Food for Thought: Reducing Food Waste Saves A Lot of Green

Tulsa Master Recyclers Association

LANDFILL OVERLOAD: Research from the USDA finds that Americans waste an average of $544 worth of food per person per year


Waste less food. Makes for a great statement, but those three little words create a daunting task. According to, Americans throw away roughly 40 percent of our food supply every year.

According to, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American household spends $7,000 each year on food. The Department of Agriculture estimates that at least 25 percent of this food is wasted, but according to the University of Arizona Garbage Project, it’s closer to 50 percent. If we split the difference, that is still a waste of 37.5 percent, which comes to a loss of $2,625 per year.

Top Foods Wasted:
Thanks to writer Ken Lorgustin who reported in 2013 that a British nonprofit called : Waste and Resource Action Programme tracked the top 20 avoidable food wastes from around the globe:
1. Potatoes (359,000 tons)
2. Bread slices (328,000 tons)
3. Apples (190,000 tons)
4. Meat or fish mixed meals (161,000 tons)
5. World breads (i.e. tortillas) (102,000 tons)
6. Vegetable mixed meals (96,000 tons)
7. Pasta mixed meals (87,000 tons)
8. Bread rolls/baguettes (86,000 tons)
9. Rice mixed meals (85,000 tons)
10. Mixed meals (85,000 tons)
11. Bananas (84,000 tons)
12. Bread loaves (75,000 tons)
13. Yogurts/ yogurt drinks (67,000 tons)
14. Sandwiches (63,000 tons)
15. Cakes (62,000 tons)
16. Lettuces (61,000 tons)
17. Tomatoes (61,000 tons)
18. Cabbages (56,000 tons)
19. Cooked rice (55,000 tons)
20. Mixed vegetables (53,000 tons)

Top Savings Tips:
1. Start with what you have: Look in your pantry and fridge, and create a dinner menu or two using these products. However, if yours looks like mine, it’s a hodgepodge that doesn’t sound appetizing together. So, if your stumped with how to use one avocado, an egg and the ends of your loaf of bread, download the or log on to Then click on the ingredients you have on-hand and voila! This handy tool gives you pages of recipe ideas to help you clean out that fridge for something tasty you’ll want to eat with the ingredients you already have.

2. Know thyself. It’s fun to try new foods, and wistful to think of eating only healthy fruits and vegetables. But give yourself some wiggle room to not be overzealous or purchase in bulk when trying something new. I recently purchased leeks after seeing an inspiring Pinterest post, then let them spoil in the fridge…and those leeks were expensive!

3. So, you decided on a meal plan and made a grocery list. Now it’s time to stick to the plan. Do not be swayed by a sale and resist the impulse purchase…unless it’s chocolate. All bets are off when we’re talking chocolate. No one wastes chocolate.

4. When shopping, learn more about labeling: the differences between, “expiration date,” “use-by,” “sell-by,” and “manager’s special.” If something is marked with the words, “Expiration Date,” heed the warning! For dry goods, the use- or sell-by date only indicates its peak of freshness and does not indicate spoilage. However, a manager’s special is usually special because it’s about to go bad if not consumed in the next day or two. If you don’t want to eat something past a use- or sell-by date, donate it to your local food pantry.

5. Now it’s time to cook and, even better, eat. Serve smaller portions. In general, what stays on the plate becomes garbage. What stays in the serving dish becomes lunch. If someone is still hungry after eating what’s on their plate, they can simply refill it.

6. After dinner, split leftovers straight into lunch containers. This way, you’ve just packed lunch. No drive-through for you tomorrow.

7. When eating out at restaurants that you know to serve large portions, share an entree. I’ve also been known to take my lunch container in my oversized bag and cart out my own leftovers. That way, I don’t also bring home more trash, and it’s ready to go with me to work the next day in an already sealed container I can trust.

8. Track your habits: Maybe you’re not sure you waste that much food. Maybe you like to know exactly how much is wasted in your household. Maybe you just love charts. Well, the Environmental Protection Agency must’ve had you in mind when they created Food Waste Assessment Tools. The provides several food audit formats online at that allow you to track and manage waste prevention in the home, and in food services and restaurants.

9. If something is about to go “bad” or has started looking unappetizing to you, get creative. A brown banana makes the best smoothies, and older apples make incredible applesauce.

With better food storage, more accurate food portion preparations and the willingness to eat left-overs, you can begin seeing a marked difference in the amount of food you toss in the trash. That makes it worth all that time, money and natural resources that went into the food you bought with your hard-earned dollars.
Let’s keep the conversation going! Share your favorite food saver ideas on Twitter TrashTalkTulsa or email me at

Updated 02-05-2015

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