Did you know?

  • Anywhere between 30-40% of food made for human consumption is wasted. 
  • Food often goes to landfills rather than being sent to a compost facility.
  • Every 100 pounds of food waste sends 8.3 pounds of methane into the atmosphere.
  • If the greenhouse gases that come from food waste in the landfill were a country it would be the third-largest emitting country in the world. 

The Zero Food Waste Challenge

It’s no secret that food waste is bad for our environment. In the United States, food is the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills, which contributes to about 16% of U.S. methane emissions. In addition to pollution, wasted food also has implications for the global hunger crisis. Reducing food waste by just 15% could feed roughly 25 million Americans. 

There are many reasons food gets wasted before it even gets to your plate, but being conscious of your individual decisions when it comes to grocery shopping, at-home food storage, cooking, and dining out has the potential to make a huge impact on food waste in America.

As a busy grad student, I don’t often take the time to be mindful of how much food I’m throwing away each week. This year in honor of Earth Month, I challenged myself to keep track of my food waste for a week. Here’s what happened.

Day 1

I went into this challenge feeling a little nervous. As a relatively eco-conscious person, I recycle, limit my car use, and do my best to buy earth-friendly products. However, I’ll admit I am not the most organized when it comes to food. Like any person, my life can get hectic. I struggle with over-buying at the grocery store, poorly planning my meals for the week, and eating out too much due to my poor planning. I do my best to save my surplus food, but I’ve noticed a tendency for these excess meals to accumulate over time in my fridge. At the end of the month, I’m often left with an assortment of random scraps that could probably be considered a biohazard by any licensed health inspector. This is to say, food waste has routinely been a weak spot for me in terms of my sustainable practices. 

For Day 1 of the challenge, I had a few in-person meetings, which meant I had to leave the house. Luckily for me, work was catering lunch so all I needed to do was clean my plate at lunch and avoid the temptation to get takeout for dinner. I ended the day with only a few food scraps from lunch, which I composted, and no food waste from dinner. I ended Day 1 food waste-free!

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Day 2

Day 2 was a work-from-home day, which required no meal prep planning. Being at home allowed me to have 3 solid meals and use up a lot of the leftovers in my fridge. I was even able to give my leftover lettuce from lunch to my rabbit for her to snack on while I finished up work. I ended the day with no food waste. 

Day 3

The third day of the challenge started off a bit rocky. I woke up late and ended up having to rush out the door without eating breakfast. At first, I thought this would be a win for me. You can’t waste food if you don’t make any, right? However, this was not the winning strategy because around lunchtime I was starting to feel my self-induced lack of nutrition. I went to Trader Joe’s to grab some food, and I completely overestimated how much I could eat. Turns out I didn’t need that extra lentil wrap in addition to my salad and olives. I ended up throwing away half of the wrap, which was my first food waste fail of the week.

Day 4

Day 4 was another busy day. I was going to spend most of the day out of the house at work and school, so to avoid The Great Lentil Wrap Fiasco of Day 3 I knew I needed to give myself enough time for breakfast. I started the day off strong with an egg, left nothing for the trashcan, and headed out.

Work and school went well, so I decided to get a late lunch/ early dinner with a coworker. I have a soft spot for Thai food, so when the idea of getting some post-work curry was proposed, I couldn’t say no. I brought home leftovers, but unfortunately, this meant I wasn’t going to eat some of the food in my fridge I had gotten earlier that week. While I hadn’t directly wasted any food throughout the day, I was setting myself up for failure for the final fridge cleanout of the week. 

I ended the day by giving my bunny some leftover lettuce that had been sitting in my fridge for a couple of days (she’s the cutest compost bin!).

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Day 5

I ended Day 5 with a fridge cleanout. Going through my fridge is one of my least favorite tasks. I always find something I had intended to eat but never did, forgotten meals, and produce far past its prime. This time was no exception.

I ended up needing to toss:

  • A bag of mushrooms
  • Pasta
  • Lettuce
  • Soup
  • Grapes
  • A mystery bag of goo
  • My pride

Luckily I have a compost service, so most of my food waste fails were diverted from the landfill. Still, Day 5 was a bit of a food waste fail. 

Final thoughts

After finishing this week, I realize two things:

  1. Going food waste-free takes planning and discipline
  2. Compost is a beautiful thing

Throughout the week, I realized that meal preparation takes time and I am not very good at planning. This was the main contributing factor to my food waste throughout the week as I found myself eating out quite a bit. Taking the time to go through my fridge every day and think through my meals is something I will do moving forward. I was so thankful for my compost bin at the end of the week, as it helped me divert most of the waste I had accumulated in my fridge. 

If you want to try out the Food Waste Challenge, check out our food waste reduction guide to learn more tips about how you can live food waste-free!