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8 Places for Food Waste That are Better Than the Trash Can

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Get your hands off that mystery take-out container! Here’s what to do with food instead of throwing it in the trash.


Food waste is the largest single source of waste in the U.S., says NPR. And as food waste and other organic matter decomposes in the landfill where most of it ends up, it produces methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas. It’s no surprise, then, that landfills are one of the largest contributors to methane emissions.


I think about this every time I throw away a container of leftovers gone bad, a bunch of limp carrots, or moldy strawberries. But what to do? In an effort to send less food waste to the landfills, I’m going to think twice about what I pitch, and use these solutions instead.


1. Buy less food. Of course, the key to slashing your food waste is to buy less food in the first place. When you’re making your weekly menu plan and grocery list, shop from your fridge first, then your freezer, and finally your pantry. Try to come up with a few meals that utilize these foods, particularly ones in the fridge that will soon go bad. Shopping from a list and trying not to deviate from it will also help you avoid the temptation of unnecessary purchases.


2. Take “Use By” dates with a grain of salt. Produce that’s a little wilted, or dairy items that are a day or two past their expiration date, don’t necessarily need to be chucked. Take a cue from Boston’s new supermarket, Daily Table, and use these items anyway. The website Eat By Date gives some guidance as to what “expired” food can safely be eaten.


3. Get creative with leftovers. By the end of the week, my fridge is often filled with bowls and containers filled with leftover dinners that I had every intention of eating. From now on, though, I’m going to try to actually use those leftovers in more creative ways, or make sure that I’m home at lunchtime to eat last night’s dinner.


4. Regrow produce. Did you know that certain types of produce can be planted and regrown? Neither did I, but I’m intrigued by this article about planting kitchen scraps to regrow stuff like ginger, scallions, lettuce, and celery. Just make sure to use non-GMO or organic produce – we remember how a little girl’s science project about regrowing a potato showed the scary effects of agricultural chemicals.


5. Grow scraps into foliage house plants. Even if it’s not to eat, there are plenty of vegetable and fruit scraps that can be cultivated into attractive house plants. Avocados, potatoes, and pineapples are among the many plants that, while unlikely to give you a harvest-worthy yield, will at least make pretty house plants (and we all know how good it is to have plants around the house!).


6. Compost. You’ve heard it before: Food scraps and produce or grains, and even bread and eggshells, will be way more valuable to you if you compost them (Recyclebank has a great introduction to composting for neophytes). Since we started composting nearly 2 years ago, we’ve seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of garbage bags that we fill. Plus, the compost that we have made in our tumbling composter has been a great soil amendment to our vegetable garden.


7. Save scraps for neighborhood chickens. At my daughter’s preschool, food scraps from the kids’ lunches were scraped into the “chicken bucket” and fed to the school’s chickens. Chickens are way less picky than your compost bin (they’ll even eat meat, which is a no-no for the compost). If you have friends with chickens, ask if they’d like you to save your leftovers, but be sure to find out what they can and cannot eat. Likely you’ll be rewarded with the occasional carton of eggs.


8. Disposal. Although it’s debatable whether the disposal is better than the trash — since using the disposal uses water, energy, and of course taxes the waste treatment plant — the scale definitely tips in favor of the disposal if your wastewater treatment facility harvests methane as a source of renewable energy. If it does, use your disposal to get rid of plate scrapings and other scraps when all other options are out!



How do you cut down on food waste? Share your tips in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more
  • Sandra G. 3 years ago
    One night a week we have "leftover buffet". I set out all the leftovers and people make their own plate and microwave it to use up all the odds and ends
  • Melinda M. 3 years ago
    I noticed that several respondents said they fed the scraps to neighborhood opossums and raccoons. I'm alarmed by these comments. Unless you live in a rural area with plenty of forest, you make the animals dependent upon humans for food. The animals then tend to hang around houses instead of foraging on their own. I lived in a older housing subdivision with mature trees and some acreage left in wooded in lots. I had a racoon go down my chimney to live. The dung produced enormous flies every day in my living room. It was like coming home to the Omen. A oppossum took up residence in my attached garage. Another racoon took up residence in an old dead tree at my neighbors and our lot (less than 1/4 acre). I did not feed these wild animals to encourage them to live so close. I was very aware and kept my kids away from interacting with them, especially the racoon that decided to walk down the side of the road in the middle of the day (strange behavior for a nocturnal animal). The garbage cans were always tied down to keep the racoons from pilfering through the garbage. These animals are wild and need to forage not become dependent on humans for handouts.
    • Heather H. 2 years ago
      Melinda, you are so right. In addition, a person may think they’re only helping feed a racoon, but they’re also helping feed mice that then look for cozy places to a person’s house.
  • Bonnie G. 3 years ago
    "Eat by Date" was very informative! I have wondered about eating certain foods after the carton expiration date and the risks associated with it. The guide listing the time frame answered my questions. Thanks for posting!!
  • Kenny G. 3 years ago
    I found this to be very informative! I may just start my own indoor garden.
  • Marilyn F. 3 years ago
    I feed a neighborhood possum & whatever other critters come out at night to eat it, and I make suet out of some of it.
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