5 Things You Can Do to Reduce Food Waste

The Perfectly Wild & Wacky Produce contest is a fun way to celebrate the bounty of the season while building awareness about food waste in America. Volunteers will be accepting entries of misshapen fruits and vegetables at the Co-op booth at the Downtown Farmers Market from 8 to 10 a.m., on Saturday, September 8, as a kick-off event for Eat Local Week. The general public will cast their votes for their favorite entries from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Winners will be announced at 1:30 p.m. All entries must be fresh and will be donated to Utah Food Bank that afternoon.

An overall Grand Prize of an individualized Body Care Package from Hall PT and 1st through 3rd Place Prizes (including gift certificates from We Olive & Wine Bar, em’s Restaurant, Caffé Molise, Nordstrom, and cookbooks) will be awarded in two categories: Commercial and Backyard Growers.

Food waste is a complex issue, but there are simple ways that we, as individuals can not only reduce food waste, but save money and do it easily.

Read on to learn about food waste-

  • Up to 40 percent of the food in the United States is never eaten. But at the same time, one in eight Americans struggles to put enough food on the table. (https://www.nrdc.org/issues/food-waste)
  • 20-40% of produce is wasted worldwide (Ugly Food, 2013). The United States throws away about six billion pounds of fruits and vegetables annually because it’s rejected by grocers for being too ugly, even though it’s just as healthy and delicious as, if not even more than, what you’d find at the grocery store (Kochersperger, 1970; Ugly Food 2013)
  • According to the USDA, 40% of our food worth an estimated $161 billion was never harvested, lost in processing, thrown away in restaurants and homes or ended up rotting in America’s landfills. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) 2012 and 2017 reports (the latter including AmpleHarvest.org), 50% of our produce is never consumed and a more recent report from  ReFed  has 126 billion pounds of wasted food annually – a financial waste of $218 billion. Put another way, food loss in America exceeds one third of our defense budget. (ampleharvest.org)
  • Americans waste 150,000 tons of food each day – equal to a pound per person. About 150,000 tons of food is tossed out in US households each day, equivalent to about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes. Fruit and vegetables were the most likely to be thrown out, followed by dairy and then meat. (www.theguardian.com)
  • Food loss occurs at every stage of the food production and distribution system. Excluding consumer waste at home, 52 billion pounds of food from manufacturers, grocery stores and restaurants end up in landfills. An additional 20 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables are discarded on farms or left in fields and plowed under. Feeding America reports (www.feedingamerica.org)
  • Approximately 72 billion pounds of perfectly good food — from every point in the food production cycle –ends up in landfills and incinerators every year. Rescuing this perfectly edible, whole food means feeding families facing hunger and taking a large step in protecting our planet and conserving our resources. Feeding America reports (www.feedingamerica.org)
  • National food industry and environmental organizations, government agencies and even the UN agree: Reducing food waste has to be a top priority for protecting the environment. The UN set the ambitious – but achievable – goal of reducing food waste by half in the year 2030, and the EPA and USDA are now working to meet that goal. Feeding America reports (www.feedingamerica.org)
  • How Much Food is Wasted in America? https://foodforward.org/2017/09/how-much-food-is-wasted-in-america/)
    • Food Waste by Weight. According to a 2014 EPA study, America throws away more than 38 million tons of food every year. That’s the weight of 104 Empire State Buildings, with a bit to spare. Or, to put it another way, that single year’s worth of food waste would be enough to balance a scale with of all the Blue Whales left in the world, multiplied by 10, stacked up on the other side.
    • Food Waste by Volume. In his book “American Wasteland,” activist and author Jonathan Bloom estimated that the United States could fill a college stadium with the amount of food it wastes … in a day. Imagine trying to fit 365 Rose Bowls into Pasadena, or any city for that matter, to hold a year’s worth of American food waste.
    • Food Waste by Cost. Food waste isn’t just big and heavy. It’s also very expensive. $165 billion/year expensive (Update: the more recent NRDC report placed this at $218 billion/year). For context, that’s almost as much as the State of California’s entire budget last year.


With all that said, there are a few simple ways that we, as consumers can reduce the amount of food that we waste. Here are a couple tips to reduce your own food waste:

1. Meal plan/shop smart

Planning out your meals is a way to eat more deliciously, nutritiously, save money, and reduce your food waste. You can take your planning a step farther and use similar recipes or ingredients to use up all of what you have on hand. This way you’re really reducing the amount of food you waste.

If you haven’t planned out your meals before, start small and plan out one or a couple meals each week, then recoup and move forward. The whole point of planning out your meals is to take a bit of time to then save time and money later in the week. If your meal plan is too complicated or adds more stress to your life than not planning, then it’s time to rethink how you’re planning your meals.

The great thing right now is that there are a number of meal planning resources available, whether it’s meal boxes delivered to your door, whether it’s online meal plans, or do it all yourself, you’re bound to find something that works for you. Just check out your options online.

Here are a number of resources for planning your meals: https://www.pinterest.com/NourishNutriCo/meal-planning-and-ways-to-save-money/

2. Compost

Whether you have the space or the desire to actually compost or not, you can reduce food waste and what you send to the landfill by separating plant scraps and compostable materials from the garbage. If you have a green bin at your house, you can send compostables to be properly disposed. (note: by ‘green bin’ I’m referring to the bin where all your grass clippings, and yard/plant waste goes. It’s probably not an actual green bin, mine is brown)

Here’s an info list from the Salt Lake County recycle program: https://slco.org/recycle/resources/resources-for-composting/. Check out your local recycling website for info on composting in your area.  

3. Rethink the use by date

First of all, how many labels do you see on your food? Use by, expires, best by, sell by… They all mean different things, and are referring to different dates. How, as consumers can we determine when our food is going to go bad or make us sick? There’s no current federal regulation to streamline this and reduce food waste, but things will change. A good rule of thumb is to use your senses. Most food is safe to consume, even after it starts to smell. So use your nose and your eyes instead of looking at the label to determine whether the food you’re eating is of a quality that you yourself can eat.

Here are a couple articles about food labeling and food safety:

Sell by dates and expiration dates: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/15/515427797/food-companies-may-say-goodbye-to-sell-by-labels

Don’t Fear Expired Food: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/12/26/167819082/dont-fear-that-expired-food

4. Repurpose it

Repurposing your food is a pretty broad description of using leftovers or leftover ingredients in different recipes. This can look like repurposing pot roast as a salad or sandwich, or throwing all the veggies in your fridge into a simmer sauce. The same meal over and over and over again gets boring, but you can definitely continue to use and repurpose that meal into a few different dishes to keep it interesting and delicious.

Below are a couple resources for repurposing food:

5. Freeze it

So many foods freeze easily, instead of letting your leftover pasta sauce get moldy, throw it in a bag and freeze it. Besides, who doesn’t love grabbing something homemade & delicious out of the freezer for dinner?

Here are a couple instances where you could freeze your food to make it last longer:

      • Double a recipe and freeze half of it for later
      • Buy a large box of farmers market produce and freeze part of it for the winter
      • Make frozen meals as part of your meal prep

Here’s a guide from the National Center for Home Preservation on what freezes well: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/dont_freeze_foods.html

Hopefully one or a couple of these tips will resonate with you, and you can start small by implementing something here.

In the mean-time, make sure to attend or enter in our perfectly Wild & Wacky Produce contest on September 8th. We can make a small dent in that 6 billion pounds, and spread the word to further decrease that number. 


With that said, come to submit your produce or check out the submissions at the COOP’s booth at Eat Local Week on September 8th. 


Produce will be accepted in two categories: commercial and backyard garden. There will be an overall grand prize, 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers in each category, all voted on by the public. 

All entries will be donated to the Utah Food Bank after the contest. This way we can reduce food waste and help feed those in need. It’s a win-win situation

Come take this opportunity to learn about food waste, learn about misshapen produce, and donate your own!


We hope to see you there.