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Lower Your Food Waste WITHOUT Composting

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As a zero waster, I hate food waste. Food waste negatively impacts the environment, natural resources, food insecurity, economic development, and contributes to global climate change. “If global food waste was a country,” it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the United States. It’s the mixing of inorganic and organic materials in landfills that creates methane, which is a greenhouse gas, thereby contributing to climate change.

One-third of the global food supply produced for human consumption goes to waste annually. In the United States, that percentage jumps to 40%. Since the 1970s food waste has increased by 50% and is the “largest single source of waste” in American landfills—more than plastic or paper. The average person throws away about 4.4 pounds of garbage per day. The United States only diverts 35% of municipal solid waste through recycling, yard waste, and food waste composting. So about 52.6% of municipal solid waste is landfilled annually.

Food waste is the largest source of waste in American landfills–more than plastic or paper.

So why not help the planet and save money? Composting is one of the best ways to dispose of food waste and other organic materials. But not everyone can afford to pay for composting, has municipal access, or has the greenspace to compost. Many apartment (flat) renters don’t have balconies.

So what can you do if you cannot compost?

Listed below are 10 tips to lower your food waste without composting, help the planet, and save you money!

How to Lower Your Food Waste WITHOUT Composting

1. Do a Food Waste Audit

Don’t try to change anything this week. For one week examine how much food you throw away. You can write this down in a notepad or in a Notes app on your cell phone. Also keep track of your busy days, times, and weather. If you kid has a soccer match on Wednesdays, what does dinner look like? A busy Wednesday night may look different than a leisurely Sunday night dinner. If it’s rainy outside do you usually order a pizza?

Examining your food waste and habits is the first step to figuring out how to lower it.

2. Think Like a Restaurant

Restaurants are quite good at leftover management and creating recipes with leftovers. Restaurants look at leftovers like ingredients instead of as dishes. For example, keep pasta and pasta sauce separate. Leftover pasta can be turned into pasta salad and pasta sauce can be used for a frittata. Did your kids leave some leftover fish sticks? Grab a tortilla and make a fish taco.

There are lots of things to do with leftover rice, bread, and veggies.

3. Keep a Food Inventory

Keep an inventory of your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer items. I am probably the worst when it comes to meal planning, so keeping a notebook of the ingredients I have on hand has helped tremendously. An inventory list also helps you shop better, so you don’t buy duplicates. Be sure to list the quantity you have on your inventory list.

I have free inventory printables for you to download.

4. Meal Planning

Meal planning is a dirty word in my house. I hate meal planning, but here are a few things that have made it easier.

  • Planners – I have a soft spot for the Happy Planner series. My favorite paper meal planner is Happy Planner’s Recipe Organizer.
  • AppsPlan to Eat is a great program, but there are many more like Emeals, Mealplan, and MealBoard.
  • Keep it simple – Plan 2 to 3 items for your evening meal. For example, spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread.
  • Pinterest is a secret weapon for meal planning. If you need to use up a particular ingredient, do a Pinterest search to see what type of recipe you can make.
  • Cook recipes you enjoy – If you like spaghetti, then put spaghetti on the menu EVERY week!
  • Air Fryer or Instapot? – Invest in a cooking appliance that makes cooking easier. I’ll admit it I love my air fryer and Instapot. Both of these two small appliances are perfect to cook almost anything. I particularly love putting my Beyond Meat veggie burgers in my air fryer. My husband has a secret love for french fries.

 

5. Leftover management


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6. Store Food Properly

Storing food properly and at the proper temperature can dramatically extend the life of your food. Here are some tips to keep your food fresher, longer, so you can lower your food waste. Many of these food storage tips are things our grandmothers taught us. I think they were onto something!

Have you ever bought a head of lettuce that you had to throw out within a few days? I have!

