Most Americans don’t think about how much food they throw away every day. From spoiled produce to uneaten leftovers, Americans throw away more than 38 million tons of food every year according to a 2014 EPA study.
According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), up to 40 percent of the food that is produced in the U.S. every year goes to waste. That translates into an economic loss of $218 billion per year. At the individual level, a household of four typically spends $1,500 or more each year on food that never gets eaten.
This number is exacerbated during the holidays between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when Americans generate an extra 5 million tons of household waste, according to the advocacy group Worldwatch Institute. That’s enough food to feed over 500 people throughout an entire year.
Americans waste an extra 5 million pounds of uneaten food each year from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.
All of this waste takes a toll on the environment as the resources it takes to produce, transport and sell this food is also wasted.
This holiday season, if you’re cooking at home save money and waste by carefully planning your recipes and grocery shopping lists. Use the Guestimator, an online tool to calculate how much food to purchase by estimating exactly what you’ll need. If you're planning to use disposables to serve your meal, be sure to choose compostables over petroleum based plastics. Compostables are made from plants and will turn into soil when composted, as opposed to petroleum-based plastics which require more energy to produce and are not recyclable when covered with food residue.
In addition, be sure to offer guests containers to take home and freeze leftovers that can be used in other recipes. Here’s a great article on ways to use leftovers creatively from Mental Floss. Finally, make sure your unwanted food ends up in the compost bin, not the trash.
If you do end up with uneaten leftovers and your community has a commercial composting pick-up, your waste will become soil in 30-120 days. If your community doesn’t have industrial composting, consider starting a backyard home composting system to turn that food waste into soil. Check out our page on composting and our Composting 101 video below.
If you’re passionate about the issue of food waste, consider getting involved with a local food recovery group. Many groups are popping up to connect wasted food to needy people. Check out the Food Rescue Locator to find a group near you or consider starting one.
Here are some extra kitchen tips to help you celebrate a more sustainable Thanksgiving this year:
Cookware: The type of baking dishes you use can have an effect on your energy use while cooking. Typically, glass and ceramic dishes retain heat better than metal, and allow you to turn your oven down about 25 degrees.
Timing: Having all your ingredients prepared before you begin preheating the oven or turning on the stove will help you save energy. Prepping and cooking extra food, then freezing and reheating leftovers later is also more energy efficient than cooking a whole meal twice.
Faucets: One of the easiest appliance fixes you can make is to restore a leaky faucet. One drip per second can waste up to 1,661 gallons of water annually.
Serveware: If you can't use reusables, serve your feast on compostables instead of unrecyclable plastic or polystyrene. Here's more info on why compostables are better for your and the environment.