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Reducing Waste by Reclaiming Food

Bob has been a food security activist for many years, He is a gardener and a garden writer. His ebook, From My Garden, is widely available.

Food Don't Throw it Away

You sit down to dinner and your plate is full. A smile crosses your face as you look at the food. When you have eaten your fill, there still is some food on the plate, what do you do with it?

Some of us may recycle that food by putting it into the compost; too many others will simply toss it away without any thought to what this says about us and our society.

Relax, I am not going to echo my mother and say something like, starving children in (insert country) would love that food.

What I will suggest is before you go grocery shopping give some thought to what you are going to do with the food you do not consume, and often toss away

As food prices rise, people may start to pay more attention to the food waste they generate each day; whether it is at home, at work or when enjoying one of the numerous dining out opportunities our fast food world offers.

At Home:

In order to get a sound sense of how much food you eat and how much you toss away each week, try this.

Keep a daily log for one week that is seven days of all that you eat. Also jot down what you toss away.

I suggest seven days because our eating habits when we are home may differ from our eating behaviour when we go to work.

This may feel like a tedious chore but it can help you reduce waste, eat less and possibly lose weight and just maybe save some money. That sounds like a reasonable incentive to give it a try.

Now when you make up your grocery shopping list and do not go shopping for food without a list, take a look at your food use chart. How much did you throw out?

This gives you insight into what you eat and what you toss away. Now you can make your shopping list based upon this information.

At Work:

First off, if you want to save money and reduce, bring your lunch. You control your food intake this way. When you eat out, you often have only a little time to grab something for lunch eat it and get back to work; this is complicated if you have other errands to run at lunch time. This may mean grabbing a fast food at a drive thru for example.

You may not eat all that you get due to time constraints too busy driving to eat all the fries or finish that triple cheese burger so into the garbage it goes.

If you have a microwave at work or even better a kitchen, leftovers from your meals at home can make great lunches. A bowl of home made chili can make a great lunch.


Leftovers when stored in a container that can be reheated are not only good for lunches at work but also can be very useful when you are at home but in a hurry, you have your own fast food right in your freezer.

This reduces waste, reuses the food and saves you the cost of that pizza or fried chicken you stopped off and bought on your way home.

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It helps to label your leftovers before freezing them so that you know what you are getting.

Public Events:

If you attend conferences, meeting and social function you will know that quite frequently there is food left over when the event ends. Most of that food goes straight into the garbage.

Especially, if it is a formal affair held at a hotel or convention centre.

I use to organize a number of events and did the following to reduce waste.

When planning the event if there is to be a buffet or sit down meal you need to know how many guest are coming to diner. The caterer or hotel staff needs that information. This is where RSVPs are essential. Now you can figure that not everyone who says they will come will actually come but yoru can’t order food based on that, you must order what you need or you may not be feeding someone.

For example, you have 100 people confirm that they will attend. I would order a minimum of 105 dinners, because sometimes people show up without having RSVPed but they were invited. Now some may not show, so it is possible that you will have food left over. What to do.

Well what I always did before ordering food was:

1- The first step is to talk with whoever is looking after the food and tell them what you are planning.

2- Make contact with a local food program in the community to see if they wanted and could pick up the food.

3- If they wanted the food but could not pick it up, then I arranged delivery.

4- Often events are in the evening and there is no one to pick up the food or the organization is not open; then I divided the leftover food that is suitable for human consumption among the organizers of the event, again you need to talk with the hotel staff before doing this. They will balk at first but be insistent. You paid for the food.

5- Bring containers so that people can take food home.

6- If you are a regular event planner and have a relationship with a hotel, sit down with the manger and tell him or her that you are interested in recovery the edible food and ask for input.

7- Check local public health regulations.

If the event is less formal and being held in a community hall for example with a local caterer then be sure to bring containers so that people can take home all the food that is suitable to eat. Make an announcement at the time that food is being served that anyone who wants to take some food home can grab a container and help themselves; to encourage others to do so grab a container and take a bit yourself.

These are just a few suggestions to get you thinking about food it a different way. Let your creative energy find others.

Entrepreneurial Possibilities:

There are a number of ways that you can trun collecting food waste into an economic activity; that is waste that it no longer fit for human consumption. Compost is one product that can be made from food waste and compost is always in demand by organic and other gardeners.

The accompanying videos show other ways that waste can equal opportunity.

We do not have to waste food, a little planning before hand can make a real difference.

Energy from Waste

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What We Throw Away


Bob Ewing (author) from New Brunswick on February 08, 2011:

a good secondary use. thanks for dropping by.

Mindy Bench from Oregon on February 08, 2011:

Hi thanks for the Hub! My dad used to get leftover food from the schools to feed our pigs.

Bob Ewing (author) from New Brunswick on October 14, 2009:

Thanks for dropping by.

carriegoff from Michigan on October 14, 2009:

This is indeed a great problem. While trying to "protect" the public health, we are wasting so much food. I know a restaurant owner who saved all thrown away food and gave it to a friend who raised pigs. If meat is going to be thrown away anyway (ie. it's illegal to feed to people), couldn't it go to a pig farmer? Pigs will eat anything.

I have a hub about cutting food expenses and using leftovers (my family accuses me of serving leftovers every day) They can be yummy! Thanks for the head's up!

Bob Ewing (author) from New Brunswick on June 08, 2008:

Thanks Marisue: This is a real issue

"He replied that health regulations required them to throw away what was not sold after 3 days.  THROW IT AWAY.  They couldnot give it to a food kitchen, or to hungry people, or anything as if someone got sick they could all be sued.  THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE FOOD.  I was just shocked and tears came to my eyes.  I COULD NOT believe such waste.    We need to write to the FDA or whoever controls that, -- I suppose the store could tell us -- and protest this policy. "

and I agree with you, this policy is simply wrong.

