While recycling and reusing materials are important, the most beneficial thing you can do to make an impact is to minimize the amount of waste that you produce in the first place, including wasted food. You can refuse to accept things like single-use plastics--such as bags, bottled water, utensils, straws, and coffee cups. Instead, bring your own reusable shopping bags and produce bags as well as reusable water bottles, utensils, cups, or mugs. Purchase items with the least amount of packaging. This is the best way to guarantee that your stuff isn't headed toward the trash.
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Reducing waste can help save natural resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save money, and protect the environment. Whenever a new product needs to be made, raw materials must be extracted from the earth, and products must be manufactured and transported. As the image below shows, all of these activities require resources and energy, and they impact the environment in some form through resulting actions, such as waste generation and air and water pollution.
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Ask yourself - what products am I frequently throwing away? How do I reduce that frequency?
Reducing your waste doesn’t have to be difficult. Start with one or two of these easier actions.
For more advanced source reduction efforts, consider the concept of zero waste. Zero waste is a lifestyle choice that focuses on minimizing the amount of waste that is sent to the landfill. The primary goal is to reduce as much trash as possible, reuse items, recycle what does need to be thrown away, and compost the rest. The goal is to use products as much as possible and recognize the value in the non-renewable resources used to make products consisting of things like plastic, aluminum, and glass.
One common thing thrown away by households is food. In fact, 30-40% of food is wasted in the U.S. Food waste is a social, economic, and environmental problem. As of 2021, 10.2% of U.S. households were reportedly food insecure. With the amount of nutritional food that is sent to the landfill everyday, this percentage should be close to zero.
The annual estimated cost for the amount of food U.S. households throw away is over $160 billion. This is often due to people throwing away food that is past the "best by" date, even when the product is still safe to eat.
Lastly, the environmental impact of throwing so much food away is tremendous. When food ends up in the landfill, it produces high amounts of methane due to the slow decomposition process that occurs in the confined space of a landfill. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas that contributes to warming within the atmosphere. Another environmental impact from food waste is the amount of water that is wasted from growing food that is eventually thrown away. About 5.9 trillion gallons of water is lost each year due to food loss and waste in America.
To help tackle this problem, the Food Recovery Hierarchy suggests an order of preference for strategies to manage food waste. As depicted below, top priorities in this hierarchy include source reduction (i.e., waste reduction) and food waste diversion, such as feeding hungry people. Let’s work to keep food waste out of the landfill!
Reduce the Amount of Food Wasted
The best thing you can do in preventing food waste is to make sure all the food you purchase is utilized. For example, a lot of food is thrown out just because it has reached its “best by” date. If a product is past its “use by,” “sell by,” or “best by” date, check the food before automatically throwing it away. Except for infant formula, these phrases are not indicating a safety date but rather a best quality date or a date for how long to display the product in store for inventory management.
Feed Hungry People
Donate extra food to food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters. Many non-perishable and unspoiled perishable foods can be donated to local food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters. Check with your local organizations to see what food products are accepted.
Las Vegas Livestock (LVL) takes in Las Vegas' unwanted food and re-purposes it as feed for animals. The brothers, Clint and Hank Combs, started the farm in 2017 in Apex, NV. Their father pioneered food scrap feeding in Las Vegas in the 1960's, and now the brothers are modernizing this process in a new location. The motto of the farm is Humane and Sustainable. The LVL team provides excellent care to the animals, and the barns have been designed to keep the animals quality of life in mind. Sustainability is always a priority of the farm. The family has close ties to the desert and understand the importance in conserving resources as well as keeping food out of the landfill.
If you are unable to reduce your food waste, consider starting a composting system at your home or utilize a composting service in your area so any food scraps you produce are used to create fertile soil. Go to our Compost page for more information about composting.