Food waste contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and wastes the water and other resources it takes to grow the food.

While the average consumer is not a large environmental polluter compared to large corporations, finding ways to reduce food waste throughout the day can help a person avoid contributing to the problem.

In this article, learn about how to reduce food waste in the home, at school, and on the go.

a woman reducing food waste by only buying the apples she plans to eat. Share on Pinterest
A person can cut back on food waste by not buying too much when grocery shopping.

One of the simplest ways to avoid food waste as a consumer is to buy less.

A packed fridge may look appealing, but it may lead to food waste if the household cannot eat all of the food.

Taking a couple of shorter trips to the grocery store each week rather than one longer trip may prevent people from buying too much food and help cut back on waste.

While mold is a definite sign that something belongs in the garbage, it is not necessary to throw out foods that are slightly past their prime.

For instance, many greens and vegetables may slightly soften or wilt when they are just past ripe. They still may make excellent additions to soups, smoothies, or baked dishes.

People can use leftover vegetable scraps to make a soup stock. Even stale bread makes toast or breadcrumbs.

"Best before" dates can be misleading — if produce still appears fresh and usable, it is usually fine to eat it.

Buying foods that are already in the home can ultimately become another source of waste.

Taking an inventory of the food in the house and making a grocery list before going to the store might help people avoid purchasing unnecessary foods and cut back on potential waste.

Organizing the fridge and pantry can help people keep track of what they have at home and help them to identify foods that are ready to eat.

"FIFO" stands for "first in, first out" and is a useful way to organize food at home. Many restaurants and grocery stores use this system to reduce waste, too.

Placing newly bought foods at the back of the cupboard or fridge will encourage people to use the food in the front row first, which will ensure freshness and reduce waste.

For example, if a person keeps lots of tins at home, ensure that the ones closest to their expiry date are at the front of the cupboard and use those first.

Perishable items, such as fruits and vegetables, each have their best way to store to avoid spoilage.

Some tips include:

  • keeping the refrigerator below 5°C (41°F)
  • storing cooked foods on shelves above raw foods
  • storing food in sealed containers

Always transfer leftovers from open cans into a suitable container. Do not store it in the can.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency also note that some fruits give off natural gases that make nearby foods spoil faster. Storing apples, bananas, and tomatoes apart from other perishables may help keep them all fresh.

Making a meal menu for the week may help some people organize their food usage and cut back on waste.

Using online tools or cookbooks to help plan out meals for the week can a person to compile an accurate shopping list.

It may take a few weeks for each household to get the menu right, but having a set weekly menu might help some people reduce the guesswork around meals and avoid wasting food.

Writing down the types of foods that go bad can help a person identify the foods that they can cut back on.

For example, if someone finds themselves throwing out many oranges as they go bad, the solution might be to buy fewer oranges to avoid this spoilage.

Although buying larger bags of produce rather than one or two pieces may seem cheaper, a person will not save money if they routinely throw away part of the contents.

Freezing foods can help preserve them for later use and prevent them from spoiling. Many fresh fruits and vegetables keep well when frozen, extending their shelf life and reducing waste.

Other foods may preserve well in the freezer as well, such as bread, meats, and even some prepared dishes.

Freezing foods that people use less often, such as herbs, is especially helpful. For those looking to eat more sustainably, freezing extra fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season locally can reduce the need for buying them when they are out of season and come from far away.

As part of a meal plan to reduce waste, many people choose 1 or 2 days each week to eat any leftovers they may have stored in the fridge or freezer.

This helps reduce waste from individual meals and keeps the fridge tidy.

Properly canning or pickling foods can help to extend their shelf life and avoid spoilage. If a person accidentally buys too much of a particular food, preserving the food in this way can prevent it from spoiling and being thrown away.

Examples include turning apples into applesauce or cucumbers into pickles.

People can pickle almost anything, from onions to eggs. Learn how to pickle foods in this article.

Excess food, scraps, and even some bones or other animal drippings are great ingredients for various stocks or broths.

Boiling excess vegetables, peelings, and other scrapings can make a hearty vegetable broth. Boiling a chicken carcass and other remainders, such as bones and skin, can become a tasty chicken broth.

It is best to store homemade broth in the fridge and use it within a few days. However, freezing it will give it a much longer lifespan.

Many manufacturers put different labels on foods, such as "sell by" or "use by." These dates help markets know when to rotate their stock, but they can be confusing for consumers.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimate that up to 20% of food waste comes from the confusion over these dates.

Many people assume these dates are expiration dates and throw out perfectly edible food. Remember, while tags and labels on foods may give a general idea for how fresh a product is, they are not hard and fast rules.

The easiest way to identify bad foods is to trust the senses. If a product smells, looks, or tastes spoiled, it probably is. When it doubt, however, it is best to throw it out.

Most meal preparation leaves scraps from the stems, peels, and unusable bits of food. Even coffee grounds and tea leaves make a great addition to a compost heap.

Creating a compost heap is one way to help reduce waste by turning even these scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer.

For people who do not have a garden or space for a composter or compost heap, many municipalities run composting programs.

One of the simplest ways to avoid food waste on the go is to bring food from home.

Investing in quality food containers that do not leak and are light and convenient to carry can help. Making extra portions of evening meals to keep in the fridge as ready-to-go packed lunches can eliminate the need to spend extra time making lunch before work or school in the morning. This might also save a person money.

When eating out, a person can avoid food waste by asking for a meal that does not contain ingredients they do not enjoy.

For instance, if brunch at a restaurant comes with a side of toast that a person would not usually eat, merely asking them to leave off the toast can help prevent waste.

In addition to reducing waste, smaller portions can also help prevent a person from overeating.

When eating in a dining hall or other establishment that uses food trays, opting to avoid the food tray may help prevent waste.

A 2012 study found that not using a food tray reduced food waste by 32% in a university dining hall.

There are several benefits to reducing food waste for the individual and the environment.

The World Resources Institute note that reducing food waste by half would benefit the environment significantly by reducing the need for land, water, and other resources to grow food. The World Resources Institute state that cutting food waste in half would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 gigatons (1.5 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2050.

While each individual can help with this process, governments, corporations, and farmers will need to make significant changes to reduce their waste to achieve these goals.

Reducing food waste benefits individuals in many ways, including saving money from buying and wasting less food.

Organizing and structuring meals may save a person significant amounts of time in the long run and make a person's eating habits much simpler and more healthful.

While the average consumer is not the greatest threat to the environment, it is still crucial that people take steps to reduce their environmental impact.

Finding ways to reduce food waste can have a strong individual impact and help create a healthier food future for all.