food waste in garbage can

When it comes to taking steps towards a zero-waste lifestyle, one easy step you can take at home is reducing the amount of food wasted. While it may seem like a small step, it can have a big impact.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 30% to 40% of all food in the United States is wasted annually, food that could otherwise help feed the hungry and reduce food insecurity. Not only that, but rotting food is the largest producer of greenhouse gas in landfills, specifically methane.

As daunting a proposition as reducing this amount of waste may seem, the steps you can take at home to tackle this issue are fairly simple. Here are three of the biggest (and easiest) ways to eliminate food waste at home.

1. Purchase Planning (Precycling)

Before you tackle the issue of leftover food in the kitchen and pantry, a good preemptive approach is to plan out your shopping in advance. After all, you can’t waste food if you haven’t bought a surplus.

The practice of precycling helps you eliminate waste before it’s created. You can do this by planning out your shopping ahead of time and buying only what you need.

Precycling doesn’t just apply to buying sustainable packaging, it applies to the contents as well. Will you finish this loaf of bread before it starts to expire? Do you need two gallons of milk in the fridge, or is one all you’ll use before it spoils? Do you already have leftovers at home that you can eat? Is this an impulse buy or something you planned on getting ahead of time?

Thinking through how quickly you’ll use a product and how long it stays fresh are key when planning to eliminate food waste. Plus, precycling has the added bonus of tending to save you money.

 2. Waste Not, Want Not

On the subject of leftovers, there are a number of ways to approach them in reducing food waste. If you have prepared food in the fridge, it’s best to finish eating it before making even more food. The lesson of “eating everything on your plate” still holds true, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be all in one sitting.

Leftovers don’t have to be boring. You can use new seasonings on reheated leftovers or try a recipe that incorporates leftovers into new meals. For example, use leftover steak in a stew, stock, or crock-pot recipe, or turn slightly stale (but not moldy!) bread into French toast.

3. Start a Scrap Garden

In some cases, leftover food can give you an opportunity to flex your green thumb. You can regrow a surprising number of common grocery fruits and vegetables at home. A few examples include avocados, potatoes, lettuce, garlic, onions, tomatoes, peaches, cherries, apples, and lemons.

With a little bit of care and time, your leftover scraps can become entirely new sources of food!

How Else Can You Stop Food Waste?

Make sure you store your produce properly to minimize the amount you discard. Before you discard food that may be slightly past its prime, consider freezing it, pickling it, using it in smoothies, or making soup. And be sure to compost your fruit and veggie scraps, turning them into a healthy amendment for your garden soil.

If you’re looking for more advice, the USDA has a few more suggestions on their site, as well as information on the initiatives being taken to stop food waste at the source.

This article was updated in August 2022.

By Taylor Ratcliffe

Taylor Ratcliffe is Earth911's customer support and database manager. He is a graduate of the University of Washington.