By Aliza Heeren, High Performance Building Fellow, and Lexie Vining, Outreach and Education Fellow

American families throw out approximately 20% of the food and beverages they buy, which equates to about $1,800 in wasted food annually. Imagine what you could do with all that extra cash! Here are some tips for how you can use various food items that are past their prime: 

Tea Bags

Tea bags are often thought of as a one time thing, but did you know you can make multiple cups of tea with one bag? Try saving your bag for a second cup later, or share a tea bag with a friend! After you’ve finished with it, here are some other useful ways tea bags can be used before they hit the compost bin:

  • Open up the used tea bag and feed your plants with the tea leaves.
  • Deter household pests by putting tea bags in places mice might be a problem.


As Americans, we buy about 3 billion loaves of bread per year and 25% of that ends up being wasted. That comes out to about 750 million loaves of bread wasted each year! Instead of throwing away stale bread, you can…

  • Use it in recipes such as bruschetta or stuffing.
  • Freeze the sliced loaf and defrost the bread as needed so that it doesn’t go stale.
  • Make breadcrumbs or croutons.
  • Use it to keep veggies fresh! By putting a slice of bread in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator, it will help absorb moisture and keep vegetables fresh.


First off, a simple clip or rubber band can help chips stay fresh much longer. However, if your chips do go stale, you can use them…

  • As garnish on a soup.
  • Crumbled up in scrambled eggs to add some flavor and texture.
  • As a replacement for breadcrumbs. All you need to do is pulse them through the food processor to get a nice batch of crumbly and crunchy bread crumbs.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are something that goes bad very quickly. Especially if you have picky kids who wont eat bruised fruit, you might want to try some of these tips on how to use them before you throw them in the compost!

  • You can easily use overripe bananas in banana bread, pancakes, muffins, or vegan cookies! If you aren’t ready to use them right away, you can freeze brown bananas for later baking use. 
  • Freeze berries when they are a little mushy and use them as a smoothie base.
  • Use carrots that have lost their crisp in soups or stews.
  • Shred zucchini to use in baked goods throughout the winter.  

You can prolong the life of food that is a bit stale or overripe through various strategies such as freezing, drying, or baking with them. By doing this, you are keeping food out of the landfill and saving money! And don’t forget, if you do find yourself in a situation where you need to throw out food, always choose to compost when available instead of sending food waste to the landfill!