Background & Food Recovery Hierarchy
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have set a goal to reduce food loss and food waste by half by 2030. The goal may seem daunting, but some startling facts drive it.
According to 2015 data, 22% of food loss and food waste was landfilled, and an additional 22% was combusted to recover the energy. These statistics are a concern on many fronts:
- Resources wasted from the production of the food
- Methane emissions from landfills
- The fact that 42 million Americans live in a food-insecure household
Food Recovery Hierarchy
According to the U.S. Food Recovery Hierarchy chart, reducing the amount of food wasted is the most preferred method to managing food waste. ReWorks follows this food recovery hierarchy and supports methods and projects that prevent food waste.
Source: USEPA Food Recovery Hierarchy page
How Do I Generate Less Food Waste?
There are several things we as individuals can do to help reduce the amount of food waste.
5 Simple Steps to Generate Less Food Waste
You can make a difference in five simple steps.
1. Buy Only What You Need
Avoid waste by shopping smarter: Plan ahead and make a shopping list so that you don't buy more than you can eat.
2. Eat What You Buy
Prioritize your meals to incorporate ingredients that may spoil and organize your refrigerator and pantry accordingly.
Also, try only to cook what you can eat so that leftovers are limited. If you do have leftovers, don't throw them out! They can be tomorrow's lunch or repurposed as a completely new meal in a day or two.
3. Keep Food Fresh
Take steps to store foods properly to keep them fresh as long as possible. For instance, rotating the food that will expire soon to the front of your refrigerator will encourage your family to eat it, or remind you to use those ingredients before they go to waste.
4. Don't Toss Food Before It Spoils
Perfectly edible food is often thrown away due to confusion about expiration dates set by manufacturers. When in doubt, use the sight and scent test; if the food looks spoiled or smells off, it's time to add it to your compost pile.
If food is nearing its expiration date and you don't have immediate plans to eat it, the easiest way to preserve it for another day is to place it in the freezer. Or you can try making stock, canning, pickling, dehydration, or preserving with fermentation.
5. If You Can't Eat It, Share It (or Compost It)
If you have edible food that you can no longer find a good use for, share it with family, friends or coworkers, or donate it to a food bank, food pantry or shelter.
Another option is to compost. Composting keeps food waste out of our landfills while providing you with a valuable soil amendment.
Check out our Backyard Composting Guide (PDF) for instructions on how to set up and maintain a composting bin or pile.
Additional Steps You Can Take to Not Generate Food Waste
Despite our best efforts, sometimes we still might find ourselves with extra food. In that case, there are several ways to avoid wasting what you already have or what is left over after a meal.
Use Other Parts of Food
Use other parts of food that you typically may not use. For example, use your strawberry tops to make a unique dessert or turn the liquid from a can of chickpeas into ranch dressing.
Properly store (i.e., freeze, refrigerate, etc.) food before it goes spoils. (For more information, visit the Save the Food Storage page.)
Cooking Before & After Expiration Dates
Cook food before it goes "bad." Instead of tossing out a half-full container of yogurt, whip up a tasty Tandoori Marinade. And if you've mashed too many potatoes, you'll love Potato Apple Cider Donuts.
Cook food after it goes "bad." It may sound counter-intuitive, but wait until you've tried using sour milk to make pancakes or turn over-ripe avocados into a chocolate mousse.
If you find yourself with food that you cannot use, and it is still edible, find a donation option that works best for you. Those options range from food pantries to local farmers looking to feed livestock; we've provided a list that is a good place to start to learn more about donating food:
- Feeding America: a national network of Food Banks. Sometimes your time is just as valuable as food in helping to feed people
- Food Recovery Network: for university students who wish to help reduce food waste at their schools
- USEPA Food Donation
- USDA list of food donation options
- ReFED: for businesses looking to be involved with donating food