Plan to Reduce Waste

When in human history have we ever not had to plan ahead for our needs? Overnight shipping is only a recent development.

Plan what you’ll eat

You don’t need to plan for every morsel you will consume for the entire week but a little bit of planning will help you reduce waste. You won’t buy too much food because you’ll buy only what you need according to your plan. This will not only reduce food waste and the methane emissions that wasted food generates in a landfill, it will also save you money. The average American family of four throws away $1,500 worth of food every year.

By planning ahead, you’ll also reduce your packaging waste. You’ll buy less packaged convenience food at the end of the day when you’re hungry and have no idea what to eat for dinner. Instead of grabbing the first thing that looks good, you’ll follow your meal plan.

To determine what you’ll put on the menu, start with a quick inventory of your pantry and refrigerator. What you find there will serve as the basis for what you’ll cook next. Go here for simple, 4-step meal planning.

Plan what you’ll buy and how you’ll buy it

Once you’ve figured out what you’ll cook, make a list of missing ingredients and only then buy more food. Figure out how many reusable cloth shopping bags, produce bags and jars you’ll need to take with you. This few minutes of planning will eliminate piles of packaging waste.

jars filled with staples from the bulk bins for zero waste shopping
Bulk ingredients purchased in upcycled jars

Always be prepping

I have bowls or jars of food fermenting or soaking on my counter pretty much at all times. This keeps my kitchen running efficiently. By prepping these components in advance for a dish, I create something like my own meal kit but without the cardboard box, single-use plastic bags for each and every ingredient plus throwaway freezer packs filled with goo.

My counter sees a lot of soaking, fermenting and bubbling action

In the picture above, I have:

  • A bowl of wild rice and a bowl of moong dal with a pinch of fenugreek soaking to make dosas—thin, Indian crepes. (I can’t find the dosa-making staple urad dal in bulk to save my life so I’m using whatever small lentils I have on hand).
  • Some of the sourdough discard left over from feeding my starter (bottom left) went into cracker dough (top right) which ferments for several hours on the counter before I either bake crackers the same day or refrigerate and bake them later in the week.
  • The soaked beans went into soup.

All three of these delicious recipes that I prepped for also happen to cost very little.

With even just a handful of ingredients prepped, I lay the foundation for our next meal or two or three by building on what I’ve already started, rather than cooking every dish from scratch.

Plan how you’ll deal with waste

If we had to pay for the real price of disposal, we could close down landfills and incinerators. The cost to our planet would make buying anything but necessities exorbitantly expensive.

Shopper: “This sweater costs only $49 but the disposal costs to build and run the incinerator in which the sweater will go up in flames, plus the costs of curbside pickup, including the garbage truck and the fuel to run it and the wages to pay all of the waste management workers that sort through the trash, plus some sort of pollution tax adds up to $4,000.” Shopper puts sweater back on the shelf. “It doesn’t look that good on me anyway.”

(I’m totally making up numbers here but you get the gist.)

Since we don’t live in a utopia (one woman’s utopia is another’s dystopia), before buying more stuff, we can consider how to deal with said stuff at the end of its useful life. If the item won’t biodegrade naturally and we know we will not be able to repair, upcycle or reuse the item, we can avoid buying it in the first place.

Carry your zero-waste essentials

One of my favorite Indian restaurants serves fantastic chai. To avoid tearing into the individually wrapped sugar packets on the table, I bring a small container of sugar. I also bring a couple of containers to pack up any food we can’t finish. This way, I waste neither the food nor the throwaway container that the restaurant provides for leftovers. These actions require a bare minimum of effort and planning. And having leftovers all packed up and ready to go into a lunch the next day saves time.

(Go here for a zero-waste kit that costs zero dollars.)

tiny jar in my zero waste kit
A tiny jar of sugar from my zero-waste kit

Planning ahead like this forces us to live more intentionally, slow down and as a result, waste less. So while my tiny jar won’t save the world, the intention behind it will help. And all of our small actions do add up.

