The number one thing we send to the landfill is food

The Waste Management Corporation operates the Lockwood Landfill located east of Reno, Nevada - photo: Ken Lund, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Did you know that the number one thing that Americans throw away is food? According to the National Resource Defense Council, 40 percent of the food we buy ends up in the garbage leading to America wasting $165 billion per year. The most common foods that people throw away in the United States, unsurprisingly, tend to have short shelf lives; these items include:

  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Seafood
  • Grain Products
  • Meat
  • Milk

Unfortunately, when we waste food we are also wasting valuable resources, including water. To put things into perspective, let us measure wasted water in terms of shower minutes: 1 pound of tomatoes would be equivalent to 5 shower minutes, 1 pound of white rice would be 60 shower minutes, and 1 pound of beef would be a staggering 370 shower minutes[1]!

How is our food waste in Washoe County?

In order to see what Washoe County residents were throwing away, a Waste Characterization Study was completed in 2018. The two-season study showed that a large percentage of what Washoe County residents and businesses were throwing away was considered organic materials. Figure 6, on page 18 of the study, summarizes residential and commercial municipal solid waste delivered to the Incline, Sage and Stead transfer stations in the Spring and Fall of 2018. Food waste, yard waste and dry recoverable fiber (also known as paper) were the top three items that were identified. 

What can I do to reduce my food waste?

Reading, guessing and racing against expiration dates can be very confusing and frustrating, so where should you start? Many people know the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle); here at Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, however, we preach the 5Rs! The 5Rs are: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot.

The awesome thing about this list is that it tells you where you should start!

How can I incorporate the 5 Rs into my daily life?

  • Refuse food that you already have or that you don’t need
    1. Do you already have this item hidden in your cabinet or fridge? Make sure you take inventory of the food in your kitchen before you buy more food.
  • Reduce your food waste by using your food before it expires
    1. When you buy your food, read the expiration dates and make an attempt to plan ahead as to when you will eat this food or how you will do it before it goes bad. If you notice that the expiration date is soon, eat it up!
  • Reuse/Recycle your leftover food to enjoy it all over again
    1. Use online resources to find delicious and fun recipes to use up your leftovers.
  • Rot or give your food a second life through composting
    1. If your food has gone bad and it is compostable, you can throw it in your household compost. If you don’t have a compost bin and are interested in composting, you can visit ktmb.org/recycle to learn of the places where you can compost food waste and yard waste in Reno and Sparks. To learn more about other environmental sustainability practices, request a lunch & learn for your business or group by visiting ktmb.org/community-education

There are simple things we can all do to make a difference, all it takes is remembering that there is no “away”.


Kimberly Rios is the Community Educator at Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful and educates community members on the importance of living in a clean and beautiful area, as well as aiding businesses on their journey to becoming green. Besides talking about trash, Kim enjoys spending time with her husband and dog, and exploring the great outdoors.

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent of our opinion page. Published opinions further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence, and invite dissent.