How to cut down on food waste at home

Changing our relationship with food is one of the biggest things we can do

Global food waste is a huge social, environmental, and climate problem whose scale is massive. The average household wastes 31.9% of their grocery cart, equal to around $240 billion nationally.1 When that processed, purchased, or prepared grub hit the bin, so too do all of the resources that went into producing it, from farming and transportation to the energy it took to fire up your stove.

Luckily, some of the most potent solutions for combating food waste and its climate impacts start right at home. In fact, deploying a few tips and tweaks to how we buy, store, and cook our favorite meals can dramatically cut down on the food waste we create at home. 

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Just like how we can reevaluate our relationship with meat, plastic, and internal-combustion engines in order to lead more climate-forward lives, we can sit back and think about our role in wasting food. Here’s how to get started.

Shopping, cooking, and storage tips to reduce food waste

Food waste starts with our shopping lists. For one reason or another, fruits, veggies, leftovers, and pretty much the entire gamut tend to go bad in the back corners of our refrigerators and cupboards. Beyond simply buying too much food, households wind up chucking grub for a wide variety of reasons—from confusion over “best by” dates and spoilage to a lack of inspiration for how to use up what’s already on hand.  

There isn’t a single solution to fix household food waste overnight—nor is there a plan that will work for every home. When planning shopping trips, some folks, for instance, might benefit from sketching out a meal plan, while others might fire up an app to help inspire cooking ideas for what’s already in their cupboards before making a grocery run. Berry lovers might find food waste salvation in the freezer aisle if they often find themselves with moldy oldies. Ditto for those plagued by wilted spinach. 

When it comes to cooking up your purchases, the key is use what you got—and use every last scrap. According to ReFED, a nonprofit that focuses on food waste solutions, the largest share of household food waste (25.7%) is due to “inedible parts.” But there’s a lot you can do with them.2 For example: Citrus peels can become excellent candy, and the greens atop a bunch of carrots can blitz into a splendid pesto. Something overripe? Things like bananas or zucchini are brilliant in breads (especially at the end of their ripeness). Getting familiar with substitutions can also help you use what you’ve got instead of buying more food you may not need; leftover cauliflower, for example, can stand in for broccoli. Also learning a bit more about turning random bits and bobs into smoothies, stocks, and pickles can give food a longer life.

Proper storage, however, is what brings this all together. Spoilage is the second-most common reason for household food waste, according to ReFED’s data, accounting for 25% of castoffs.3 Learning the best ways to package up fresh produce can squeeze days or weeks more life out of fruits and veggies, but some of the most-impactful storage tips to reduce food waste are even simpler than that. Making sure containers are airtight extends the life of leftovers, designating an “eat me first” zone of the fridge can call attention to nearly-done snacks, and a little thing called labeling can put food’s birthdays front and center. It also helps to get really familiar with what expiration dates stamped on goods actually do—and don’t—mean.


FAQ: How long do eggs last in the fridge?

Eggs will last in the fridge 4-5 weeks past the sell-by date, but there are a few tricks you can do to test them for freshness yourself. A good one: Drop them in a glass of water, and if they float it’s time to say sayonara. 

Composting food waste

Composting is the golden goose of food waste recycling. It’s not realistic to eat every single scrap, so when those last bits and truly inedible parts of food can’t make it into a stock or smoothie, the best bet is to compost that waste. This can be done both at home or a community level, depending on what is available and feasible for you. 

For those of us who aren’t ready to get into the thick of it at home, community composting is picking up steam. More than 200 cities around the country offer curbside food scrap collection for composting. Check out this website to see what may be available to you, or even hook up with a neighbor on ShareWaste who has their own homemade compost operation going. 


FAQ: What kind of an impact could composting have if we all just did it?

Diverting just half of the food waste that goes to landfill toward compost would cut 64.35 million tons of CO2-equivalent emissions, which is like taking nearly 13 million cars off the road.

Food waste laws

Laws regulating the creation and management of food waste can help spur change from a high level. Most of the laws regulating food waste in the U.S. are state by state. Some states, such as Connecticut, have robust food waste laws that require big producers to compost their scraps or send them to biogas facilities to avoid filling up landfills with methane-spewing organic waste. Others, like New York, have taken to food donation as a method of reducing waste; the Empire State’s the 2022 Food Scraps Recycling law, for example, requires institutions and businesses that waste two or more tons of food per week to donate extra edibles and recycle all other food scraps. The Food Donation Improvement Act, passed in 2023, is one federal law on the books. It protects companies who donate food from potential liabilities, which has freed them up to deliver more food to those in need. 

The U.S. still has a ways to go, however, but countries like South Korea give us an amazing view of what could be. In 2005, the government banned food waste from landfills and started mandatory food waste recycling in 2013. They now recycle around 95% of leftover food. As consumers and voters, we can keep pushing for more regulations and support for food waste reduction on the local, state, and national levels. Following organizations like the Zero Waste Coalition can help you stay up to date on what’s happening policy-wise around the country.


FAQ: Which state has the most robust food waste laws?

California requires all inhabitants—including commercial businesses, public institutes or private residents—to separate their green waste. 

  1. Estimating food waste as household production inefficiency, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, January 2020. ↩︎
  2. ReFED Insights Engine ↩︎
  3. Ibid ↩︎