Households are the largest producer of food waste, accounting for 37% of total surplus food (about 30-million tons). This is more than restaurants, grocery stores, farms and manufacturing facilities combined. As a result, the EPA estimates that reducing food waste in the consumption stage in the food supply chain will have the largest benefits in decreasing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions (From Farm to Kitchen).
Minimizing food waste not only helps the planet, it helps families save money too. A family of four wastes $1,500 on uneaten food every single year!
Plan to Prevent Food Waste
- Check what you already have on hand in your kitchen.
- Plan meals for the week around items you have in your pantry, refrigerator or cabinets.
- Consider meal planning for when you will have eat leftovers or go out to eat.
- Make a list of items you need for meals and be sure to include how much you need of each ingredient.
- Know the meaning of date labels like “sell by,” “use by,” and “best buy."
- Track what items you use or throw out.
Shop to Prevent Food Waste
- Buy only what you know you will use.
- Stick to your list – this helps save money too!
- Only buy more when you will use more. If there is a sale, ask if the store will apply the sales price to a smaller quantity.
- Buy from bulk bins where you choose the quantity. Label and store these items properly.
- Rescue ‘imperfect’ produce – it is safe, nutritious and sometimes discounted!
- Buy produce from local suppliers as local produce lasts longer than shipped produce.
- Shop for perishables, like produce, more frequently. According to the EPA, produce is the most frequently wasted food category.
- Control the quantity and quality of produce by not using pre-cut or pre-packaged items
Store to Prevent Food Waste
- Understand your refrigerator’s temperature.
- The door is the warmest area – use for condiments but not milk or eggs
- The lowest shelves are the coldest area – use for meat, poultry and fish
- Rule of thumb: it is coldest at the bottom and in the back, and warmest at the top and in the front.
- Set the temperature for 40 degrees or below.
- Don’t overpack to ensure cold air circulates.
- Choose the right place for fruits and vegetables.
- Most fruits should be placed in a low-humidity refrigerator drawer
- Most vegetables should be placed in a high-humidity refrigerator drawer
- Fruits like apples, bananas, peaches, apricots, and avocados release ethylene gas, which makes nearby fruit ripen faster. Store these types of fruits away from others.
- Wash cherries, berries, tomatoes and grapes right before consuming to avoid mold.
- Cover and seal items to keep them fresh longer.
- Clean spills to reduce bacterial growth.
- Freeze food quickly and properly to ensure freshness.
- Don’t overpack to ensure cold air circulates.
- Place food like bread, sliced fruit, meat, and leftovers that you will not immediately consume in the freezer. Label with contents and date.
- Do not freeze raw or hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, citrus, watermelon, yogurt, and carbonated items.
- Keep a list of items to know what you have.
- Freeze individual portions and freezer-friendly meals.
- Thaw in the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave.
- Practice First in, first out -– Put older items at the front and newer items at the back.
- Place produce like potatoes, winter squash, onions, and garlic in cool, dry, dark, and well-ventilated areas.
- Store grains in air-tight containers and label with contents and date.
Prepare to Prevent Food Waste
- Wash and prepare fresh items for meals and snacks.
- Try to prepare meals for the week and store them in the fridge or freezer.
- Portion correctly; only prepare the amount of food you know you will eat.
- Eat leftovers for additional meals like lunch. Freeze what you will not immediately eat.
- Be creative and use leftovers to create other meals.
- Freeze, pickle, can, and dehydrate additional produce. Visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation for more information.
All organic material decomposes eventually. Composting helps organic matter decompose quickly by providing an ideal environment for the matter to break down with the help of bacteria, fungi, and other organisms like worms. Compost is the decomposed matter that is rich in nutrients and helps fertilize gardens and farms. The are several different methods of composting (windrows, turned windrows, aerated static piles, in-vessel systems, backyard bins, and more).
- Compost keeps food and yard waste out of landfills, which also reduces methane gas emissions.
- Compost is a valuable fertilizer and helps soil retain more water.
- Setting up and maintaining compost bins/piles is easy and inexpensive.
- Discarding material to a compost pile is often quicker than bagging and bundling sticks for yard disposal.
Where to Compost
There are four places that you can compost: curbside, local drop-off sites, the backyard and inside. If you plan to take compost material to a local drop-off site or place at the curb, please read local guidelines about how compost material should be packaged as it varies by county or town.
- Curbside: Some cities and counties offer curbside pickup for food and yard waste. Check out the Guide to Curbside Composting. Individuals and businesses can contact private compost companies for service.
- Local Drop-Off Points: Governments and private companies provide compost drop-off points.
- Backyard: There are a variety of easy ways to compost in your backyard. Choose a dry, shady spot near a water source. Check out the Guide to Backyard Composting.
- Inside: two main ways to compost inside - bokashi or vermicomposting (aka using worms).
What you compost depends on how you compost. There are items you can always compost like produce; items you can sometimes compost like bones; and items you can never compost like plastic. When you use backyard composting methods, include items you can always compost. When your food waste will be processed by a commercial composter, you can often include the sometimes-compostable items but always check with your composter to know which items are allowed.
- Always Compost: Fruit and Vegetable Scraps; Leaves and Dried Flowers; Grass Clippings; Wood Chips and Mulch; Egg and Nut Shells; Rice, Bread, and Wheats
- Sometimes Compost: Food Soiled Paper Products; Meat and Bones; Seafood and Shells; Dairy Products; Fats, Oils, and Grease; Compostable Plastics
- Never Compost: Plants Infected with Disease or Insects; Evergreen Leaves; Ivy and Pernicious Weeds; Feces (from any animal); Non-Compostable Plastics; Hazardous Chemicals and Cleaning Supplies; Glass
How to Compost
Compost requires four ingredients: “Greens,” “Browns,” Oxygen, and Water
- “Greens” are typically fresh organic material and are high in nitrogen. Some green items are fresh grass and plant trimmings, food scraps, coffee and tea grounds.
- “Browns” are usually brown plant material and are high in carbon. Brown items include dead leaves, compostable paper products, and sticks.
Decomposers need oxygen and water like any other living thing. Good access to oxygen helps materials decompose faster. You can layer the materials, put them in small pieces, and turn the piles regularly.
Compost piles also should be moist. Food waste will usually make them wet enough, but sometimes you need to add water.
North Carolina Food Donation and Compost Resource Map
The North Carolina Food Donation and Compost Resource map identifies resources to rescue edible food and manage food waste in and near the state for residents and businesses. It includes information on:
- Food banks
- Food scrap collection services
- Food scrap drop-offs
- Compost sites
- Compost resources.
Users can select any or all these layers to understand food recovery efforts in North Carolina and learn more about the resources available to them. Not all sites serve residential and commercial clients, and certain locations only serve residents of the town or county. Click on the site pins or use the tools to learn more.
The information on food scrap drop-off sites is provided in partnership with the North Carolina Composting Council. For additional information on purchasing bulk compost, visit NC Compost Council.