“Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Every year, Americans generate about 258 million tons of trash in the form of food, packaging, appliances and more. While we’re starting to do better with recycling and composting some of it, more than 65% of the trash we generate ends up in landfills and incinerators, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The most effective way to stop this trend is by reducing the amount of materials we use (or don’t use), which reduces the amount of waste that we create.

Reusing and recycling are part of the solution, but some forget that to “reduce,” or to use few materials in the first place, is a crucial step towards reducing the amount landfilled trash. There are many easy and creative ways to reduce the amount of waste generated. It may require some changes to your daily routines, but if we all work together to change our throwaway lifestyle, we can effectively conserve natural resources, reduce our dependence on raw materials, reduce waste disposal and handling costs, and ensure a cleaner, healthier environment.

Read: U.S. EPA 2014 Municipal Solid Waste Facts & Figures Report Adobe Icon

PREVENTING WASTE AT THE SOURCE...

“Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10% of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50% of U.S. land, and swallows 80% of all freshwater consumed in the U.S. Yet, 40% of food in the U.S. today goes uneaten.” – Natural Resources Defense Council, 2012

On September 16, 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first ever domestic goal to reduce food lost and waste by 50% by 2030. The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) defines food waste as “the component of food loss that occurs when an edible item goes unconsumed, as in food discarded by retailers due to color or appearance and plate waste by consumers.” On the consumer level, we can take immediate action to prevent food waste by educating ourselves and making a few changes to the way we think and to our daily routines.

Food is wasted when we buy more than we need, plan poorly without meal plans and shopping lists, store or prepare it incorrectly, have confusion over date labels and throw away leftovers. When we throw away food, we also waste all the resources — including fresh water, land, energy, labor and capital — used to produce, package and transport food from the farm to our plates. Meanwhile, 50 million Americans do not have consistent access to food. Food waste significantly impacts our environment and our communities. Learn more: SCC Food Rescue Capacity StudyAdobe Icon

Food Waste by the Numbers

  • Forty percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted each year, which represents a retail value loss of $166 billion and produces 135 million tons of GHG emissions;
  • The average American household of four throws out 25% of the food they purchase each year, which costs them at least $1,500 annually;
  • The average American throws away about 20 pounds (or about $35 worth) of food each month;
  • In terms of total mass, fresh fruits and vegetables account for 28%, dairy accounts for 17%, meat accounts for 12%, and seafood accounts for 33% of total food losses at the consumer level.

Smart Shopping: Buy What You Need 

  • Plan your meals in advance and create a shopping list. It helps to check your fridge, freezer and cupboards to see what you already have before heading to the store. Include any take-out or dining out meals. These actions allow you to accurately estimate what’s needed for meal preparation and to buy only what you need. Sticking to your shopping list helps you avoid impulse buys and marketing tricks that lead to overbuying and, more often than not, food waste. Stay on track with this helpful weekly shopping listAdobe Icon
  • Keep in mind that although bulk purchases and promotions may cost less per ounce, if the food spoils before being eaten, it may actually cost you more in the long run.
  • Choose to buy loose produce over pre-packaged produce to avoid packaging waste, better control the quantity you need and ensure fresh ingredients.misfit-food-thumbnail
  • Choose to buy imperfect produce that vary in “normal” size, shape or color the next time you’re grocery shopping. About 20 billion pounds of perfectly healthy produce is wasted at the farm each year before it even reaches the grocery store because it doesn’t meet our strict cosmetic standards. Oddly-shaped or wrinkled produce may look different than what we consider “normal” on the outside, but it’s still perfectly fresh, nutritious and delicious. By supporting retailers or local farmers who sell imperfect produce, you’re voting with your money to reduce food waste and to change the conversation about food choice.

Smart Storage: Keep Food Fresh

Know which fruits and veggies stay fresh longer inside or outside the fridge. By storing them properly for maximum freshness, our fruits and vegetables will not only last longer, but they’ll also taste better.

