ReThinking Waste from a Consumer Prospective

By: Michelle Warner

This blog post begins our “How does ____ reuse or reduce food waste?” series. The RCASC ReThink Waste Initiative will look at how food waste is reused or reduced by chefs, schools, product developers and many others.

First off: consumers, a group the USDA asserts is responsible for 31% of all food waste. Maybe it’s not so much as how DO consumers reduce food waste, but how CAN consumers reduce food waste—perhaps without even knowing their impact on a global population expected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050. With so much food being thrown away by consumers, here are some ways that consumers are or can re-utilize or decrease their impact on food waste.

PC: Engineering Discovery at SUNY NY ESF


Leading waste management site EnvirSolutions cited over 50% of fruits and vegetables sourced in the United State goes to waste; let’s talk about produce.

Fresh, locally-sourced produce can be seen by consumers as the most sustainable solution to various global food shortage issues. However the contrary may be more accurate. With such a short shelf life, it can be difficult for such consumers to decrease fresh fruit and vegetable waste. Storing produce at their optimum conditions (ex: freezing certain fruits and vegetables) can greatly extend the shelf life, thereby preventing wasted produce from piling up in your kitchen trash.

If you know you won’t have time to eat it, freeze your produce. For those fruits that look “too overripe,” have fun baking them into a crisp or cobbler. You can even save your apple and pear cores to make jam, mostarda, pectin or marmalade with any citrus zest!

Reading Labels

Labels can be confusing. What does “Sell By” mean? To clear up the confusion, read about it in my previous blog post.

Organize Your Refrigerator

Extend the shelf life of foods by strategically placing them in your refrigerator for their optimal environment.

Practice the method of First In, First Out (FIFO). Don’t let that leftover green bean casserole get pushed to the back of your refrigerator to rot. It is too good and doesn’t deserve that. Place older items towards the front of the refrigerator and newer items towards the back. Even better if you can rearrange your refrigerator so the most perishable items are most clearly visible; and make delicious fried rice or stir fry with those items to clean out your fridge once a week.


With many of our landfills reaching capacity and rotting food waste producing large amount of harmful methane, composting is being reincorporated with a sense of urgency. The ancient agricultural technique brings important nutrients back to the soil. Compost can used in other creative ways. Oakland-based Back to the Roots found a way to cultivate mushrooms using already spent coffee grounds—a typical ingredient found in composts.

Composting can be done at home or you can find a compost site near you. For example, this new machine allows consumers to compost their meat, dairy and oils right in their own backyard in exchange for fuel for cooking.

Donate It

Donate any unused, safe, unwanted food to food banks. Fine a local food bank near you.

More RCASC tips:

  • Leafy greens about to expire can be fermented into umami-based kimchi; and it gets more flavorful over time. Some food scientists see fermentation as Composting 2.0.
  • If kimchi is too powerful of a flavor for your family or friends (or roommates!), you can extend the shelf life of greens like Swiss chard and kale by putting them in a knotted plastic bag with a few tablespoons of cold water.
  • Plan out your meals in advance, and cook in big portions to save time.
  • Portion home meals according. You can’t control what you’re served in a restaurant, but you can at home.
  • When produce starts to get soft, put it in a cup of cold water for about an hour and the ingredient with regain much of its crisp texture.

With consumers contributing to such a large amount of the food waste, these are only a few ways consumers can reduce food waste. It is up to each and every one of us as consumers—or as consumer educators—to reuse and reduce food waste. Let’s all work together to stop throwing away our future.


PC for Cover Photo: jbloom, origin unclear;



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s