Food Waste: Accidental or Intentional?


April means Earth Day is upon us. While a lot of attention this week is put on ways to save the planet through recycling and clean water, there is a larger issue coming into play right in your own home: food waste.  According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Resources Institute (WRI), over one-third of food gets lost either during the production process or after purchase. In the US alone, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per MONTH. Organic waste is the second highest component of landfills here in America, which are the largest source of methane emissions (and NOT, contrary to belief, cow farts).  Stop being part of the cause. Time to BE the solution against food waste.

In my time as a Registered Dietitian, I have learned there are two kinds of people: Accidental or Intentional Food Wasters.  I’d say more people fall into the Accidental category: you buy food with good intention of using it. Then life gets in the way, and for one reason or another the item(s) go bad before having a chance to use. Into the trash it goes. You didn’t intend for things to end this way, it was just an accident.

Intentional food wasters throw food away on purpose. I have a client who’s exact words to me are, “I eat what I want, then I chuck the rest.” That means she buys a whole sandwich, orders a takeout meal, or prepares a full meal at home. She eats half of it, then throws the rest away. She has told me there is a good amount left that gets thrown out. When I ask why she doesn’t keep the rest to have later, the response is, “I don’t like leftovers.” I think of all the money going into the trash along with edible food that could have saved this busy woman time, but that is her choice.

If leftovers are your nemesis, try these tips instead to eliminate or minimize waste:

  • Deconstruct a sandwich. Set the middle part aside in an airtight container, and place either on new pieces of bread or add to a salad.
  • Dry up your salad. When ordering salads out, request dressing on the side. Add dressing later if making your own salad at home. Keeping the dressing separate will prevent a soggy salad and make it last for another meal.
  • Find new uses for leftover food. Have leftover chicken? Put it on salad or make chicken salad. Leftover mashed potatoes? Make potato pancakes.  Throw leftover veggies in omelets.
  • Environmentally friendly waste. Learn how to start composting leftover fruits and veggies, plus scraps like peels and cores.

Avoid being an Accidental or Intentional Food Waster with this simple mantra from UNEP:

food waste

Think. Be a smart shopper and think about what you are buying and when it will be eaten. Wasting food is often a subconscious act – become aware of how much food you throw away. Plan meals and use shopping lists. Bring your leftovers home from restaurants in reusable containers.

Eat. Become a more mindful eater.  Eyes bigger than your stomach? Request smaller portions and become a leftovers guru.

Save. Save your food, save your money and save the environment. Donate to food banks, like the Food Bank of Monmouth & Ocean County, and become a conscious consumer.

Related Posts:

Meal Planning & Prepping Services

Meal Prep for Success

Becoming a Meal Prep Pro

Ready, Set, Meal Prep!

Check out this helpful infographic from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics for how you can play your part in reducing food waste.

food waste

Additional Resources:

Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Environmental Protection Agency

Feeding America

Natural Resources Defense Council 

Society of St. Andrew

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)


World Food Day USA

World Resources Institute





food waste

10 thoughts on “Food Waste: Accidental or Intentional?

  1. This is such a great resource and I love the infographics! I am working on being less of an “accidental” food waster. I love leftovers for lunch, but my family isn’t as in to them as I am. There are so many great tips here to start putting into practice!

    1. Whitney – it literally hurts my heart when someone tells me they just throw food away intentionally. Glad to help the accidental ones as well since I definitely fall into that category event though I am definitely being more mindful these days ?

  2. Great tips Mandy! I think that I am an accidental food waster. We try to compost what we don’t eat if we can. There is always more to improve on!

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