Keep Inside the FridgeKeep Outside the Fridge
Apples, berries, and cherriesBananas, mangoes, papayas, and pineapples (store in a cool place)
Grapes, kiwi, lemons, and orangesPotatoes and onions (store in a cool, dark place)
Melons, nectarines, apricots, peaches, and plums (after ripening at room temperature)Basil and winter squashes (store at room temperature; once cut, store squashes in fridge)
Avocados, pears, tomatoes (after ripening at room temperature)
Almost all vegetables and herbs
  • Download this handy Fruits & Vegetables Storage Guide Adobe Icon or the A-Z Storage Guide Adobe Icon (all types of food) for more details.
  • Keep apples, bananas, citrus, and tomatoes away from other produce as they give off ethylene gas that hastens the spoilage of nearby produce.
  • Separate very ripe fruit from fruit that isn’t as ripe. Store fruits and vegetables in different bins.
  • Wash berries just before eating to prevent mold.
  • Rather than keeping a fruit bowl out, take what you’ll eat for the day out of the fridge in the morning if you like your fruit at room temperature.
  • Consider using storage containers designed to help extend the life of your produce. Make sure the containers used are safe for heating and cooling.
  • If you don’t have time to eat it, freeze it! Continue reading below to learn more.
  • Produce past its prime may still be fine for cooking. Chop it up and combine with the random assortment of ingredients in your fridge to make sauces, smoothies, soup, stock, frittatas, casseroles and more.

Smart Prep: Prep Now, Eat Later

Prepare perishable foods soon after shopping. You’ll make it easier to whip up meals later in the week, saving time, effort and money.

  • freeze-it-thumbnailWhen you get home from the store, wash, dry, chop, dice, slice and place your fresh food items in clear storage containers for snacks, easy cooking and use throughout the month.
  • Remember to label your frozen food to avoid any future Unidentified Frozen Object incident.
  • Freeze food such as bread that you know you won’t be able to eat in time, and visit your freezer often. Learn more: Guide to Freezing Fruits & Vegetables Adobe Icon or Save the Food: The Art of Freezing.

Smart Saving: Eat What You Buy

Be mindful of old ingredients and leftovers you need to use up. Learn how to correctly interpret food date labels.

  • Move food that’s likely to spoil soon to the front of the shelf or a designated “eat now” area each week. Use this “Eat Me First” sign to create a designated area and remind yourself to use up the food here first.
  • Have an “eat the leftovers” night once or twice a week. You can experiment with different recipes, find a new favorite dish and prevent food waste in the process.
  • Use the Ikea effect. People tend to like things they helped make, and children are no different. So, involve your kids in cooking.
  • The Ikea effect can also extend to gardening or visiting farms or the local farmers’ market. Kids who are involved in growing fruits and vegetables are more likely to eat them. Give your child an appreciation and respect for the resources required to bring food to the table, and you’ll have less cleaning to do as a result.
  • There are many apps and websites out there that provide suggestions for using food past its prime and the random assortment of leftover ingredients you may have on hand. Employ that use-it-up mindset to prevent food waste. Resources include, but are not limited to the following:

Understand Expiration Date Labels

An estimated 90% of Americans prematurely discard food due to confusion over the meaning of date labels (e.g., “sell by,” “best if used by,” “expires,” etc.), according to a 2013 study by Harvard Law School and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In reality, these food date labels aren’t federally regulated, except in the case of some infant formula, and only serve as manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. This is what date-labeling phrases really mean, according to the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service:

  • “Best if Used By/Before” indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
  • “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.

You have the consumer power to make a difference with each purchase you make. Smart shopping is an easy thing we can do to significantly reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. Through smart shopping, you can advocate for higher standards, persuade producers to cut unnecessary packing and more. All it takes is making simple behavior chances like consciously choosing sustainable products/less packaging when we shop.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Do I really need this product?
  • Is there too much packaging?
  • Where was this product made, and can I purchase a similar product that is locally sourced?
  • Can this product be reused, composted and/or safely recycled?
  • Does this product promote higher socio-economic and environmental standards?

What makes a product sustainable? 

Green-Labels-ExamplesChoosing a sustainable product isn’t always easy. We don’t always take, or have, the time to read through product labels, let alone check the “green” certifications and labels out there, before purchasing a product. The U.S. EPA is in the process of working with private sector standards developers to create ecolabels and standards for greener products. In general, sustainable products are those products that provide environmental, social and economic benefits while protecting public health and environment over their whole life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials until the final disposal.

Some recognizable green labels include: the recycling symbol, Energy Star, USDA Organic, Smart Choice, Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) Certified, Green Seal Certified, Whole Trade Guarantee, Fair Trade Certified, Forest Stewardship Council Certified, LEED or Green Building Certified, and Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). For more information on these and other ecolabels, visit U.S. Ecolabel Index.

