Americans waste tons of food each year. Not only are restaurants and grocery stores responsible for food waste, but many households also waste a sizable amount of food items. In my own home, my wife, children, and I are all guilty of this offense, often choosing to throw away leftovers instead of saving them for later use. In the U.S., we waste around 133 billion pounds of food every year, with the vast majority of this wasted food ending up in landfills or incinerators, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Once food waste reaches the landfills, it generates methane, a greenhouse gas that is harmful to the environment. By reducing waste and recycling your food scraps instead of simply throwing them away, you can help lower the amount of discarded food in landfills and its environmental impact.

Recycling Scraps

Many cities now collect and recycle food waste to prevent it from ending up in landfills. In-vessel composting is one recycling solution. This method involves mixing food and garden waste, shredding it, and then composting it for several months. The compost can then be used in gardens and potted plants to add nutrients to the soil. Anaerobic digestion is another method, which uses microorganisms to break down food. The decomposing food emits methane, which is safely collected and converted into biogas, which is then used to generate heat, electricity, or transportation fuels. The word “anaerobic” means “in the absence of oxygen,” as the process occurs in an oxygen-free tank called an anaerobic digester.

Reducing Waste

There are numerous ways that we can reduce our food waste, which helps to keep our food bills down while reducing our carbon footprint. One of the easiest things you can do is change the way you shop. Avoid impulse purchases, and don’t buy more food than you know you can use in a reasonable amount of time, especially when it comes to perishable items. It can be helpful to create a meal plan at the start of each week and plan your shopping list around your recipes.

Get creative when it comes to meal planning. Instead of purchasing new food each week, try to make meals that will use up some of the foods already in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry before they expire. Search online or in cookbooks for new recipe ideas. If you’re not able to eat your fresh produce in time, consider freezing it or canning it before it has the chance to go bad. If you have food that does go bad, compost it instead of throwing it into the garbage.

Unspoiled and nonperishable foods taking up space in your pantry can be donated to soup kitchens, food banks, public pantries, and shelters. Many cities offer free pickup for people interested in giving back to their community in this way. Donating your nonperishable food items not only helps you clean out your kitchen but also benefits the environment and helps others enjoy a nutritious meal.