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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Food: Too Good to Waste

May 31, 2024 09:00AM ● By Donna Corbin
When your mother told you to clean your plate, you may not have realized that by doing so, you were helping save our planet. As it happens, reducing food waste is one of the simplest and most effective actions we can take to reduce our carbon footprint and combat climate change.

Food waste is a big deal. In the U.S. alone, each year somewhere around one-third of all food produced goes uneaten. Food waste is now the largest component of what goes into landfills. In fact, Tucson city officials estimate that food scraps make up a whopping 20 percent of the city’s residential waste. Food waste occurs at almost every aspect of the supply chain, from the blemished crops that go unharvested in the field, to the billions of pounds of food thrown away by supermarkets and grocery stores, to the uneaten food at the all-you-can-eat buffet that is discarded at the end of the day.

Significantly, when food is discarded, all the resources (water, energy, land and labor) used in producing, processing, transporting and storing it are also wasted, and that amounts to a lot of wasted resources and also, not insignificantly, money. It is estimated that in the U.S., food waste amounts to the loss of about $162 billion a year.

Perhaps surprisingly, consumers are responsible for more wasted food than farmers, grocery stores or any other part of the food chain. The lettuce that went bad, the leftovers you never got around to eating and that mysterious something growing in a container at the back of your refrigerator will likely end up in the landfill where it will all rot and in the process, release harmful greenhouse gasses—most particularly, methane, which is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The good news is that by making some small shifts, such as those below, in how you shop, store and prepare food, you can reduce food waste in your home and save money and the planet.
Smart Shopping

  • Before heading out to the grocery store, preplan meals for the next few days or for the week. Always, always shop with a list and stick to it.
  • When possible, buy perishable items in small quantities and seek out stores that sell items like beans and nuts in bulk bins. Understand those “use-by” dates.
  • Smart Storage
  • Storing your food properly means it will stay fresh longer and maximizes the time you have to use it before it spoils.
  • When thinking about how to store fresh fruits and vegetables at home, a good rule of thumb is to pay attention to how it is displayed at the grocery store: if it’s refrigerated at the store, refrigerate it at home; if not, don’t.
  • Designate and label as ‘Eat First” a section of your refrigerator for leftovers and perishable fruits and vegetables.
  • For longer storage, befriend your freezer and visit it often.
  • Smart Prep
  • Save time by batch cooking meals that can be stored in the refrigerator or in the freezer for later.
  • Reinvent your leftovers.
  • Rather than peeling carrots, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables, leave the peels on and give them a good scrub. If you decide to peel, save the scraps for vegetable stocks.
  • Learn how to preserve your food.
Additional Resources for Avoiding Food Waste
Read Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money by Wasting Less Food is a comprehensive guide packed with tools (checklists, practical strategies and educational information) for reducing food waste at home. is an informative website sponsored by the National Resources Defense Council that includes an interactive storage guide.

Watch “Food Waste is the World’s Dumbest Problem,” a video produced by VOX and the University of California that features the food cam (available on YouTube).

Explore the Food Freezing Guide from North Dakota State University (

Find thousands of searchable recipes for leftover food at

Watch “100 Ways to Reduce Food Waste You Have to Try” on YouTube.

Donna Corbin is a volunteer with Sustainable Tucson. Connect at