Also there are ways to compost meat but one problem is that it can attract rats for exampel which is not desireable.

Jonno.Norton on June 08, 2008:

This is a great topic for an article. I try to compost at home, but my room mates and I go through so much produce it's hard to keep it all around. We keep one bin for making soil (for my house plants) and the rest goes to the city waste cleanup. Some things you can't compost though, like meat for instance, so you have to find creative ways to deal with that. We just throw it away, unfortunately. But living in a mostly veggie household, we don't have to deal with that issue much actually.

marisuewrites from USA on June 08, 2008:

Excellent hub Bob,  guess what I found out as a foster parent?  We were shopping at a grocery store and we passed the food market where we shopped early for mark downs, and a meat manager was putting meat in a big shopping cart.  Being curious and wanting a real bargain, we asked what was to be done with the meat.

He replied that health regulations required them to throw away what was not sold after 3 days.  THROW IT AWAY.  They couldnot give it to a food kitchen, or to hungry people, or anything as if someone got sick they could all be sued.  THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE FOOD.  I was just shocked and tears came to my eyes.  I COULD NOT believe such waste.    We need to write to the FDA or whoever controls that, -- I suppose the store could tell us -- and protest this policy.  If each package was tested to be safe, it should be given away or sold at a reduced price.

Having said that, I am guilty guilty of wasting food at home.  Your suggestions bring my own habits to the forefront.  I just returned from the store today and purchased many plastic containers for food storage.  It takes a little time, but the money we'll save is HUGE.  I'm embarassed to say how much we spend and how much we throw away...but i dare say it would be a nice vacation or maybe even enough to purchase that special car I want in a year's time. 

What a great way to increase your own spending money, just by saving on Groceries and eating out.  One time when I was a young married lady, we wrote down what we were spending on anything eatable for a month.  That meant gum, candy, mints, lunches, soft drinks.  I was shocked and we found several hundred dollars were going out the "window" each month.

I have gotten back into the habit of waste, I fear...and your hub has renewed my desire for saving -- we can actually give ourselves a raise.  THANK YOU again, Bob for always keeping us "grounded" --  =)   Marisue

Bob Ewing (author) from New Brunswick on June 08, 2008:

thanks for the comments, I agree that reducing waste is a sound financial move as well, think thrifty; the video is the hub talk about projects to turn food waste into energy.

dutch84 on June 08, 2008:

Is anyone looking into using leftover food and/or human excrement as a fuel source yet?

Hey! Did you know that NASA has completed a project which turns human urine into drinking water?

Great article!

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on June 07, 2008:

Bob - I agree with all the comments so far! I feel disgusted by throwing food away. We just had a really nice dinner tonight, and now have a number of leftovers for a few days ahead. I grew up in a house in which we saved everything and things were very tight. I still have that mentality (as we all should). In a tight economy, it definitely is "food for thought."

amy jane from Connecticut on June 07, 2008:

Excellent suggestions! I worked in the restaurant business for a short time and was amazed (and disgusted) by what was thrown away at the end of the day. You have presented some really great ideas for change.

Bob Ewing (author) from New Brunswick on June 07, 2008:

Thanks, waste not, want not, a fair saying.

cgull8m from North Carolina on June 07, 2008:

Great tips, my mother always used to say that food is like God, don't waste it and we used to make sure that we don't throw away nothing. I still try to follow that now, it is the right thing to do.

Bob Ewing (author) from New Brunswick on June 07, 2008:

reduce your waste and your waist, dumpster diving is not something that I am ready to embrace, thanks for the comments.

Susan Keeping from Kitchener, Ontario on June 07, 2008:

There is a whole new movement now of people who reclaim food from the garbage that supermarkets and restaurants throw out. I don't think I could go that far.

Anyway, great hub. I always keep my leftovers; they keep me going on lunches and dinners for the week.

Stacie Naczelnik from Seattle on June 07, 2008:

Bob, not only are you encouraging people to reduce their waist, but this can also be a good lesson in portion control. If you don't load up your plate too much in the first place, you won't have to throw anything away. I love leftovers, and they end up in the lunches I take to work. I love your idea of including the food you throw away in your food log.

Bob Ewing (author) from New Brunswick on June 07, 2008:

Thanks for the comment, yes, it can be easy to find someone to eat free food. :)

lady luck from Boston on June 07, 2008:

Bob this is a great hub! At my work, we get food catered a LOT and there is ALWAYS leftovers, so if someone has a big meeting and there is extra food, they put it in the kitchen and around on tables so all of us " Seagulls" end up scarfing it up by the end of the day.

I tend to cook in large batches, so I'm a left overs girl. However, if I know something won't keep... I will invite friends over, I can usually find someone willing to eat food!!

Bob Ewing (author) from New Brunswick on June 07, 2008:

Thanks for the comments, leftovers are only useful if we actually eat them.

kerryg from USA on June 07, 2008:

Good lens on an important topic. We eat lots of leftovers in my house, and compost almost all of what we don't eat. When I was growing up, our dogs also got quite a bit of people food - they are almost as good as pigs - but I don't currently have a dog. :(

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on June 07, 2008:

This is a great well written hub. Full of so much information and great ideas. People waste so much food, these days it is unbelievable. I always freeze left overs from night before or have it for lunch next day. Thanks for sharing this.

pkmcr from Cheshire UK on June 07, 2008:

Excellent and valuable information Bob. I can well recall my own Mother saying" starving children in ..... would love that food you have left." So I am sure that she would echo the sentiment of ensuring that we deal with leftover food appropriately.

Take care


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