Buying Recycled Content Products

Buying products made with recycled content material creates long-term markets for recyclable materials. When possible, ensure the products you purchase (and the packaging in which they come) are not only recyclable, but are also composed of recycled content material! If you find yourself confused over the difference between products made entirely or partially from pre- and post-consumer recycled content, here is the gist of it:

  • Pre-consumer material: Material such as manufacturing scraps, rejects or trimmings that never actually made it to the consumer and is re-purposed into something new rather than being trashed (e.g., paper mill scraps that are recycled at a paper mill).
  • Post Consumer Waste LogoPost-consumer material: Material or a finished product that has been used by a consumer and then recycled and recovered (e.g., aluminum cans and newspapers that are placed out for curbside recycling).
  • Then there are also “recycled content” products without the pre- or post-consumer differentiation. If a product is labeled as being made from recycled content, then it contains either pre- or post-consumer material or a combination of the two.

Remember: The higher the post-consumer recycled content, the better it is for the environment. Why?  Because it means that the material used to make that product on the shelf that you’re considering was at the end of its intended life and was headed for the landfill before being diverted to be reused. Still, if you’re out shopping, purchasing products made from any percentage of recovered material is preferable to those made from virgin resources!

Buying Compostable Products

As more composting options become available, it becomes increasingly important to understand what items are truly compostable.  If an item such as a bag or food service ware is advertised as “biodegradable” or that it is derived from “bio-based plastics” or “plant starch”, it isn’t necessarily compostable, as it still may contain a blend of petroleum-based plastic in the material and may contaminate the compost stream.

Look for the universally-trusted Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certification logo on either the packaging or the individual item you’re looking to purchase. The BPI program applies science-based testing to prove a material will compost in a municipal or commercial facility and leave no toxic or lingering plastic residues in the soil, making it easy for you to determine what items are truly compostable.

Smart Shopping Tips

  • Planning is the key to avoiding waste. Check your house to see what you have on hand and make a shopping list before you go to the store to avoid unnecessary purchases.
  • Avoid single-use or disposable items and opt for silverware or reusable eco-ware instead. Americans used 120 billion disposable cups each year in the form of paper, plastic and foam; this habit generates 2.2. billion pounds of waste, 35 billion gallons of water, 4 billion pounds of CO2 equivalent and more than 11 million trees. Many cups aren’t recycled because they are made of hard-to-recycle plastic-coated paper or foam.
  • Buy used items whenever possible. Consider visiting thrift stores, browsing online classifieds websites such as Craiglist and borrowing or trading with friends. If you need something that you’ll only use a handful of times, such as a power tool, see if you can borrow or rent instead of buying it.
  • Buy products made with recycled content (e.g. recycled-content kitchen towels) or items in recyclable packaging (e.g., glass and plastic containers with the #1 or #2 recycle symbol stamped on the bottom). Look for the recycling symbol and the statement “Made with post-consumer recycled paper.” When choosing compostables, make sure items have been certified by a third party like Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI).
  • Avoid polystyrene foam packaging and foodware. Polystyrene foam, commonly know as Styrofoam, is non-renewable, non-biodegradable, and is difficult, uneconomical and sometimes impossible to recycle, especially if soiled by food. Due to numerous human and environmental health concerns, over 100 cities in the U.S. have banned products made with polystyrene foam material. Consider purchasing safer alternatives including those made with paper, cardboard, molded or rigid pulp or plastic, or certified compostable “starch peanuts”, loose fill or foam. Learn more on our Styrofoam page.
  • Buy products that use less packaging. (e.g., loose fruit or frustration-free packaged electronics). Of all the garbage we generate, one-third is packaging that gets thrown away immediately. Companies use less raw material when they use less packaging, which means they can ultimately reduce waste and cost.
  • Buy non-perishables in bulk (e.g., detergent soap).
  • Buy eco-rechargeable or refillable products.
  • Check the country of origin and purchase locally-sourced products whenever possible. For food, eat and buy seasonal products in your area. Download this handy Bay Area vegetable seasonality chart Adobe Icon for farmers markets.
  • Don’t forget to bring your cloth totes or bags into the store. These are more durable than paper and plastic bags, and won’t contribute to unnecessary waste in our landfills since it can be reused.

See our food waste section above for tips for food waste prevention.

Simple behavior changes and personal consumer choices can significantly impact how much waste and potential litter each of us produces. Read below for tips on how you can easily reduce waste, conserve our natural resources and prevent pollution. Food service providers can find helpful tips on our Workplace Waste Prevention page.

