Next time you’re searching for something to eat, shop your refrigerator first

This holiday season, helping those in need is as simple as opening your refrigerator.  

Americans waste almost one-third of the total food supply – a staggering 133 billion pounds of edible food annually. This waste has far-reaching economic and environmental impacts – roughly translating to 2 million calories thrown away per household, the equivalent of $1,500 per year.

{mosads}At the same time, one in six Americans is food insecure, meaning they are without adequate access to safe and nutritious food. It is estimated that a reduction in household food waste by 15 percent would save enough food to feed 25 million people.

In September, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg jointly announced the first-ever U.S. food-waste reduction initiative – which if successful, would result in a 50 percent reduction in food waste by the year 2030. Encouragingly, the federal government has secured critical partners in this initiative, including charitable and faith-based organizations, local, state and tribal governments, and industry including several prominent grocery store chains.

However, they failed to engage the single most important partner – YOU.

And unfortunately, this announcement flew largely under the radar with the smallest of media blips to mark its passing. So why should we care about some trash?

While some food waste occurs in the growing fields or during the transport of food, the majority occurs at the household level. This means that knowing even a little bit more about the life of your leftovers – for instance, keeping track of your trash for a week to determine how many edibles you’re tossing away – can make a big dent in your household waste. It also can have collateral benefits for your wallet. Who doesn’t want $1,500 more per year?

Here’s the bigger picture. Less food waste means reduced water and energy use, and decreased emissions, all of which contribute significantly to the security of our nation’s food supply. Your actions directly support your community, and can improve the health of your neighbors.

Here are four zero-cost strategies you can implement to reduce household food waste.

1) Plan and purchase only what you need for the week.

2) Prepare what you can consume or freeze for later and use those leftovers.

3) Share food with others or buy BOGO and split the costs.

4) Compost organic materials DIY for less than $25.

Compost can be further repurposed to support an urban garden, which you use to supplement your plate with vegetables and herbs, whose consumption positively impacts diet quality and reduces chronic disease risk.

This holiday season, give by taking the EPA Food Recovery Challenge. It’s as easy as opening your refrigerator.

Hingle is a nutrition scientist, public health researcher, and registered dietitian nutritionist at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at The University of Arizona and Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.

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