The Cost of Food Waste and How to Prevent It

Every week you clean out the refrigerator, and every week you may find some food to throw away—broccoli you didn’t get to eat before it went bad, leftovers from last Tuesday night’s dinner, lettuce that can no longer be revived…

If you are throwing away food on a weekly basis, you are not alone.

According to The New York Times, Americans throw away 27% of their available food.  This includes waste from people’s homes, restaurants and grocery stores.  Timothy Jones of the University of Arizona, who studies food waste, estimates that the average family of four wastes $600 in food each year.  (TLC)

The Financial Cost of Food Waste

Despite this waste, many people complain that they simply don’t have the money to set aside to fund their children’s college education fund or to pay down debt or to save for their own retirement.

How powerful can this extra $600 a year be? 

Let’s say you have $10,000 in credit card debt at 12% interest, and you pay $200 a month.  If you continue to pay a fixed rate of $200 a month until the card is paid off, you will pay for 5 years and 9 months, and you will pay $3,734.33 in interest.  If you take the extra $600 you are now wasting on food and apply it to your debt every year instead, you will pay off the card in 4 years and 3 months, and you will pay $2,669.36 in interest.

Beyond the environmental and moral costs, food waste has a real, tangible financial cost too.  Throwing away broccoli that has gone bad is actually throwing away money that you could be using for a better purpose.

How to Limit Food Waste

There are a variety of strategies you can utilize to avoid food waste.

Consider the following:

  1. Shop only once a week or once every two weeks.  Don’t rush to the store to buy an ingredient if you don’t have it.  Instead, find a substitution at home.  Don’t have green peppers?  Substitute red peppers instead.  Yes, the taste may be a bit different, but you are using up what you have on hand.
  2. Buy a combination of fresh and frozen produce.  Produce is wasted most often.  People have good intentions to eat all of the fruits and vegetables they buy, but they get busy and can’t cook or they forget about the veggies.  Instead, buy half fresh produce to eat immediately, and half frozen produce.  Then, if you have a busy week and can’t use all of the produce, half of it is in the freezer, where it can be stored indefinitely.
  3. Shop from the pantry first.  Before making your weekly menu plan, shop from home first.  Do you have an abundance of carrots that need to be eaten up soon?  Make sure to choose several meals for the week that will use up those carrots first.  Also, if an ingredient is on your grocery list, first make sure that you don’t already have it at home.  I have two brand new bottles of olive oil on my pantry shelf because I forgot to check what I already have on hand.

    food waste

    Wasting food is a cost we can easily avoid.

  4. Use the Internet to find recipes.  There are plenty of sites that can help you find good recipes with the ingredients you have on hand. is a great place to start as is  I recently had 3 pounds of potatoes to use up quickly.  I went to and found three great recipes, one of them being Potato Chili.  I never thought that would have been a hit at my house, but all three of my kids happily ate it, and we didn’t waste the potatoes.
  5. Find creative ways to repurpose leftovers.  If your family is not fond of leftovers, try to find creative ways to repurpose the food.  If you had leftover green beans, why not consider making a chicken pot pie with the green beans inside?  Often my kids grow tired of leftovers, but they will eat repurposed leftovers with no complaint.
  6. Set a grocery spending limit.  If you normally spend $600 on groceries per month and find that you are wasting food, trim the grocery budget to $500 the next month.  If you have less money, you may not waste as much simply because you weren’t able to buy as many groceries.

Food Waste Hurts

Food waste uses our natural resources and can cause methane emissions once in the landfill.  In addition, money that is currently being spent on food waste could be put to much better personal use.

To reduce your food waste, try some or all of the tips above.

You may just find some extra room in your budget and a little less trash in the garbage.

How do you cut down on food waste?

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Published or updated March 3, 2015.


  1. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    I plan my meals. My roommate is a big food waster and it drives me crazy! Also, I get all my veggies from CSA so every week I know what I’m working with.

  2. One of the ways we were able to cu down our expenses is grocery shopping. Before going to the grocery, I make a list of dish we will be preparing for the whole week, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I buy only the ingredients needed. I also post the menu for the week on the fridge door so that I will always be reminded what to cook. We only eat out once a month, twice at the most, and if there are take outs, we eat them first before cooking anything. This way, we were also able to eliminate food waste.

  3. We try to only purchase groceries once a week and only go to the store with a list of what we need and try to avoid going on an empty stomach. That way we do not purchase too much food and have it go to waste. It has worked well for us so far 🙂

  4. I have been guilty of wasting produce simply because we forgot to use it. One thing I have started to do lately is to cook only enough for each meal and not have a lot of leftovers. Regardless, there are probably people in this world that would be glad to have leftovers. We shouldn’t be so easy on kids who complain about leftovers.

  5. Kathy Mitro says:

    Dear CHANGE


    A call for Federally mandated food

    donation laws is essential at this time.

    Absolutely 100% of all hunger can be

    eradicated in the United States by

    making food rescue donations from food

    establishments MANDATORY. The issue

    of food insecurity is too vitally

    important to let this precious

    commodity be thrown away

    The ONLY answer to the problem of

    eradicating hunger and circumventing

    current food sharing restrictions

    popping up in each small community, is

    federally mandated laws making food

    donation not a choice but a

    requirement. This mandatory food

    donation will go hand in hand with

    mandatory food give out stations which

    will be manned with the same people

    sharing food legally and illegally now,

    To go after communities about food

    sharing is like cutting off the legs of the

    spider it is a never ending fight because

    the legs just grow back. I do not believe

    in fighting or defying I believe in

    identifying the problem and solving it.

    The problem is people are hungry and

    we can’t share food with them legally.

    The solution is to make it illegal NOT to

    share with the hungry.

    I totally agree the problem with

    eradicating hunger is not lack of food

    but problems in food distribution. It is

    for this reason that we are calling for

    Federal MANDATES requiring all Food

    Establishments to donate all edible food

    each day instead of most current actions

    which toss this perfect food into

    landfills. This takes it from a maybe I

    will bother with the trouble of donating

    it and easing great hunger-to it is

    against the law for me not to donate it

    and eradicate all hunger in the United

    Kathy Mitro
    386-795-9643 Daytona Beach, Forida


    You can give as much media attention to

    getting these laws passed as possible.
    Voice your support for these laws.
    Put this call for mandatory food donation

    information on your website.
    Post this petition on your website it goes

    out to 6 federal agencies that are

    responsible for passing bills and laws.
    The President of the United States:

    REQUIRE all food establishments to do food

    rescue each day – Sign the Petition!
    Talk this up to as many people as possible

    we are planting a seed for these laws to

    grow around.
    Give me your written support and I will

    post a list of endorsers on the petition


    I am available at any time for any type of

    media exposure internet, newspaper

    television. I can be contacted at numbers

    included in this email.



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