buy less food, waste less food

Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.Pope Francis

Today’s sexy topic is Food Waste.

I know that many of our customers are relieved that instead of throwing wasted food in the garbage, they are able to compost it through us. That’s okay, particularly if you are a new customer. But that is Zero Waste 101 and after a few months, we encourage you to graduate to Zero Waste 102 and begin wasting less. We’d like you to begin to learn from what you are putting in your bucket.

Maybe you’ve heard about my rotisserie chicken ah-ha moment. When my children were smaller and we were all still eating meat, I’d often buy rotisserie chickens. I realized, when I started composting through Collective Resource, that we were eating very little of those chickens and that they were taking up a lot of room in our bucket! And they came in a giant, greasy, plastic container that took a lot of water and elbow grease to get recycling-bin–ready. I learned that buying chicken breasts and cooking them myself was the better alternative.

Wasting less food means wasting less money. That might seem obvious but if you’re looking for a reason, besides mitigating climate change to waste less food, there it is.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that if you are reading this that you are not food insecure. So, take a chance and buy less food.

Buy Less at Grocery Stores

We all crave variety and that leads to buying more than we need. Bea Johnson, zero waste consultant and author of Zero Waste Home taught me that you can still have the variety you crave but spreading it out helps you waste less food. Buy one pasta shape this week and when that is all eaten, buy a different shape. Instead of buying four different kinds of fruit, buy two this week and two next time you go shopping. Allow yourself to run out of things. It will make you feel young again and also make you feel lucky when you can buy it again.

Order Less at Restaurants

The first time you go to a restaurant, it’s hard to know how big the portions are. Share an entree if you are with someone else. When I first started eating out with my current partner, he knew that if the food arrived and it did not look like enough, he could always order a side of potatoes. If you are eating out by yourself, bring some of your own to-go containers because it’s likely you will not be able to eat all that you’re served. The planet does not need another styrofoam box or plastic bag sealed in a landfill or floating in its oceans.

So many people lament that it’s difficult to buy food in quantities that are small enough that they can eat it all before it goes bad. Buying less will help but there are other ways. Using your freezer and feeding your community are two good solutions. We bought a CSA membership this year and couldn’t regulate the amount or type of produce that was coming into our home. Every week we got a different herb. I got into a habit of making a stick of herb butter then freezing the rest in my vegetable stock bag. Some of our produce went to our young vegan neighbors.

Leftover Food from Events

This is an area of food waste that takes some planning ahead. We know that a customer is serious about having a zero waste event if they tell us they have a plan for leftover food. Here are a couple of highlights from recent events we’ve facilitated that might give you some ideas of your own.

Judy Schnecke, Hospitality Chair, Friends of the Wilmette Public Library, planned a luncheon for volunteers and she donated the leftover food to the local fire department.

Ellen Shieh, Sustainability Manager at UL, a company based in Northbrook that specializes in testing, inspections, and certifications, used our services for their recent marketing summit and introduced us to Chicago Bridge Project, that provides meals and clothing to people in need in our city. You can contact them prior to your event at


If I could give you just one resource, it would be the Natural Resource Defense Council’s section on Food Waste on their website. But I’m warning you, pun intended, that there is a lot to chew on. (Special thanks to Amy DeLorenzo for all of her food waste resources. Look for more of these on our Facebook page.)

I’ve yet to meet the person who enjoys cleaning rotting food from the refrigerator, no matter where it’s headed. Let’s all start doing less of that.

Author Details
Zero Waste Consultant | Collective Resource, Inc.

Mary Beth strongly believes that, “It’s always better to be doing something rather than nothing.” If you’re thinking of composting at home, she can help you work out what your particular “something” can be.

She’s confident a solution can be tailored to fit anyone’s needs and ambitions. “Anyone who eats can be a CRI customer, whether you are an individual or a large organization. I want you to understand the advantages of composting, and I can show you how CRI can make it easy.” Mary Beth has successfully designed waste diversion strategies for individuals, schools, houses of worship and other communities. She’s received the governor’s Environmental Hero award for her work at her daughter’s school. Whether you’re starting with a backyard bin, a kitchen bucket, a worm farm, or large-scale commercial collection, Mary Beth can be your good-natured guide.