12 Replies to “Plan to Reduce Waste”

  1. The caption on that pile of sweaters certainly gets the cogs turning. I am staggered by the cost per family of food waste in the US, not least because food is very much cheaper there than here in Australia. That is a LOT of food! And I imagine our figures here are similar, if not worse.

    For those of us with a veggie garden, the first step is actually going out into the garden and seeing what is ready. I have been guilty of forgetting to eat the food I’ve grown! In fact, today I thought I needed to buy onions but luckily remembered that I harvested my onions a few days ago. It was only about 100 small onions (I planted 300) but given the severity of the drought we have had I was thrilled to have any and it would kill me to waste even one! (I hand-watered with grey water for 5 months to grow them!)

    This sort of post always makes me reflect on my parents who lived quite an old-fashioned lifestyle, and also my grandparents. As you say, forethought was just a normal thing. We really didn’t throw food out in our house. I quite honestly don’t remember seeing anything that could be called mess or ‘clutter’ in anyone’s home in my entire childhood. People just didn’t buy ‘stuff’ on a regular basis. For younger readers, there were no plastic bags at the shops when I was a kid, vegetables were wrapped in newspaper and groceries were put into string bags or paper sacks. We survived!


    PS I took my Bento box to an Indian restaurant the other day and honestly no-one blinked an eye when I took it out and packed up my leftovers 🙂

  2. Yesterday I brought a container from home into a restaurant to take home leftovers. When the waitress came over to ask if we needed a box, I sheepishly showed her my container and explained that I didn’t need one. She laughed and said “oh good! You saved me from having to use one of ours!” It never occurred to me that I’d be saving the restaurant money in addition to reducing water!

    1. Hi Adam,
      It saves the waitress time too! There is no downside to bringing a container with you. Enjoy your leftovers 🙂
      ~ Anne Marie

  3. Another great post, Ann Marie. I could see the beginnings of a second book along the lines of a kitchen matrix type in this kind of thinking. Hint, hint! which reminds me, is there a publication date for your [current] book yet? I looked you up on Amazon but didn’t see anything yet. Not that I’m eager !

    1. Hi Trish,
      Thank you! My book will be out early next year. I’ll post more information on here about the pub date and preorders when I find out. Thank you for your support!
      ~ Anne Marie

  4. Book? Book? How did I not realise there was a book coming out?! I’m not on social media so maybe that’s how I missed it. Please tell me what your book will be called!


  5. Love following your blog – I am an eco-vegan-minimalist, so your blog is perfect reading material for me

  6. I call this pantry management. Every morning I spend 5-10 minutes figuring out meals for the day. I see whats in the fridge that needs using up or can be upcycled into soup or veggie burgers. Pull out something from freezer, start soaking a bean or grain or seed. Twice a month I do a deeper panty investigation of the cupboards and make note of what running low on or have too much of (it was dried chestnuts this month), rotate jars of stuff from the back of the shelf to the front. Look for recipes to use up pantry items I have that are getting old…

    I have blind spots, like not eating leftovers fast enough before they spoil. I need to work on that.

  7. I moved from the US to Japan just over two year ago, and in Japan you actually have to purchase trash bags specific to your town or city to sort out your trash. Additionally, if you throw out anything that doesn’t fit into a trash bag you have to pay an extra fee for it to be disposed of. Having these extra costs tagged onto your everyday waste really makes you think twice about what you are purchasing. Also there are fees if you don’t dispose of waste properly too.

  8. So my husband is a truck driver who, when he owned his truck, would have to do his own taxes and they would tax him for admitions that his truck would put in the air for each state he drove through.

  9. […] for you to plan out all of your meals for the entire week, but by doing just a little bit of thinking ahead, you can certainly cut back on waste. First, go through your pantry and refrigerator inventory to […]

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