Updated: Jun 5, 2022
Food production and distribution requires a tremendous amount of land, water, energy, and labor, so when food is wasted — not eaten, roughly speaking — all those inputs also go to waste. Unfortunately, about one-third of food produced in the U.S. is never eaten, and more than a quarter of that waste occurs in homes. The environmental impacts are significant. According to the EPA’s 2018 Wasted Food Report (PDF), 66% of residential food waste was landfilled, 30% was sent to sewer/wastewater treatment or incinerated, and only 3% was composted. Reducing food waste is one of the most impactful and straightforward ways to conserve energy and resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save money. Here are some strategies to help:
Shop your fridge/pantry, plan out your meals, and make a list of ingredients with quantities before you go to the grocery store — then stick to the plan! This helps you to better use what you have and avoid purchasing what you don’t need.
Take note of food waste after parties and communal meals, then adjust accordingly for future get-togethers by serving less food per person and offering extras to guests on their way out the door. Sharing is caring!
When dining out, only order as much as you’ll eat. Don’t be afraid to ask about portion sizes and side dishes, split meals with your tablemates, and take any leftovers to-go.
Storage and Prep
Clean, prepare, and cook perishable items soon after bringing them home, then store them in your fridge or freezer for later use. Take special care with fruits and veggies (PDF). This can be a great time-saver in addition to reducing waste throughout the week.
Use clear containers to store your food so you can see how much of each item you have, and to remind you to eat it. Add labels and other notes to remind you what’s what. Don’t hesitate to put food in the freezer if you don’t expect to eat it within a few days.
Keep items with the shortest shelf-life at the front of your fridge and push long-lasting items towards the back, so you’re more likely to see and use food before it goes to waste. To do this properly, it’s crucial to understand food product dating:
A "Best if Used By" date indicates to consumers when a product will have the best flavor or quality. It’s not a purchase or safety date.
A "Sell-By" date tells grocery stores when they must remove a product from sale, for inventory management purposes. It’s not a safety date.
A “Use-By" date is the last date recommended for use of the product while at peak quality, as determined by the product’s manufacturer. It’s not a safety date.
Be resourceful with your food! When you have too much of an item, try a new recipe that features it. When you have leftovers, think of them as “ingredients” to be incorporated into new meals.
If food can’t be eaten in time for whatever reason, consider a couple strategies that prevent it from going into a landfill:
Donate safe, untouched food to a food bank, food pantry, or food rescue organization. Food insecurity is high in Chicago — your donations will be appreciated! Here are some local options:
Use leftovers and food scraps to make compost! This organic matter enriches soil, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. If you aren’t able to do the composting yourself, consider leveraging an established residential composting service that operates in our neighborhood: