Food waste: the hidden waste stream

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Usually recyclers focus on items that can be recycled. We tell you how to reduce your consumption, to reuse what you can, and to recycle as much as possible. But we don’t often discuss the largest stream of waste headed to our landfills: food.


You probably don’t even think about it. When you scrape your plate into the trash after dinner, you probably don’t realize that you are adding to your total of throwing away more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. Food waste now accounts for 21% of all waste landfilled in the US. Worldwide, about 30% of all food produced goes to waste, worth approximately $1 trillion. Here in the US, we now waste around 40% of the food supply.


These numbers are appalling! And every bite of food that we waste translates directly into the natural resources used to grow and transport that food. The amount of water that could be conserved by eliminating food waste in the US could fulfill the household water needs of every person in North America. And all the food sitting in our landfills is responsible for over 7% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.


So however you feel about leftovers, you surely must agree that we need to do something about food waste. Where should you start?


When purchasing

When you are at the store, you are solely responsible for what you buy. You can’t do much to change what gets culled during shipping and distribution, but you can head off food waste in your home before it even enters your shopping cart.


  • Take stock of what food you already have.
  • Make a meal plan. Consider how much time you will have to cook each meal and how often you will be eating out.
  • Stick to your shopping list. Eating before you shop can help ensure that you only buy what you need and not what looks delicious when you are feeling famished.
  • Avoid buying items in bulk unless you know you can use them before they go bad.
  • Buy at farmer’s markets and directly from farmers through CSA subscription services to avoid food waste along the distribution chain.
  • Ask grocery stores to sell imperfect items at a discount instead of tossing them.
  • Request that stores compost their produce waste and donate to food banks.


At home

You can do this! I promise you can find a way to use all your food. Since reducing food waste by just 20% could feed 25 million people, we owe it to each other to eat what we already have.


  • Store food properly, especially refrigerated foods that can spoil or easily decrease in quality. Taking a cooler to the store can help ensure that fresh foods stay fresh.
  • Rotate foods in your refrigerator during the week to avoid forgotten leftovers or shriveled produce.
  • Eat leftovers! Either as is or transformed into a different meal, leftovers are food too.
  • Freeze leftovers and items nearing their expiration date until you need them. Be sure to label and date these items and check your freezer often to use what you have saved.
  • Date labels are very conservative, so use your judgment to determine if a food is no longer good, not just the date printed on the lid.
  • Share your garden harvest with friends, family, food banks, and even through Craigslist.
  • Compost food scraps and spoiled food. If you absolutely can’t compost, try to find a friend who is willing to take your scraps for their compost bin.
  • Take advantage of the internet to help you figure out what to do with food scraps. From broccoli stalks to chicken bones, much of your food waste can be eaten or used to make something else to eat.


In Restaurants

A single restaurant in the US can produce between 25,000 and 75,000 pounds of food waste per year, making up about half of the restaurant’s waste stream. Diners leave an average of 17% of meals and uneaten and more than half of these potential leftovers are not taken home. While it can be difficult to control the portion size you receive at a restaurant, you can do a few things make sure your meal is not wasted.


  • Order an appetizer instead of a main course.
  • Split your order with a friend.
  • Take your leftovers home, and make sure to eat them.
  • Ask your server about portion size when you are deciding what to order.


Following these tips will have a huge impact on the planet, from water consumption to landfill crowding and global hunger to greenhouse gas emission. By being conscious about our habits, we can reduce food waste and learn to enjoy so much more of what we already have hiding in our kitchens.


by Meghan Kincheloe, Sedona Recycles

Sedona Red Rock News

March 16, 2016