Save the $130 in Food You’re Throwing Down the Compost

Have you ever considered what that rotten food in your refrigerator costs?  According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average American family of four throws out an estimated $130 per month in spoiled and discarded food.   That’s real money going straight into the garbage or compost bin instead of paying off your credit card bills.

Don’t get me wrong—I love compost. It’s just not the best use of the staggering amount of resources that are needed to grow all the food that never even gets eaten, including the money you spent to buy it.  If you don’t eat half of that $10/pound fish, that’s $5 bucks you’re throwing away. 

Collectively, in developed countries, we consumers are responsible for more wasted food than farmers, grocery stores, or any other part of the food supply chain. We’re also wasting far more food than ever before, as the average American today wastes 50% more food than 40 years ago.  The truth is, the implications of our wasteful habits with food are just not on most of our radars.  However, our British friends across the pond have demonstrated that with some basic public awareness, we can make big strides in food waste reduction. The Love Food Hate Waste public awareness campaign in the United Kingdom has been stunningly successful with reducing avoidable household food waste by 18% in just five years.  Doing the same around the world would mean hundreds of dollars in savings for the average family. 

That’s why it’s so exciting that UNEP and partners have launched the Think.Eat.Save. campaign.  This is a problem we all need to tackle, all around the world. 

Get started with six easy tips to help you save both money and resources.  See more tips on the Action part of this website here. 

1.     Shop Wisely – Plan meals, use shopping lists, buy from bulk bins, and avoid impulse buys. Don’t succumb to marketing tricks that lead you to buy more food than you need, particularly for perishable items.  Though these may be less expensive per ounce, they can be more expensive overall if much of that food is discarded.

  1. Love Your Freezer; Mine Your Fridge – Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely.  Freeze fresh produce and leftovers if you won’t have the chance to eat them before they go bad.  Check out the Love Food Hate Waste site for creative ways to use up the last of that yogurt sitting in the fridge. 
  2. Eat Leftovers – Did you know that only about half of Americans take leftovers home from restaurants?  Pack it up and eat it later. There’s a reason people write poetry about cold pizza for breakfast  
  3. Buy Funny Fruit—Many fruits and vegetables are thrown out by stores or distributors because their size, shape, or color are not "right". Buying these perfectly good funny fruit, at the farmer's market or elsewhere, utilizes food that might otherwise go to waste and sends the message that we care about taste, not looks.
  4. Learn When Food Goes Bad  In the U.S., “Sell-by” and “use-by” dates are not federally regulated and are not safety dates, except on certain baby foods.  Most foods can be safely consumed well after their use-by dates  Not sure how to store your food?  Check out Still Tasty, a great reference.
  5. Request Smaller Portions – Restaurants will often provide half-portions at reduced prices. You just have to ask!

Awareness is the first step, so you’re already well on your way. Now it’s time to take action.  Observe your habits, educate yourself, try a new recipe or freezing something you haven’t frozen before, and get on the journey to reducing your food waste, food bills, and food print all at the same time. 






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