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Save Money, Energy And Emissions By Reducing Your Food Waste

Richard Drew
AP Photo
Ruthy Kirwan prepares her version of the classic Thanksgiving favorite, Green Been Casserole. Uneaten leftovers from holiday entertaining and excess produce are among the most-wasted items in U.S. households.

The average American household tosses out at least a quarter of its food   – and that increases over the  holidays. In the wake of Thanksgiving, King County wants to remind people why it’s not just better for their pocketbooks to waste less food.  

King County says wasting a quarter of the food you buy amounts to about $130 per week. Along with that cost, there are all the resources wasted and environmental impacts to consider. Think about what it takes to produce food and ship it all the way to your home, says Karen May, with the county's Solid Waste Division.

“So, for example, if we look at a turkey, it actually takes about the water equivalent of running a shower for 32 hours, to get one turkey from a farm to your dinner plate. And it also has the same climate change impact as driving a car for 165 miles,” May said.    

The solid waste division says 33 percent of what ends up in its main landfill is food waste, which generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that can contribute to global warming. That’s part of why the county encourages composting instead.

But May says they also have lots of simple ideas about how to reduce food waste before it gets to the bin, at a special website, Around the holidays, May says a big one isbreaking the habit of cooking more than you need. They also have recipes for using leftovers and tips about storing fruits and vegetables. May says they’ve discovered excess produce is the thing people waste the most.

“So if you can learn how store it longer, hopefully it won’t go to waste. For example, I never really knew that you weren’t supposed to store potatoes and onions together, but you’re not,” she said.

That’s because the onions give off a natural gas that hastens the ripening of potatoes and will make them go bad or start sprouting sooner than they would if stored separately.

“Also, don’t forget that the freezer is your friend,” May says. “If you have leftovers you’re not going to eat for a while, just go ahead and sock it right into the freezer. Then it won’t become a science experiment a few weeks down the road that you discover at the back of your refrigerator.”  

May says working on reduction of food waste has become a full-time job and she enjoys it. She’s found that teaching people how to waste less is one of the easiest ways to help them to reduce their personal carbon footprints.

Nationally, the USDA is calling for a fifty percent reduction in food waste in the United States by 2030.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to