Food: Too Good To Waste


In Palo Alto, Edible Food Makes Up 31% of the Garbage and Compost!

Whether it’s moldy cheese, limp celery or those long lost leftovers in the back of the fridge, chances are you’ve wasted food this week. You’re not alone. Food waste costs families money and contributes to climate change. "Food waste" refers to edible food that is not eaten for one reason or another, goes bad and it thrown away. Food scraps such as banana peels, apple cores and bones are not included – they should be composted.


Quick Links

""Food Waste Facts
""How You Can Stop Food Waste At Home - Tips on how to keep your food from going to waste
""Business - Tips to Reduce Food Waste & Improve Your Bottom Line
""Local Food Donation Options - Recovery organizations for businesses to donate excess edible food

Food Waste Facts

Food is wasted when we buy more than we need, store it incorrectly, throw away leftovers and cook too much. When we throw away food, we also waste all the water and energy used to produce, package and transport food from the farm to our plates.  

American Food Waste Facts:

  • 40% of all food in the US is wasted
  • 25% of all freshwater we consume - goes to produce the food we never eat 
  • 4% of the oil we consume - goes to produce the food we never eat
  • $166 billion (retail value of preventable waste) - is spent on the food we never eat
  • 135 million tons of GHG emissions - is created by the food we never eat

These numbers are for our whole food system from farms, processors, retailers and households

The Average American:

  • Household throws out 25% of the food they purchase
  • Family of four tosses out more than $1,600 a year in wasted food

How You Can Stop Food Waste At Home

Reducing food waste is an easy way to trim your grocery bills and reduce your environmental footprint. By becoming aware of how you may be wasting food, and making small shifts in how you shop, prepare and store food, you can keep this valuable resource from going to waste.

The following tips were created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) in coordination with American families across the country. Use the "Smart Tips" to help reduce food waste in your home.

""Get Smart - See how much food (and money) you're throwing away
""Smart Shopping - Buy only what you need
""Smart Storage - Keep fruits and vegetables fresh
""Smart Prep - Prep now, eat later
""Smart Saving - Eat what you buy

Get Smart - See How Much Food (And Money!) You’re Really Throwing Away

Research shows that nearly everyone wastes more food than they think they do. The first step to reducing food waste and creating lasting awareness is to actually measure how much food you’re throwing away. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has created the Food: Too Good to Waste Challenge to help you figure out how much food is really going to waste in your home and what you can do to waste less.

Take the Challenge: Keep good food from going to waste!

Return to How You Can Reduce Food Waste At Home 
Return to top of page

Smart Shopping - Buy Only What You Need

Planning is key to avoiding wasted food. By making a list with weekly meals in mind, you can save money, time and may eat healthier food. If you buy no more than what you expect to use, you will be more likely to keep it fresh and use it all.

  • Make your shopping list based on how many meals you will eat at home and the timing of your next shopping trip. Will you eat out this week? Be realistic. Download this handy weekly shopping list.
  • Shop your fridge and cupboards first to avoid buying food you already have on hand.
  • Include quantities on your shopping list to avoid overbuying. For fresh items, note how many meals you will make with each. For example: Salad greens - enough for two lunches. Download this handy weekly shopping list.
  • Buy fresh ingredients in smaller quantities more often so you waste less and enjoy fresher ingredients.
  • Choose loose fruit and vegetables over pre-packaged to better control the quantity you need and ensure fresher ingredients.
  • Don’t feel like you have time to plan meals and make a good list? Try these free mobile apps and web-based tools  available now to help make it easier.


Smart Grocery Shopping Video - Tips for buying just what you need

smart grocery shopping video
Check out this great video from King County, Washington

Return to How You Can Stop Food Waste At Home
Return to top of page


Smart Storage: Keep Fruits And Vegetables Fresh

We waste fresh fruits and vegetables most often. We usually overbuy or don’t use them in time. By storing fruits and vegetables for maximum freshness, they’ll taste better and last longer, helping you to eat more of them. Storage tips: 

  • Learn which fruits and vegetables stay fresh longer inside or outside the fridge.
  • Use online A-Z Food Storage Guidefor all types of food.
  • Try using storage bags or containers designed to help extend the life of your produce.
  • Use your freezer – if you can’t eat a food in time, you can often freeze it for later
  • Separate very ripe fruit from fruit that isn't as ripe. Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen that make other produce spoil faster.
  • Store bananas, apples and tomatoes by themselves and store fruits and vegetables in different bins.
  • Wash berries just before eating to prevent mold.
  • If you like your fruit at room temperature, take what you will eat for the day out of the fridge in the morning, rather than keeping a fruit bowl out.
  • Separate fruit that is very ripe from others as it will speed up the ripening of the other fruit.
  • Have produce that’s past its prime? It may still be fine for cooking. Think soups, sauces, pies or smoothies.

Wise Food Storage & Prep - Tips to make your food last longer

wise food storage & prep video
Check out this great video from King County, Washington 

Return to How You Can Stop Food Waste At Home
Return to top of page

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.

