How to Reduce Food Waste

What is your food waste footprint?

written by

Ioana Mihala

Reducing food waste is a delicious way of saving money, helping to feed the world and protect the planet” Stuart Tristram, Food Waste campaigner

The truth behind food waste

Most of us dread and postpone cleaning and reorganizing our fridge. After getting everything out, how much do you throw away? There is always that yogurt in the back that is now past its due date, or the lonely few mushrooms that we didn’t get to use for a new meal or some cheese that is now starting to mold. And while it seems harmless in that moment, food waste leads to high emissions on a global level. According to recent reports by the IPCC between 25% to 30% of all the food that is produced ends up being lost or wasted worldwide. This accounts for around 49.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide which is almost 9% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions. In the EU and U.S alone, around 88 and 40 million tons of food is wasted every year, respectively. According to rts this equates to 218lbs of food waste per person, per year and costing families on average $1,600 annually.

A graph comparing food waste greenhouse gas emissions with other sectors such as transport, industry and energy.
The graph compares food waste greenhouse gas emissions with other sectors such as transport, industry and energy.

Supply chain wastage

It is important to mention however, that these numbers show not only household wastage, but include also emissions from food waste in all phases of the supply chain: agricultural production, postharvest handling, and storage, processing, and distribution. The pattern shows that in lower income countries the food loss occurs mostly at storage, transport, and processing levels while in higher income countries at retail and consumer levels.

Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America. Also, the total amount of food wasted by consumers in rich countries in a year is almost the same amount as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.

A food delivery lorry at an airport. Airports are one place that definitely need to learn how to reduce food waste.
Food waste occurs at each step of the supply chain.

The Causes

The causes for this big amount of food waste vary according to the different supply chain phases - from lack of coordination between levels, to high quality standards or the importance of the appearance of food. That is right, a high number of vegetables, for example, are thrown away just because they are considered “ugly”.

At a household level there also many reasons for food being wasted: bad shopping behaviours, lack of ideas for what to cook, too much food prepared or served, wrong storage or missing knowledge on the right preservation of products or even the lack of awareness of the environmental and social impacts of food waste. Now that we know, what can we do to reduce our food waste footprint?

So without further ado, let's look at how to reduce food waste.

Imperfect carrots
"Ugly" produce makes up for a large portion of food wastage.

Plan your meals and shop smart

Before going shopping, think of the meals you want to prepare for the following week. Look at what items you already have and afterwards make a list of items you still need. Once you are in the shop stick to the list. Be careful with special offers and think of the shelf life of the product when buying in bulk.

One of the easiest and funnest ways of how to reduce food waste is to buy “ugly” fruits and vegetables. These quirky characters are as good and nutritious as any other fruit or vegetable and you might even get them at discounted prices. Not least and most important: never go shopping when you are hungry!

People shopping for fruit and vegetables at a busy market. Do you consciously think how to reduce food waste when you are food shopping?
A little planning, prep and accepting those unloved vegetables will have a big impact on reducing your food waste.

Reducing food waste is a delicious way of saving money, helping to feed the world and protect the planet

Stuart Tristram, Food Waste campaigner

Preserve like a pro

The first thing to do is check the temperature of the fridge and make sure you have it 4ºC or lower. Learn about how and where to store different food items and about the date label on the products. “Best by” often refers to the date until when the product is at its best flavour and quality, so check to see if you can still use it before throwing it away.

If your meal plans change and you are not going to use certain ingredients, freeze them. Create a compartment in your fridge and on your shelves where you put food that is about to go bad in a few days, this way you can spot it easily and use it to prepare your next meal. Check your fridge, freezer and other food storage facilities often to keep track of what you have and then plan your dishes accordingly. If even after all the planning you still have too much food that you might not use, consider donating it.

The contents of a household fridge. What percentage of your fridge goes as food waste each month?
Organise your fridge in order of shelf life.

Get creative in the kitchen

Think of your kitchen as your playground. Remember when you were a kid and playing restaurant, mixing everything you can find in your garden to prepare a pretend dish? Do the same with the food that you think will go bad soon and with leftovers. You could even invite your friends and make a competition to see who can come up with a better dish.

Alternatively, take sustainable living to the next level by turning your food waste into cooking gas? To learn more, read about the Home Biodigester, its setup, advantages, and costs.

A jar filled with a variety of colourful foods. getting creative in the kitchen is one of many ways of how to reduce food waste at home.
Get creative with leftovers ...food always tastes better the day after anyway.

How to reduce food waste apps

To help you reduce your food waste we compiled a list of apps you can use:

OLIO - food-sharing app that connects neighbors so they can swap and share their unwanted or excess food, therefore reducing waste and strengthening community

Too Good To Go and Karma- these apps help combat the waste issue by providing a platform for stores and restaurants to sell their surplus produce at a reduced price. Helping others reduce their food waste by helping yourself.

No Waste - helps you track, organize and manage the food in your home, it has a receipt and barcode scanner, expiration reminders and a meal-planning feature

FoodKeeper - anything you need to know about how to store your food

222 Millions Tons - app creates one-week menus and shopping lists according to the size of a person’s household. The website for the app asks, “No one wants to waste food, but how does one person get through a bunch of celery before it goes limp without getting sick of celery?” That’s question that inspired the developers to create the app

Supercook and Magic fridge- put in the ingredients you have at home and these apps will find recipes for you to prepare

Winnow - app for the commercial chefs who want to learn how to reduce food waste in their kitchen and save money and time by transforming their kitchens into intelligent operations

A person putting food waste in the trash
Safety Hand

Reduce Your Food Waste

Plan your meals and shop smart.
Embrace the ugly fruit and veg.
Organise your fridge in order of use by date.
Get creative with leftovers or freeze for future consumption.
Download a food waste app.
check the temperature of the fridge and make sure you have it 4ºC or lower.
Buy brands that are conscious of food waste in the supply chain.
keep track of what you have and then plan your dishes accordingly.
Be careful with special offers and think of the shelf life of the product when buying in bulk.

Sources & further reading

Peer Reviewed Research Section
  1. Food wastage footprint & Climate Change - FAOExternal link
  2. SAVE FOOD: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction - FAOExternal link
  3. Worldwide food waste - UN EnvironmentExternal link
  4. UN: food waste alone leaves a large carbon footprint - Sustainability timesExternal link
  5. EU Platform on food losses and food waste - European ComissionsExternal link
  6. World food waste statistics - The World CountsExternal link
  7. Scotland's food waste causing more greenhouse gas than plastic - BBC NewsExternal link
  8. Tips to Reduce Food Waste - FDAExternal link
  9. Guidelines to #reducefoodwaste - EU Project STREFOWA (Strategies to reduce and manage food waste in Central Europe)External link
  10. 6 apps for reducing food waste - Food Recovery NetworkExternal link
  11. The 9 Best Food Waste Apps To Make Sustainable Eating Easier - VogueExternal link
  12. Food waste in America in 2020: Statistics and Facts - RTSExternal link

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