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$$ in the Trash

“How can I save more at the grocery store?”  Many people are constantly scratching their head asking themselves where they can save money in their monthly budget, and the food bill is what tends to get cut first.  With the rising cost of food in our country this is happening in more and more households.  Though thrifty shopping and menu planning are great strategies for saving money on groceries, let’s take another spin on it.  How much of your food ends up uneaten in the garbage?

Is Food Waste Draining Your Pocket?

Food waste in this country is growing.  This not only has environmental concerns, but causes immediate strains on wallets as well.  An average family of four people in the US throws away between $130-$175 of food each month.  People arguably “throw their money away” on many things each month, but I dare say anyone would take $150 and put it directly into their garbage bin or compost pile.  This is in a sense, exactly what is happening when we pay for food that goes uneaten each week.  Collectively, consumers are responsible for more wasted food than a combined total of food wasted by grocery stores, farmers and other parts of the food chain.  Americans are wasting over 50 percent more food than we were 40 years ago.

Contributing Factors

What has changed in the past few decades for food waste to increase to such an extent?  We might not be able to point the finger at one direct cause but possibly many cumulative ones.  Food availability has increased in every corner of our lives.  We cannot go anywhere in our society today without being offered some sort of food or beverage.  Portion sizes and kitchen wares are increasing.  We have larger homes and refrigerators to store food in, and we have larger plates and utensils to consume food on.  It has also been recognized, as of late, that awareness of where our food comes from and consciousness toward our food has diminished.  When we do not value our food, and expect it to be cheap, we treat it cheaply and give less thought to throwing it away.  Though food prices are increasing in the United States, American consumers still spend proportionally less of their income on food than the majority of the world.

Steps to Reduce Waste

So, how can one begin to save money and reduce food waste?  The first step is becoming aware that it is an issue and noticing personal habits.  How much money goes into food that simply ends up in the trash bin?  Menu planning is a great way to buy food that will actually be made into meals and consumed.  Learning various methods of food preservation that work for you and your family is another way to extend your food dollar.  The highest percentage of food waste is from fruits and vegetables.  In 2009 the United States threw away $32 billion of produce!  Consider freezing or canning fruits and vegetables for later use.  Or cooking vegetables that do not have much time left into a delicious and nutritious homemade soup!  Check what foods you have on hand in your freezer and refrigerator before making an impulse trip to the store.  Pay attention to food wasted at restaurants and bring leftover portions home to make a meal out of the following day.

Start Composting!

This may also be the perfect time to consider starting a compost bin for produce scraps, eggs shells, coffee grounds and tea bags.  Even when biodegradable waste ends up in landfills it is not able to break down due to a lack of oxygen.  Landfills are expensive for taxpayers to maintain, so even if it does not appear to affect your wallet today, it will surely affect it in the future.  And with rich, healthy compost outside your back door it is possible to grow delicious food for the price of a seed packet without the high cost of synthetic fertilizers or store bought compost.  All around your wallet wins!  Paying attention to food waste can help save money and save the planet!

Sources:

  • Northwest Earth Institute- Choices for Sustainable Living “A Look at the $175 in Your Compost” by Dana Gunders. National Resource Defense Council. 
  • ‘Percentage Wasted by the Average American Consumer for some Common Foods’-USDA Economic Research Service.
  • ‘Retail Values of US Avoidable Food Waste in 2009 Using 2011 Prices’- www.CleanMetrics.com

Individual scraping food off plate into garbage

Contact Our Expert!

Email: nfs@uwyo.edu

Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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