Food: Too Good To Waste

Heart made from fresh fruit and vegetables

Food gets thrown away in Palo Alto more than anything else!

Whether it’s moldy cheese, limp celery or those long lost leftovers in the back of the fridge, chances are you’ve wasted food this week. You’re not alone. 26% of Palo Alto's residential garbage is composed of food that went bad and was thrown away - let's reduce this waste! 

This page gives you tips on how you can reduce food waste in your home or business.

Food Waste Definition

Food Waste refers to edible food that is not eaten for one reason or another, goes bad and is thrown away. Food scraps such as banana peels, apple cores and bones are not included – they should be composted.

food waste (food that could have been eaten) versus food scraps (inedible parts of food)

Food Waste Facts

Food is wasted when we buy more than we need, store it incorrectly, throw away leftovers and cook too much. Tossing these into the compost bin (thank you!) might seem benign, but the impact is big. Here's how and why it matters!

The Climate Connection

When we waste food, we are wasting ALL the energy, water, and resources that went into producing that food and getting it onto our plates.

Reducing food waste is one of the leading solutions to climate change and it's something that we can all do, right now at home without new technology or buying a thing. Project Drawdown ranks reducing food waste as one of the most impactful solutions to reducing greenhouse gasses.

Take climate action in your kitchen!

American Food Waste Facts:

  • 40% of all food in the US is wasted
  • 25% of all freshwater we consume - goes to produce the food we never eat 
  • 4% of the oil we consume - goes to produce the food we never eat
  • $166 billion (retail value of preventable waste) - is spent on the food we never eat
  • 135 million tons of GHG emissions - is created by the food we never eat

These numbers are for our whole food system from farms, processors, retailers and households. 

The Average American:

  • Household throws out 25% of the food they purchase
  • Family of four tosses out more than $1,600 a year in wasted food

Palo Alto:

  • Food gets thrown away in Palo Alto more than anything else. It makes up 10% of everything that is thrown away in the garbage and compost by residents and businesses.
  • 26% of Palo Alto's residential garbage is composed of food that went bad and was thrown away.

These numbers refer to edible food that was thrown away, not food scraps. 


Freestyle Cooking Workshop

Create Meals with Whatever You Have on Hand

Freestyle Cooking image  

In November 2020, we put on a free online workshop to highlight how you can cook creatively with whatever you have handy in your fridge and pantry. Watch the recording below to learn basic techniques from a professional chef on how to whip up simple, yet flavorful dishes, no shopping required! Chef Laura Stec also shares ways to store food so it lasts, and how to organize your kitchen so you’re sure to use up all the food that you buy.

By simply eating the food we buy, we can significantly reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Food waste is an initiative of the 2018 Zero Waste Plan and the 2020 Sustainability and Climate Action Plan.



You can also view this workshop on YouTube


Stop Food Waste At Home

Reducing food waste is an easy way to trim your grocery bills and fight climate change. Browse the tips below to find ways to save food and money by making small changes to how you shopprepare, store, and eat your food.

"Smart Tips to Prevent Food Waste" were created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) in coordination with American families across the country. 

Get Smart: See how much food you're really throwing away 

Food waste measurement bag


Research shows that nearly everyone wastes more food than they think they do. The first step to reducing food waste is to actually measure how much food you’re throwing away.


Smart Shopping: Buy what you need 

Person in grocery store with shopping list

Planning is key to avoiding food waste. If you buy no more than what you expect to use, you will be more likely to keep it fresh and use it all. 


  • Make a shopping list with meals in mind. How many meals will you eat at home? When will you go shopping next? 
  • Include the quantities you need on your shopping list to avoid overbuying. 
  • Shop your cupboards & fridge first to avoid buying what you already have.
  • Not sure how you can make a meal out of what you have? Try one of these websites to get ideas:
  • Buy fresh ingredients in smaller quantities more often so you waste less and enjoy fresher ingredients.
  • Choose loose fruit and vegetables over pre-packaged to better control the quantity you need and ensure fresher ingredients.
  • Don’t feel like you have time to plan meals and make a good list? Try these free mobile apps and web-based tools to help make it easier.
Smart Storage: Store Foods To Last

Lettuce wrapped in towel next to storage container

By storing food for maximum freshness, it will taste better and last longer, helping you to eat more of it. 


  • Separate ripe from non-ripe fruit. Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen that will speed up the ripening of the other fruit.
  • Store bananas, apples, & tomatoes separately
  • Wrap your leafy greens in a moist towel and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Wash berries just before eating to prevent mold.
  • Containers
    • Store food in clear containers if possible.
    • Label containers - Include the contents and the date.
    • Try using storage bags or containers designed to help extend the life of your produce.
  • Organize!
    • Refrigerator - Move food that’s likely to spoil soon to the front of the shelf or a designated “eat now” area each week. Download this "Eat This First"(PDF, 76KB) prompt to create a designated area.
    • Pantry - Grains, spices, and canned foods are best kept in the same area so you can quickly see what you have. .
  • Use your freezer – if you can’t eat a food in time, you can often freeze it for later
  • If you like your fruit at room temperature, take what you will eat for the day out of the fridge in the morning, rather than keeping a fruit bowl out.

