Don’t Throw that Dollar Bill into the Garbage (Food Waste)

The average family of four could save over $1,600 a year by sending less food into the garbage. That’s $30.77 an average family throws out per week, or $4.40 per day.

What gets measured gets managed. This is my attempt to quantify what this looks like in real live physical dollar bills in our everyday lives. Fair warning: Economist talk assumptions await you if you read further 🙂

The most common ways food is throw out at home are:

  • Leftovers from home-cooked meals
  • Leftovers from take-out or restaurant
  • “Expired” or “best used by date” confusion. Some of the time these foods are perfectly edible, so disposing of them is not a necessity.
  • Spoiled food from misestimating quantities needed or poor storage

After thinking about this and running some numbers on the cost of $4.40 per day wasted on food disposal per average family, I came to this conclusion:

Each time you or anyone in your household throws food away you can image one dollar bill going into the garbage.

How did I come up with that?

Rationale #1: Food varies in price, so for simplicity’s sake, let’s look at an apple. It’s reasonable to think of an apple as something most Americans eat at least occasionally. An apple is about a dollar apiece and that would be good sized handful of food. Some food would be less expensive (i.e. bulk lentils) and some more expensive (i.e. gourmet restaurant leftovers), but on average a dollar per handful makes sense.

Rationale #2: When you throw out food at home it’s about a good-sized handful in size, in general, on average. Scooping uneaten food from your plate, grabbing spoiled food from the fridge, or tossing leftovers is usually about a handful or so of food on average.

So that would mean on average our family of four (let’s call them the Smiths) will throw food away about 30 times week. This seems reasonable considering the following scenario and assumptions:

  • The Smiths will eat 84 meals (cooked at home, takeout, dine-in restaurant combined) in total (7 days x 3 meals per day x 4 people) for the week. For 21 of the meals there was food throw out, which means 21 handfuls of food wasted.
  • The Smiths throw out a nine handfuls of “expired” or spoiled food from the refrigerator or pantry during the week.

For each handful of wasted food, that’s a dollar bill that could otherwise be spent on other things. I’m sure the Smiths would love an extra $30/week to save or spend on other necessities or fun things. Even if you aren’t part of a family of four you can see the dollar bill going into the garbage principle still works: each handful of food is worth about a dollar and each time we throw away food it’s about a handful’s worth of food.

So what should we do? Check out FoodShift, which is a great resource for how we can reduce our food waste. They have some simple and effective ways for food storage, creative ways to use leftovers, understanding food dates, sharing food, composting, and tracking your progress.

Of course there will be times when some food, peels, etc. need to be disposed of and composting is the way to go for sure. Limiting the amount of waste that goes into the landfill is key and helps limit our carbon footprint.

Agree? Disagree? Please comment, share, etc. Thanks for reading.

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