Reducing food waste at home

Living more sustainably in the New Year can be simple.

On September 16, 2015, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the United States’ first-ever national food loss and waste goal, calling for a 50 percent reduction by 2030.

In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This estimate, based on estimates from USDA’s Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010.

The USDA and EPA believe that this amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on food security because wholesome food that could help feed families in need is sent to landfills. They also believe this waste negatively impacts resource conservation and climate change because the land, water, labor and energy used in producing, transporting and disposing of discarded food are pulled away from uses that may have been more beneficial to society. In addition, food waste is the single largest component going into municipal landfills and quickly generates methane, helping to make landfills the third largest source of methane in the United States

The EPA lists the following suggestions for consumers interested in reducing their food waste:

  1. Shop your refrigerator first. Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more. Understand what the “sell by” and “use by” dates really mean before throwing out food.
  2. Plan your menu before you go shopping and buy only those things on your menu.
  3. Buy only what you realistically need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils.
  4. Be creative! If safe and healthy, use the edible parts of food that you normally do not eat. For example, stale bread can be used to make croutons and beet tops can be sautéed for a delicious side dish. Michigan State University Extension has some other great ideas here.
  5. Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables.
  6. At restaurants, order only what you can finish by asking about portion sizes and be aware of side dishes included with entrees. Take home the leftovers and keep them for your next meal. Michigan State University Extension has some tips about using leftovers here.
  7. At all-you-can-eat buffets, take only what you can eat.

Consumers can also compost their food waste instead of tossing it in the trash. Michigan State University Extension provides tips on backyard composting. In addition, vermicomposting has grown in popularity in recent years because it is an effective way of reducing food waste in the winter months when outdoor composting isn’t possible in northern climates. Worms Eat My Garbage is one resource that MSU Extension recommends. In addition, some communities have access to a curbside composting pick-up service, such as Organicycle in the Grand Rapids metro region.

Michigan State University Extension provides resources for consumers interested in living more sustainably. To learn more, visit or contact us toll free at 1-888-678-3464.

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