Visit Save The Food for more tips to keep your food fresh and tasty for as long as possible.

Smart Prep: Prep Now, Eat Later

Cutting board and knife with vegetables for chopping

Prepare perishable foods soon after shopping. You’ll make it easier to whip up meals later in the week, saving time, effort and money.


  • When you get home from the store, wash, dry, chop, dice, slice and place your fresh food items in clear storage containers for snacks and easy cooking.
  • Befriend your freezer and visit it often. Freeze food such as bread, sliced fruit or meat that you know you won’t be able to eat in time.
  • Cut your time in the kitchen by preparing and freezing meals ahead of time.
  • Prepare and cook perishable items, then freeze them for use throughout the month. For example, bake and freeze chicken breasts or fry and freeze taco meat.

Smart Saving: Eat What You Buy

Eat this first box in refrigerator

Be mindful of old ingredients and leftovers you need to use up. You’ll waste less and may even find a new favorite dish in the process.



Smart Tips Videos

Check out these great videos from King County Washington.

Smart Grocery Shopping Video - Tips for buying just what you need


Wise Food Storage & Prep - Tips to make your food last longer 


Fabulous Dishes, No Shopping Required - Tips to make from what you have on hand


Business: Tips to Reduce Food Waste and Improve Your Bottom Line

Wasted food costs the commercial food service industry roughly $100 billion annually, but they aren’t the only businesses that create food waste. All businesses can benefit by reducing their food waste. It can save money by reducing not only disposal costs but also over-purchasing, labor, and energy costs. Additionally, you can receive tax benefits from donating wholesome, edible food to food banks or food rescue organizations.

Reduce your food waste

We often do not realize how much food we waste at our businesses. Check out our list of common strategies to figure out where food waste happens at your business and how to avoid it.


Here is a general checklist that identifies common strategies any business can use to reduce wasted food and packaging. Choose strategies based on the opportunities that exist at your facility. Tracking food waste is always the first step.

  • Conduct a wasted food and packaging assessment using the U.S.EPA’s Food and Packaging Waste Prevention Tool or another waste tracking tool
  • Adjust food purchasing policies to reduce excess food purchasing
  • Adjust menus to reduce frequently uneaten or wasted items
  • Modify food preparation methods to minimize waste (for example, heat soups or prepare food in smaller portions)
  • Store food properly to reduce spoilage
  • Repurpose leftover kitchen food following food safety guidelines (for example, reuse day-old bread for croutons or leftover vegetables as a pizza topping)
  • Donate excess food
  • Use reusable service ware instead of disposable service ware

Related Links


Feed people, not landfills - Local donation options

Help the community, the environment and your bottom line at the same time. If you do have excess food, do not throw it away (that includes the compost bin). Help feed the hungry - 96,000 low-income adults in Santa Clara County are estimated to be food insecure. Donating food not only keeps food out of landfills, it also feeds those in need. You may even get tax benefits!

Local donation options

Perishable/Prepared Foods:
  • Food Donation Connection
    (800) 831-8161
    Food Donation Connection manages food donation programs for food service companies including restaurantsairportscollege campuses and more. Program services include linking donor locations with food rescue groups or those feeding the needy, assisting in the development of safe food handling standards, tax valuation, electronic donation tracking and reporting, and ongoing monitoring and follow-up to ensure program implementation and success.
  • Peninsula Food Runners 
    (415) 826-6903
    Peninsula Food Runner is an organization dedicated to repressing hunger by diverting good food to those in need and thus, reducing the waste of food in the San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. They pick up excess food for free from restaurants, caterers, bakeries, hospitals, event planners, corporate cafeterias, and hotels, to be delivered to those in shelters, feeding programs, and 100% affordable housing where food insecurities and hunger are most common.
  • Ecumenical Hunger Program
    2411 Pulgas Ave, East Palo Alto
    (650) 323-7781
    Ecumenical Hunger Program prepares and serves hot meals and provides boxes of food to needy individuals and families to meet basic nutritional needs.
Nonperishable Foods:
  • Second Harvest of Silicon Valley
    (866) 234-3663
    Second Harvest of Silicon Valley mobilizes individuals, companies, and community partners to connect people to the nutritious food they need. Nearly half of the food distributed is fresh produce.

Spoiled Food & Food Scraps

Compost your scraps
Not all food waste is edible, spoiled food and food scraps do not belong in the landfill either. GreenWaste of Palo Alto offers compostables collection service. GreenWaste Environmental Outreach Coordinators are available to assist you in starting up and/or improving your program (waste stream evaluation, best-management practices, trainings, education/outreach items). Contact GreenWaste at (650) 493-4894 or to sign up for compost service and save money on disposal.