How to Reduce Food Waste


This is another installment in our series of blog posts about food waste. 

Digger moving trash in landfill. Reduce food waste and help the environment! Rotting food in the landfill makes methane, a greenhouse gas.

There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about wasting food. With food waste coming from both the food industry and from our homes, we all need to be part of the solution. There are a lot of ways that we can all can keep food waste out of the landfill. Our partners at City of Madison Streets and the Office of Sustainability created some tips for you:

Plan meals

The average family of four wastes about $1,500 a year in uneaten food. Meal planning and meal prepping might seem daunting, but they do help. Check out these tips from savethefood on what to know, what to have, and what to buy so you can start! Plan your meals for the week and don’t forget to make that grocery list! There are also interactive tools for things like estimating how much food you’ll need to feed guests.

Use and store

Make sure to use what you bought at the store or restaurant and store it correctly so it stays fresh longer. This seems simple, but we know - life happens! Savethefood has recipes for cooking with food scraps and food that’s on the brink of going bad. (Ok, but are they on the brink of going bad? Learn more about food product dates). And an interactive storage guide too, which is even Alexa-compatible!


You’ve got leftovers. The bananas are turning brown. You bought too much broccoli for your meal plan. Time to get creative! What’s that? Not a creative person? No problem. Once again, look to savethefood. You can browse different categories, from chef-inspired dishes to desserts and then some. Turn veggie scraps into vegetable stock. Make sour milk pancakes out of nearly sour milk. You get the idea. 

You can also create opportunities for others in need. Check out this guide from City of Madison Streets on how to donate raw, processed, or prepared foods to pantries and other organizations that gather food. Food access is key to health; by donating what you don’t use, you waste less food and help support the health of others! 

Scrap or compost

What about food scraps you can’t use, or don’t want to cook with? Dane County abounds with opportunities to turn them into compost that can be used in your yard or garden, community gardens, and farmland. This guide details Madison food scrap drop off and community garden composting sites, how to compost in your backyard, and private companies that will compost for you! 

What businesses can do about food waste

Perform a waste audit

Measure the amount, type, and reason that food is wasted in your business. There are free tools available to help you do a waste audit, and prevention tip sheets for restaurants, schools, manufacturers as well! Next, create new habits to prevent food waste in the future. Examples include modifying menus, making sure food is stored correctly, getting creative with excess food or scraps, and reducing serving sizes. 

Look into food donations

Any business can be a food donor and is protected from liability Always check with the organization you want to donate to because some have limitations on what they can take. Here’s a list of pantries and organizations in Dane County. And don’t forget to look into tax benefits of donating!

Feed animals

If handled safely, food scraps can be donated to farmers or companies that make animal or pet food!


By composting, you can reduce the smell of your garbage and cut it down by 30 percent. Area businesses can do the composting for you! And new this year, all Dane County businesses, institutions, municipalities, Native American tribal governments and organizations, community groups, and nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply for funding for community composting projects. Stay tuned for more information about that through Dane County Department of Waste and Renewables

Changing our mindset

After decades of hearing “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.,” most everyone knows what that means for our environment and hopefully does their best to adopt the principles. Changing our mindset about food waste around those same principles can help us all reduce the amount of food we generate, use or donate all the food we’ve made, and if that’s not possible, recycle it to the earth in the form of compost, which can help grow new food for the future. 

What is Public Health doing about food waste?

We’re partnering with other agencies and organizations to make a difference in food waste in our community. Watch for our next blog post for details. Sign up now so you don’t miss it!

This content is free for use with credit to Public Health Madison & Dane County .

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