  • When you get home from the store, wash, dry, chop, dice, slice and place your fresh food items in clear storage containers for snacks and easy cooking.
  • Befriend your freezer and visit it often. Freeze food such as bread, sliced fruit or meat that you know you won’t be able to eat in time.
  • Cut your time in the kitchen by preparing and freezing meals ahead of time.
  • Prepare and cook perishable items, then freeze them for use throughout the month. For example, bake and freeze chicken breasts or fry and freeze taco meat.

Return to How You Can Stop Food Waste At Home
Return to top of page

Smart Saving: Eat What You Buy

Be mindful of old ingredients and leftovers you need to use up. You’ll waste less and may even find a new favorite dish in the process.

  • Move food that’s likely to spoil soon to the front of the shelf or a designated “eat now” area each week. Download this 'Eat Me First' prompt to create a designated area.
  • Casseroles, frittatas, soups and smoothies are great ways to use leftovers, and odds and ends. Search for websites that provide suggestions for using leftover ingredients.
  • Are you likely to have leftovers from any of your meals? Plan on an “eat the leftovers” night each week.
  • Share food you won’t get around to eating with friends or neighbors before heading out of town
  • Learn the difference between “sell-by,” “use-by,” “best-by” and expiration dates.

Fabulous Dishes, No Shopping Required - Tips to make from what you have on hand

Fabulous dishes, not shopping required
Check out this great video from King County, Washington

Return to How You Can Stop Food Waste At Home
Return to top of page

Business: Tips to Reduce Food Waste and Improve Your Bottom Line

Wasted food costs the commercial food service industry roughly $100 billion annually, but they aren’t the only businesses that create food waste. All businesses can benefit by reducing their food waste. It can save money by reducing not only disposal costs but also over-purchasing, labor, and energy costs. Additionally, you can receive tax benefits from donating wholesome, edible food to food banks or food rescue organizations.

Reduce your food waste

We often do not realize how much food we waste at our businesses. Check out our list of common strategies to figure out where food waste happens at your business and how to avoid it.


Here is a general checklist that identifies common strategies any business can use to reduce wasted food and packaging. Choose strategies based on the opportunities that exist at your facility. Tracking food waste is always the first step.

  • Conduct a wasted food and packaging assessment using the U.S.EPA’s Food and Packaging Waste Prevention Tool or another waste tracking tool
  • Adjust food purchasing policies to reduce excess food purchasing
  • Adjust menus to reduce frequently uneaten or wasted items
  • Modify food preparation methods to minimize waste (for example, heat soups or prepare food in smaller portions)
  • Store food properly to reduce spoilage
  • Repurpose leftover kitchen food following food safety guidelines (for example, reuse day-old bread for croutons or leftover vegetables as a pizza topping)
  • Donate excess food
  • Use reusable service ware instead of disposable service ware

Related Links

EPA Checklist for Food Service Establishments
EPA Food Waste Prevention Strategies

Feed people, not landfills

Help the community, the environment and your bottom line at the same time. If you do have excess food, do not throw it away (that includes the compost bin). Help feed the hungry - 96,000 low-income adults in Santa Clara County are estimated to be food insecure. Donating food not only keeps food out of landfills, it also feeds those in need. You may even get tax benefits!

Local donation options

Perishable/Prepared Foods:

Food Donation Connection
(800) 831-8161
Food Donation Connection manages food donation programs for food service companies including restaurantsairportscollegecampuses and more. Program services include linking donor locations with food rescue groups or those feeding the needy, assisting in the development of safe food handling standards, tax valuation, electronic donation tracking and reporting, and ongoing monitoring and follow-up to ensure program implementation and success.

Peninsula Food Runners 
(415) 826-6903
Peninsula Food Runner is an organization dedicated to repressing hunger by diverting good food to those in need and thus, reducing the waste of food in the San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. They pick up excess food for free from restaurants, caterers, bakeries, hospitals, event planners, corporate cafeterias, and hotels, to be delivered to those in shelters, feeding programs, and 100% affordable housing where food insecurities and hunger are most common.

Ecumenical Hunger Program
2411 Pulgas Ave, East Palo Alto
(650) 323-7781
Ecumenical Hunger Program prepares and serves hot meals and provides boxes of food to needy individuals and families to meet basic nutritional needs.

Nonperishable Foods:

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties
(866) 234-3663
The Food Bank mobilizes individuals, companies, and community partners to connect people to the nutritious food they need. Nearly half of the food distributed is fresh produce.

Compost your scraps

Not all food waste is edible, however food scraps and spoiled food do not belong in the landfill either. GreenWaste of Palo Alto offers compostables collection service. GreenWaste Environmental Outreach Coordinators are available to assist you in starting up and/or improving your program (waste stream evaluation, best-management practices, trainings, education/outreach items). Contact GreenWaste at (650) 493-4894 or to sign up for compost service and save money on disposal.

Return to top of page