  • Store yogurts, cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream upside down. It creates a slight vacuum and will extend the life of the item. Warning – it causes the liquid to drain, so be cautious when reopening.
  • Store tomatoes upside down.
  • Wrap your lettuce in paper towels.
  • Put an apple with your potatoes. It will prevent them from sprouting.
  • Fruits and veggies should be stored separately.
  • Don’t wash berries, lettuce, or greens until you’re ready to eat them
  • Store herbs in water.
  • Store apples and bananas separately from EVERYTHING. Apples cause other fruit to ripen. Bananas produce ethylene which may cause early spoilage and increase food waste.
  • When you cut up an apple, put lemon juice on your apple slices. It will keep them for a few days longer.
  • Root vegetables, onions, and garlic should be stored in a cool, dark, place. I keep my potatoes in a magazine holder in the bottom of my pantry. Keep onions and potatoes separate because onions will cause the potatoes to sprout.
  • Be ethylene aware. Ethylene is a plant hormone that promotes ripening of fruits. Keep ethylene-sensitive foods away from ethylene-producing foods to extend their shelf life.
    • Apples, pears, avocados, bananas (ripe), onions, peaches, and tomatoes are ethylene producers.
    • Asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, leafy greens, and carrots are ethylene sensitive foods.
  • Some fruits and veggies do better on your counter, others do better in the refrigerator.
    • Peaches, nectarines, uncut watermelon, tomatoes, bananas, ears of corn in their husks, and avocados do best on your counter.
    • Wrap banana stems in a beeswax wrap to keep them ripening too fast.
    • Keep apricots, mushrooms (wrapped in paper towel), cucumbers, and plums refrigerated.
    • Store celery, carrots, and radishes in water in the refrigerator.
    • Scallions can be placed in a jar of water on the counter.
  • Most fruits do best in a low humidity drawer. Vegetables should be stored in a separate drawer away from fruits.
  • Store uncooked meats and fish on the bottom shelf because the bottom of the refrigerator stays cooler and will keep longer. Keep them in their original packaging and place a tea towel under them to avoid any dripping onto other foods.
  • Keep condiments in the refrigerator door. The refrigerator door opens and closes often, so the temperature may vary. It’s best for condiments like jams, jellies, ketchup, butter, or mustard.
  • The top shelf of the refrigerator is best for pre-prepared items, like dairy, and sauces.
  • The middle shelf is great for milk, cooked meat, and leftovers. Store them up to two days otherwise, place them in the freezer.
  • Raw eggs should be stored in their original container on the top or middle shelf.
  • Your refrigerator should be 41 degrees fahrenheit or 5 degrees celsius.
  • Put foods that easily spoil into a smaller container, so there’s less air in the container.

7. Learn about Sell by or Use by dates

Learn about sell by dates, use by dates, and expiration dates. A sell by date does not necessarily mean the food has spoiled. It indicates the store has to sell that product by that date. You can learn more about the dates specific to the US from this USDA fact sheet.

  • “A ‘Best if Used By/Before’ date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A ‘Sell-By’ date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management.  It is not a safety date. 
  • A ‘Use-By’ date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula as described below.
  • ‘Freeze-By’ date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.” –USDA

Long story short, your food likely has a longer shelf life than you think it does. Before tossing food out, do a visual and a smell test.

Check for bad smells, growths, and white fluid. Avoid buying large portions of greens or fruit for the week. However, when in doubt, throw it out! Safety first!

8. Shopping Tips

  • Check your inventory before you leave the house.
  • Always shop with a grocery list before you go to the store. A list will help you avoid impulse buys.
  • Include quantities on your shopping list. If you only need 1 onion for a recipe, put 1 onion on your list.
  • Shop monthly for major staples, like pantry items. Shop weekly fresh foods such as greens, dairy, and fruits.
  • Buy what you need. Unless you have a large family or you’re having a large gathering, you likely don’t need Costco-sized box of greens. Only buy non-perishables in bulk.
  • Don’t buy stuff you “think” you will eat, buy what you actually eat. I’m guilty of “fantasy buying.” I buy stuff that I “think” I might use. Of course I don’t end up using it.
  • Use a delivery app like Instacart or Shipt or grocery store app to order food. Ordering groceries for pickup is easier than ever. The best part is ordering your food ahead of time will limit your impulse purchases.
  • Be cautious of (BOGO) buy one get one one offers. Have your phone’s calculator handy to calcuate unit price to make sure it’s cheaper than buying one.

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9. Freezer

You can freeze more than you think. If there are leftovers you just can’t get through, put them in the freezer. Be sure to label them beforehand. Your freezer temperature should be 0 degrees fahrenheit or -18 celsius. You can freezer numerous other things like:

  • One thing my grandma taught me was to freeze bread.
  • Berries and fruits for smoothies. Put them on a baking sheet to freeze then transfer to container. (They will be mushy when thawed).
  • Cooked vegetables.
  • Rice (it doesn’t taste as good as freshly cooked rice, but it’s edible).
  • Milk (leave room for for liquid to expand).
  • Grains like flour or oats. I recently learned to oatmeal CAN go bad.
  • Soup
  • Pasta sauce
  • Herbs
  • Waffles or pancakes
  • Butter
  • Shredded cheese
  • Veggie scraps for broth
  • Bone scraps for broth

 

10. Find a Composter

If you can’t compost yourself, but you really want to eliminate your food waste, you may be able to find a place to take your compost.  My city recently created a composting plan, however, residents have to take their compost to the city dump. I use a paid service that picks up my compost weekly. It saves me the hassle of dropping off my food scraps to the dump. In return, I get bags of rich compost for my garden. Many small towns do not have municipal composting, but there may be local farmers who could use food scraps for their animal feed.

Search “compost near me” and you may be surprised what you find!

If you have balcony or patio space, consider composting. You don’t need as much space as you think you do. A tumbler compost bin would work great on a balcony! Consider Bokashi composting, which uses Bokashi powder to help break down the organics at a faster pace. It’s a fermentation process versus a traditional “hot box” compost. You can find a Bokashi system at Walmart for $32.  A compact composter for under $100 could work too.


If you cannot compost, then consider carefully managing your food waste through planning, storage, and leftovers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides excellent guides and toolkits on how to limit food waste. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on how to lower your food waste without composting! If you have any ideas or suggestions, please share with me in the comments or on Instagram

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