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Food Waste

Food waste is defined as all food, solid or liquid, that is discarded. This includes the organic residues, food scraps, or edible food that has been thrown away for any reason.

Why should I be concerned about food waste?

Nineteen million tons of waste is landfilled in Illinois every year. Food waste accounts for as much as 20 percent of that 19 million tons, which is more than any other single waste stream found in landfills. When food waste decomposes, it produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap radiation in the Earth’s atmosphere, which gradually raises the average temperature.

Help your community

1 in 9 Illinoisans are food insecure. This means that some of our neighbors, friends, and family are struggling to put food on the table. Consider helping your local food bank by donating excess food.

Save money

Wasting food wastes money. It not only hurts our wallets, but is wasteful in every stage of the food production process. This includes labor, water, nutrients, energy, and other resources.

Alternatives to the landfill

Instead of throwing unwanted food away, we can use it to restore nutrients to the soil, fertilize our crops, and even supply power. Composting and anaerobic digestion are alternatives to landfilling.

Composting is using organic material to create nutrient rich soil, or compost. Composting can be done at home.

Anaerobic digestion is a natural process that uses an oxygen deficient environment to separate organic material, such as wastewater, agricultural waste, and food waste, into methane gas and a liquid or solid by-product. The methane gas can be captured and refined for use on the power grid, while the liquid and solid by-product is used as a nutrient rich fertilizer. These methods recycle methane and restore nutrients to the soil.


The global cost of food waste amounts to approximately 2.6 trillion USD per year.

Food Waste Reduction Tips And Ideas

American families annually throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. To minimize our food waste footprint, we must become more conscientious consumers. It all begins at home. Are we buying an excess amount of food just to fill the fridge? Will the purchased food be used before spoiling? These are all questions that we, the consumers, should start asking ourselves. Here are a few tips to help you reduce food waste in your home.

Before you shop

Look before you buy. Before going to the store make sure to look in your refrigerator and cabinets to avoid buying food you already have. Waiting until all your perishables are used up to purchase more is another way you can help reduce food waste.

Make a list. By making and following a shopping list with weekly meals in mind you are less likely to buy things impulsively. Buying produce in the amounts you expect to use can also help reduce the amount of produce that goes bad.

While you shop

Do not over buy food. Buy only what you will use. Roughly one-third of the edible food produced for human consumption gets lost, wasted or simply not purchased due to consumer’s high standards on the product’s physical appearance. “Ugly” produce is imperfect but still fresh and nutritious.

At home

Here are some things you can do at home that can help cut down on your household’s overall waste.


In the U.S., 30-40% of the food supply is wasted.

  • Store your food properly. Wasted food can also result from improper storage, lack of visibility in refrigerators, and not using products before they spoil.

    If you do not use all of the food you buy before it spoils, learn storage techniques like these for produce, meats, and dairy products to extend the life of your food.

  • Plan ahead

    Make list of meals for the week and design your shopping list based on the meals that you have selected for the week. Scan your cupboards and refrigerator before you go to the store to ensure that you do not buy an item that you already have.

  • Prep tips

    Prepare perishable foods soon after shopping. You will value the time, effort, and money that you have saved by pre-preparing food.

Expiration dates

Phrases such as “sell by,” “use by,” and “best before” are not federally regulated. Misinterpreting these tags can lead to false concerns about food safety.

Phrases such as “sell by,” “use by,” and “best before” are not federally regulated. Misinterpreting these tags can lead to false concerns about food safety.

So, what do the labels mean? Click here to learn more.

Food Donation

Businesses and private citizens can donate excess usable and non-expired food to local food banks, food pantries, and shelters to help food insecure Illinois residents. Small businesses, restaurants, and other institutions can donate both unprepared and some prepared foods. In addition, private citizens can donate unprepared food, such as canned goods, dry goods, and other boxed items. Some businesses may be eligible for tax incentives. Donating food helps alleviate hunger and malnutrition related to food insecurity.

At times, donations are unable to be accepted because there are no volunteers available to pick up the food. If you would like to donate food or service, always coordinate ahead of time with your local food bank, food pantry, or shelter to ensure that they are able to accept available donations.

The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act to encourage donation of food and grocery products to non-profit organizations for distribution to individuals in need. This act was specifically created to protect the donor from liability, civil and criminal liability while also standardizing liability laws throughout the 50 states.

Additional Resources