  1. milpitas_reusablebag_thumbnailChoose reusables. Opt for products you can use multiple times rather than single-use disposables. Carry reusable cloth totes/bags with you to the store. Single-use bags are often disposed of as trash and find their way into creeks, rivers, oceans and highways as unsightly and harmful litter.  Milpitas residents can call the Reuse Line at (408) 586-2680 to request a compact, travel-friendly reusable shopping bag (leave your full name and address; limit one bag per household while supplies last).
    • Carry a reusable travel thermos or mug with safety lid for your coffee. If you ask, some coffee shops will give you a discount for bringing your own cup.
    • Carry a reusable water bottle and/or or keep a mug with you. This helps conserve natural resources and reduce the amount of disposable paper, plastic and polystyrene cups in our landfills.
    • Opt for reusable, heat-safe foodware and beverage containers for meals. Nowadays, there are are many travel-friendly food ware sets out there from which to choose.
    • Businesses and schools can adopt a green purchasing program or environmentally preferable purchasing policy to ensure responsible purchasing practices. School administrators can learn more by visiting CalRecycle’s School Waste Reduction Purchasing page. Business owners can learn more by visiting CalRecycle’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Tools and Resources page.
  2. Choose used products. If you need something that will be used infrequently, such as a power tool or party decorations, see if you can borrow or rent it instead of buying it. For other items, consider visiting thrift stores or swap meets, browsing online classifieds websites such as Craiglist or trading with friends.
  3. Assemble a “party pack” that can be used in the home, office and schools. This is essentially a storage tub filled with a complete set of reusable party items that can be adjusted based on specific needs. In schools/offices, you can have “waste prevention champions” or “green teams” composed of parent/employee volunteers who clean or assist students/employees in cleaning the party pack before it is returned. Party pack contents can include:
    • Cloth napkins and tablecloths;
    • Eco-friendly decorations;
    • Durable plates, cups and utensils (made of sustainably-sourced or post-consumer recycled content).
  4. Have proper signage for all waste stations/areas. This not only helps people easily sort their waste, but it also ensures that recyclable and compostable items don’t end up in our landfills.
  5. Patronize green-certified businesses. The Bay Area Green Business Program certifies companies that meet the program’s standards for environmental responsibility. If you’re looking to hire someone to design or maintain your yard or garden, choose a Bay-Friendly Qualified Landscape Professional. If you need help with a home remodeling project, hire a Certified Green Building Professional.
  6. Give the gift of memorable experiences during the holidays and for special occasions. Between Thanksgiving and New Years, it’s estimated that our trash increases by an extra one million tons per week. Gifting those you love with e-tickets to a sporting event or concert, museum membership, or a flower/plant instead of disposable items will significantly reduce waste.
  7. Can­cel unwanted sub­scrip­tions and opt out of junk-mail. Learn how to do so here.
  8. Don’t trash it, donate it. Find new life for unwanted furnishings, books, toys, appliances, office supplies or clothes that are still in good shape. Instead of sending these goods to the landfill, donate them to secondhand stores, non-profit organizations, local churches or schools that accept used items.

In Your Home:

Many of the below practices can also be modified and adopted in school and office settings as well,

  1. Prioritize energy and water efficiency. Track water and energy usage. Regularly check for, report and repair leaks. Conduct regular maintenance on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and refrigeration systems. Opt for appliances like LED light bulbs, high efficiency dishwashers and clothes washers, and low-flow shower heads/toilets coupled with faucet aerators. Residents are welcome to request for low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators at the Milpitas City Hall front counter or by calling (408) 586-2666.
  2. Opt for non-toxic, eco-friendly cleaning products and methods. Use substitute cleaning products with basic ingredients like baking soda, borax and white distilled vinegar whenever possible. These actions will reduce the amount of hazardous chemicals in your home/office/classroom. For information on safer household cleaning tips and methods, read the Clean It GuideAdobe Icon
  3. Opt for a broom or towel instead of a can of toxic bug spray. Good housekeeping (e.g., cleaning up crumbs and spills immediately) and proper maintenance of your home is the best way to prevent pests from entering your space. If your living/work area or garden have pests, visit Our Water Our World for less toxic pest management tips.
  4. Buy the right amount of paint. Thinking of starting a painting project? First, calculate the area (height x width = total square feet) so that you can buy the right amount of paint for the job. One gallon of paint covers about 400 square feet. You can prevent paint from drying out by covering the paint can with plastic wrap, replacing the lid securely and storing the can upside down. Use leftover paint for touch-up jobs, smaller projects or as a primer.
  5. Consider composting and eco-friendly landscaping designs. Visit our Composting & Eco Gardens page to learn more. Covert your water-thirsty lawn to a drought-tolerant garden–simply layer cardboard and mulch right on top of the grass, and then plant your new garden straight into the mulch.
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