Food waste: ten top ways to reduce it


Imagine spending $150 on groceries, then tossing your grocery bags right into the garbage. But wait – imagine doing that 10 or 20 times a year. You never would, right? But statistically, many households DO waste that much food in a year, throwing away money, crowding landfills, squandering water and producing harmful methane gas in the process.[1] It’s one of those things we don’t often think about, but we should.

Beyond the environmental destruction, there’s also this practical aspect to consider: we each waste about 1500 calories per day, enough to food to fill hunger gaps in the developing world.[2] When converted into calories, food waste amounts to about 25 percent of all food produced globally. That means one out of every four food calories intended for people is not actually eaten. It’s wasted instead.

Staggering examples of food waste statistics:

In Canada (in Canadian dollars):

  • $31 billion of food is wasted each year
  • Households waste $28 worth of food each week ($1,456 annually)

In the US (in US dollars):

  • $161 USD billion of food is wasted each year
  • Households waste $44 worth of food each week ($2,275 annually)

In the UK (in pounds):

  • £13 billion of food is wasted each year[3]
  • Households waste £9 work of food each week (£470 annually)
Reduce the waste

The good news is that there are many things that can be done to help curb this wasteful habit. Restaurants, farms, grocery stores and food terminals are taking steps at their levels, like composting, donating excess food to social service agencies, or putting leftovers in a fridge outside of the restaurants.

But there are also things you can do at home to reduce your personal or familial food waste:

  1. Be aware of waste: Watch your trash bin. What are you throwing out most often? Is it an uneaten half-loaf of bread? Freeze it so it lasts longer. Is it bruised fruit or wilted greens? Plan your meals so you use perishable items at the beginning of the week. Alert yourself to your biggest sources of food waste and buy smaller amounts of the items that routinely become garbage.
  1. Shop with a list: How many times have you shopped and then put the food away, only to find that you bought items you already had in the fridge or pantry? Frustrating and wasteful. There is a better way! Keep a running list of items as you run out of them, and you only need to replace the empty containers.
  1. Don’t over-buy: If you shop once a week, buy only enough for that week. Consider how many meals will be eaten away from home, and factor that into your buying decisions. If time permits, fit in two smaller shops each week to reduce spoilage.
  1. Imperfection rules: In North America, over 30 percent of fruits and vegetables are rejected because they aren’t attractive. If you don’t buy them, they will end up in a landfill. Some grocery stores are now selling “imperfect” fruit and vegetables at lower prices. Buy them! They taste the same as the perfect items beside them, and help reduce waste.
  1. Use perishable foods first: Make your meals based on how quickly they spoil – enjoy the berries and spinach, and store hardier apples, carrots and cabbage until the end of the week. Cook raw meat, poultry and seafood within three days, or store in the freezer.
  1. Re-purpose items: As food begins to reach the end of its usable life, turn it into something new and delicious. Over-ripe fruit is great for chutney, jam and fruit sauce. Stale bread can help you make a croutons or a Panzanella salad. Vegetables scraps are great as a soup base. Spotted bananas are perfect for smoothies or banana bread. You get the idea.
  1. Use all parts: Did you know that you can eat watermelon rinds, broccoli stems and squash seeds? Many of us toss food scraps that are actually edible! Try these unique uses:
    • Peel broccoli stems. Cube the inner stem and add to stir-fries or shred into slaw
    • Save poultry carcasses or fish bones to make soup broth
    • Why peel carrots, apples, cucumbers and potatoes? Eat the peel!
    • Use leafy carrot tops or beet greens in salads or for pesto
    • Try watermelon’s white rind in stir-fries.
    • Save squash seeds and watermelon seeds and roast them for a crunchy snack
    • Zest citrus peels for use in sauces and dressings
  1. Use the freezer: Buy frozen vegetables and fruit. They don’t spoil, so there’s less waste – you just need to use them within 6 months. Easy! 
  1. Repurpose leftovers: Use tonight’s leftovers as tomorrow’s lunch. Or be creative and turn it into tomorrow’s different dinner.
  1. Compost: Set up a home compost bin as and environmentally friendly way to dispose food scraps. And hey, it’s free fertilizer come spring!


Cara’s bookNourish: Whole Food Recipes featuring Seeds, Nut and Beans, is available on Amazon.

[1] Food waste harms climate, water, land and biodiversity – new FAO report

[2] World Bank Takes Food Waste Seriously, Estimating Third of Production Is Wasted

[3] Food waste in England

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Cara Rosenbloom is a Registered Dietician, celebrated author and international columnist, active as a food blogger, recipe developer and nutrition educator.

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