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My Food Waste Diary: Tracking my Waste (and how you can too!)

How a week of tracking my food waste helped me better understand my habits and discover creative ways to reduce my waste.

Photo of Matthew Ridenour
4 10

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I’m delighted (and only slightly embarrassed!) to share about my experience tracking my personal food waste for a week. This challenge originated from the call to our global OpenIDEO community to “Watch Your Waste”, in order to help us all better understand our food waste behaviors and discover first hand how we might design new solutions to reduce food waste.

Two ways to jump in include hosting or participating in a Watch Your Waste event and completing a personal Food Waste Diary

In the spirit of “learning by doing”, I decided to track my waste for the past week alongside our global community. Watching my waste through a Food Waste Diary has been a fascinating experience. Not only did I learn more about my own waste habits (and how much I waste!), but I also became more creative with ways to reduce my waste.

Below I will describe the tools and methods I utilized to track my waste, and also share some insights and learnings from this week-long experiment. Hopefully this will be both inspiring and helpful for you to join in tracking and submitting a Food Waste Diary!

Digital Food Scale with food waste

// Tools //

Digital Food Scale – Allows me to measure amounts (in ounces, lbs, etc.) of food with accuracy. I purchased the “Ozeri Pronto Digital Food Scale” for $13 on Amazon. 

If you don’t have a Food Scale, don’t worry! For the first 2 days I used simple tricks to estimate food portions. Tips for estimating food volume can be found online, like these guidelines:

  • 1 cup = your fist
  • 1 ounce = the meaty part of your thumb
  • 1 tablespoon = your thumb, minus the meaty part
  • 1-2 ounces of a food like nuts or pretzels = your cupped hand
  • 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry = the palm of your hand

Compostable Bags – Place excess food in compostable bags for weighing and disposing of

Bucket – I used a mixing bowl to place all the food together for photographing and weighing each day

Food Waste Diary– Digital Tool to track and share with OpenIDEO. Please track and submit this to us by sharing your diary as a research post! (See mine for inspiration, both attached to this post as a spreadsheet and as a google sheet here).

  • Individual food type on the scale (in this case, moldy lemons)

// Method //

At the end of each day of the week, I:

  • Assembled all the food I would typically throw away during the day.
  • Separated each of the types of food and weighed each on the scale.
  • Input food item descriptions and amounts in the electronic Food Waste Diary
    • Tip: more description is better––for example, “Boneless chicken breast” is much preferred to simply “Chicken”, as chicken (and other meats) can come in so many forms.
  • Placed all food in a mixing bowl and photographed it each day.
  • Composted or fed food waste to chickens.
My sample Food Waste Diary (click to link to live spreadsheet)

// Insights //

  • I waste more food that I expected. By engaging this exercise, I realized how often I don’t fully finish a meal and end up wasting a bit.
  • Daily food waste amounts vary significantly. I averaged about 15 ounces (about 1 pound) of food waste per day, but I also went for 2 days with zero waste, and another day with 31 ounces of waste. I would like to try this experiment for a longer period of time (maybe 4-6 weeks) to get a clearer picture of daily food waste patterns.
  • Fruit and vegetables make up the majority of my waste. This makes sense, as fruit and vegetables often have a short shelf life and are often cited as a major driver of food waste.
  • I wasted less meat than I expected. This is partially because I trying to reduce my meat intake and also because meat is often more reusable than fruit or vegetables for a later meal. In general, I am committed to being conscious of my meat consumption, as meat production is incredible resource intensive (meaning wasting meat is particularly unsustainable).
  • Poor planning led to larger amounts of waste. For example, I was given a tuna sandwich, but waited too long to eat it and by then it was too late. Had I planned better, I could have eaten it at an earlier time and avoided the waste.
  • Some waste is very hard to avoid. For example, I don’t know what to do with kale stems, pear cores or seedy cantaloupe centers. I would love to learn how to use these!
  • Because I was tracking my waste, I wasted less. I found creative ways to cook up leftovers into new “stir-fry-style” dishes.
  • Having animals (pets) is helpful! Some waste is unavoidable, which made me glad to have urban chickens in our backyard who were delighted to eat my excess food scraps.
Our urban chickens love eating excess food – and it's better than throwing away or even composting!

// Now it’s Your Turn! //

I invite you to join me in tracking your waste for the next week and submitting it as a Research Post as well!

  • Take a screenshot of your Diary and upload it as a Research Post in Mission 4: Watch Your Waste 
  • Paste in the link to your Diary (find the link: go to the blue Share button at the top of this page > Get shareable link)
  • Add some content about your experience (optional)
  • Don't forget to hit publish by August 15!

If you're like me, you will become more aware of your own personal waste habits and may simultaneously waste less food. Additionally, we have two great incentives for select Food Waste Diary submissions:

  • Potential to be featured in our upcoming Food Waste Challenge communications
  • Potential to have your Diary scraps turned into a signature dish by a celebrity chef in our upcoming Unwasted Cookoff !

Strange as it may sound, it was actually a fun new experiment – I enjoyed it! I hope this takes the mystery out of the process and you will join me in the #Unwasted challenge by completing a Food Waste Diary. Happy waste watching!

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Tracking your waste is easier than you may think, and has great benefits in personal learning and development, as well as finding new creative opportunities for wasting less food. I highly recommend trying it out! Start your own diary today, by using this spreadsheet:

Tell us about your work experience:


This post emerged from:

  • A Kitchen Diary


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Would it be great if people like myself could be matched to neighbours with pets that eat scraps? Then my waste food could feed some chickens, pigs etc. 

Photo of Joshua Lynch

Great idea, @Kate Rushton! Imagine if:
i) A local farmer delivered you a weekly supply of fruit and veggies;
ii) You put your fruit and veggie waste into an odour removing, eco friendly bag or container
iii) The farmer picked up your bag and delivered you another week's worth of fruit and veg

Photo of Byron Tie

This sounds too convenient. I do wonder why we put so much effort into the pursuit of happiness and in trying to keep busy that food becomes a convenience instead of an appreciation.

I would suggest one better.

How about we keep food alive until we are ready to eat them? Local farmers can deliver the veggies still planted and we can trade out those containers for a new stock once done.

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