In an era when so many people in our nation are food-insecure, it may be shocking to learn that about 40% of the food produced in the United States each year ends up as garbage.

According to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Americans waste about 20 pounds of food per month, per person. And it’s not just the food that gets wasted; the NRDC points out that we should also consider the resources and energy that go into growing the food: 25% of our fresh water supply, 4% of oil and “more than $165 billion all dedicated to producing food that never gets eaten,” says an NRDC fact sheet.

Losses occur before food even reaches your shopping cart. Some crops are not harvested because they are less than perfect, and products get damaged or spoiled owing to faulty storage or to mishandling during transport. However, once food is in your home, the waste continues. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that we end up tossing 40% of our fresh fish,
23% of our eggs and 20% of the milk we buy. Produce is commonly wasted
as well—chiefly, citrus fruits and cherries, sweet potatoes, onions and greens.

The NRDC suggests practicing the following steps to reduce or eliminate food waste:

  • Shop wisely. Plan meals ahead, make lists and buy only what you need.
  • Buy “funny” fruit. Pick the ugly ducklings once in a while. Fruits need not look perfect to taste good.
    vGet a true sense of when food goes bad. “Sell by” dates are manufacturer suggestions for peak freshness. Many foods can be consumed beyond these dates, according to the USDA.
  • Mine your fridge and get creative about using up what’s inside.
  • Use your freezer.
  • Request smaller portions in restaurants.
  • Eat leftovers.
  • Compost your kitchen waste.
  • Donate overflow of nonperishable and unspoiled perishable food to local soup kitchens and food banks.