye. The consumer demand for flawless fruits and vegetables has led major grocery chains to buy only picture-perfect produce from farmers. This leads to tons of perfectly good food going to waste. Do your part by choosing slightly imperfect produce at the grocery store, or better yet, directly from the farmer.
4. Keep Your Fridge Clutter-Free
You've probably heard the saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” This rings especially true when it comes to food. While having a well-stocked fridge can be a good thing, an overly filled fridge can be bad when it comes to food waste. Help avoid food spoilage by keeping your fridge organized so you can clearly see foods and know when they were purchased. A good way to stock your fridge is by using the FIFO method, which stands for “first in, first out.” For example, when you buy a new carton of berries, place the newer package behind the old one. This helps ensure that older food gets used, not wasted.
5. Save Leftovers
Leftovers aren’t just for holidays. Although many people save excess food from large meals, it is often forgotten in the fridge, then tossed when it goes bad. Storing leftovers in a clear glass container, rather than in an opaque container, helps ensure you don’t forget the food. If you happen to cook a lot and you regularly have leftovers, designate a day to use up any that have accumulated in the fridge. It’s a great way to avoid throwing away food. What’s more, it saves you time and money.
6. Blend It Up
Blending up a nutrient-packed smoothie can be a delicious way to reduce food waste. While the stems, ends and peels of produce may not be appetizing in their whole form, adding them to a smoothie is a way to reap their many benefits. The stems of greens like kale and chard are packed with fiber and nutrients, making them a great addition to smoothies. The tops of beets, strawberries and carrots also make great add-ins. Other items that would otherwise be discarded can also be thrown into a nutritious blend, including fruit and vegetable peels, wilted herbs, overripe bananas and chopped broccoli stalks.
7. Perk Up Your Water
Many people don’t drink enough water simply because they don’t like the flavor, or lack thereof. Luckily, you can make water tastier and reduce your food waste impact at the same time. One of the easiest ways to increase your water intake is to make it taste good. Use peels from citrus fruits, apples and cucumbers to add a kick to your glass of water or seltzer. Wilted herbs and berry tops also make excellent additions to your water bottle. After finishing your water, toss the leftover fruit or herbs into a smoothie for a zero-waste nutrition boost.
8. Keep Your Serving Sizes in Check
Overeating is a problem for many people. Making sure your portion sizes stay within a healthy range doesn’t just help keep your weight down, it also reduces food waste. While you may not think twice about scraping the leftover food on your plate into the trash, remember that food waste has a major impact on the environment. Being more mindful of how hungry you actually are and practicing portion control are great ways to reduce food waste.
9. Get Friendly With Your Freezer
Freezing food is one of the easiest ways to preserve it, and the types of food that take well to freezing are endless. For example, greens that are a bit too soft to be used in your favorite salad can be put in freezer-safe bags or containers and used at a later date in smoothies and other recipes. An excess of herbs can be combined with olive oil and chopped garlic, then frozen in ice cube trays for a handy and delicious addition to sautés and other dishes. You can freeze leftovers from meals, excess produce from your favorite farm stand, and bulk meals like soups and chilis. It’s a great way to ensure you always have a healthy, home-cooked meal available.
10. Understand Expiration Dates
“Sell by” and “expires on” are just two of the many confusing terms companies use on food labels to let consumers know when a product will most likely go bad. The problem is, the US government doesn’t regulate these terms (16). In fact, the task is often left to food producers to determine the date they think a product is most likely to spoil by. The truth is, most food that has just passed its expiration date is still safe to eat. “Sell by” is used to inform retailers when the product should be sold or removed from the shelves. “Best by” is a suggested date that consumers should use their products by. Neither of these terms means that the product is unsafe to eat after the given date. While many of these labels are ambiguous, “use by” is the best one to follow. This term means that the food may not be at its best quality past the listed date (17).
11. Pack Your Lunch
Although going out to lunch with coworkers or grabbing a meal from your favorite restaurant may be enjoyable, it is also costly and can contribute to food waste. A helpful way to save money while reducing your carbon footprint is to bring your lunch to work with you. If you tend to generate leftovers from home-cooked meals, pack them up for a satisfying and healthy lunch for your workday. If you’re strapped for time in the morning, try freezing your leftovers in portion-sized containers. That way, you’ll have premade, hearty lunches ready to go each morning.
12. Don’t Toss the Grounds
If you can’t fathom getting ready for your day without a hot cup of coffee, chances are you generate a lot of coffee grounds. Interestingly, this often-overlooked leftover has many uses. Those with a green thumb may be delighted to know that coffee grounds make excellent fertilizer for plants. The grounds are high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are nutrients that plants crave. Coffee grounds also make a fantastic natural mosquito repellent. In fact, research has shown that sprinkling spent coffee grounds in grassy areas deters female mosquitos from laying eggs, reducing the population of these pesky insects (18Trusted Source).
The Bottom Line
There are endless ways you can reduce, reuse and recycle your food waste. Not only will the practical tips in this article help you waste less food, they may save you money and time as well. By thinking more about the food your household wastes every day, you can help create positive change to conserve some of the earth’s most valuable resources. Even minimal changes to the way you shop, cook and consume food will help reduce your impact on the environment. It doesn’t have to be difficult. With a small amount of effort, you can cut your food waste dramatically, save money and time, and help take some pressure off Mother Nature.