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The Clark County Green Neighbors Program is coordinated by Clark County Public Health’s Solid Waste and Environmental Outreach to assist citizens with developing more sustainable lifestyles and building a strong environmental community in Clark County. Solid waste regional planning and programs are a cooperative effort of Battle Ground, Camas, Clark County, La Center, Ridgefield, Vancouver, Washougal, and Yacolt.

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Throwing out food = throwing out money

We've all been there with moldy bread, slimy tomatoes, freezer burned meat, and the list goes on. If we had just been more realistic about what needed to be eaten versus what we wanted to eat, maybe we wouldn't have had to throw away so much food. The average household will kiss over $1,600 goodbye in a year due to spoiled food.

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Leftovers again?!

Leftovers were not a category of food in the 19th century until the arrival of the refrigerator, as using up every bit of food was necessary and a part of every day life. It wasn’t until the country started to prosper and people felt a sense of abundance with food available at every corner that leftovers became a bit of a joke, and dinnertime was met with grumbles if food made a repeat appearance. 

Food insecurity

Many people experience food insecurity in our own state with 1 in 10 Washingtonians consistently struggling with hunger. In addition, 1 in 6 Washington kids live in a household that faces challenges in putting enough food on the table.

plate of leftover food

What you can do to waste less food

There are many opportunities to learn, donate and take the next steps in shopping your shelves and eating what you have. Read below for some helpful tips excerpted from Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders. Start with small, simple steps to build upon. 

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Shopping and Meal Planning

shopping listAlign your grocery shopping to the reality of your week. Easier said than done, but making a meal plan, then a shopping list, and sticking to it, will both save your wallet from the effects of impulse purchases and your garbage can from spoiled, unused food.

We might have good intentions to cook from scratch every night, but planning to cook two to three larger meals might be more reasonable with our busy schedules. Then we can count on having leftovers other nights, freezing leftovers, and eating some previously frozen meals!

Creativity and Staples

pantry shelvesTo avoid wasting perishable food, it is often necessary to get creative! Have some staples on hand to help use up these more date-sensitive foods. Use cooking oils, dried herbs, pasta, rice, beans, flour, frozen vegetables or meat with your leftover perishables to make something creative. Example dishes include fried rice, soup, a stir fry, curry, or a shepherd's pie. Using your perishables as a starting point and having these staples in your kitchen will help you be successful in creating a delicious meal while saving money by avoiding food waste.


Ever wondered about the “sell by,” “use by,” “best before” dates on food packaging? Sometimes we assume that means it’s bad and should be thrown out if it reaches that date. As it turns out, these dates are mere suggestions, are not consistently regulated, and the majority of us misinterpret the dates. Unfortunately, the dates end up seeming arbitrary, but understanding them better will help us waste less food. Manufacturers decide which wording and what date to use based on their own criteria, which might include sales data, lab or taste tests. Except for the higher risk foods, the take home message is that food past its stamped date might not necessarily be spoiled and inedible.

Food Storage

fruit and veggie binHow well do you know your refrigerator and what it is capable of? It was designed to keep foods at optimal freshness when used correctly. Even in the fridge, heat rises, so keep in mind that the most perishable items, like meat and fish, should be stored on the bottom shelf. Consider placing drinks, snacks, yogurt, and items to eat soon in plain view on a top shelf. As the door is the warmest place, it’s really only meant for condiments, nothing too perishable. Click for a Fruit and Vegetable Storage Guide.

We all know things tend to hide both in our pantry and fridge, so do the best you can to organize, rotate, label, and list contents to see as much as you can and avoid buying or opening yet another container of tomato sauce when you already have several!

leftovers in fridge

To help food last longer, the goal is to stop microbe activity by decreasing moisture, warmth, time to grow, or oxygen. Keep these in mind while organizing your fridge. Use clear containers to store leftovers so they are less easily overlooked. The best ones are glass and stackable, as they can go from fridge to freezer to microwave. Don’t be afraid to rely on your freezer, labeling contents with dates!


takeout containerWhether you only used a half head of broccoli in a dish and aren’t sure what to do with the remaining half, have restaurant take-out containers lurking in the fridge, or a half pot of soup from a few days ago, various items get parked in our fridge.

People have varying feelings about leftovers, but if you’re on the food waste prevention path, we urge you to embrace them. Learn to love them, revel in your leftovers! They just made your life easier and gave you a starting point in answering, “what’s for dinner?”. The reality is that leftovers save us time, money, and food.

Thoughtful Cooking

  1. Use older items first – Print an "Eat First!" sign to use in a section of your fridge
  2. Revive food – create new leftover combinations, add new spices, toast stale bread, soak wilted vegetables in cold water
  3. Use all parts of your food – make stock, chop food to make the most of it
  4. Take note of what you throw out – conduct your own mini waste audit to help track what food gets tossed
  5. Right-sizing – cook the right amount instead of making too much, unless you plan on eating the leftovers

Additional Resources and Info

More food for thought at other points along the food chain:



  • Supermarkets get creative in marketing “cosmetically challenged” produce — still nutritious and delicious (and cheaper!). What is your local market doing to reduce food waste?
  • Imperfect Produce has locations throughout the U.S. to deliver ugly fruits and vegetables to your door.