Waste Series Article 2
If you want to learn about the facts and stats of food waste, check out Article 1: Far Too Much Food – The Problem.
Wastage happens at all stages of the food life cycle. Food is lost during production thanks to pests, diseases, weather, and inefficient harvesting. Transportation and storage are also responsible for some food waste. But then there is the deliberate discarding of food (most of which is perfectly fine to eat) by supermarkets, restaurants, retailers and households. According to the UN environmental programme, 931 billion tonnes, or 17%, of food available to consumers is wasted annually (data from 2019). That 17% is broken down as: 2% from retail outlets, 5% from food services, and the remaining 11% is wasted by households. This means that globally, each person is responsible for about 75kgs of food waste at household level annually. Just to put that into perspective, that’s a warthog, a washing machine or a four-cushion sofa’s worth of food per person per year… mental, right?
Here are a couple of different things you can do to help reduce your waste, limit the impact of your waste, and save you money.
- Refrigerate it. Most fruit and veg will last much longer. The exceptions to that being potatoes (never refrigerate them) and bananas and avocados (unless they are already ripe).
- Best-before dates. Remember, best-before dates do not mean that the food goes off after that date, it only (supposedly) means the food is at its best before then. Use your common sense, if it still looks ok, smells normal and tastes fine it’s most likely good to eat. And just so you know, many supermarkets are now removing their arbitrary best-before dates on fruit and veg.
- Make a menu. Figure out what you’re going to make for the week and only buy the ingredients for those meals. It saves you buying random items and not using them. And if you’re not sure what you want to eat one day, consider not buying anything for it until you do. Also, be realistic. Don’t plan to make a really complicated, involved meal if you are unlikely to have the time and/or you’re the sort of person that likes to make something. If you don’t follow through a lot of those ingredients will go to waste.
- Try some new anti-waste recipes. There are plenty out there. They generally aim to use offcuts of food we would usually throw away that actually have a lot to offer. Give a couple a go, I’m sure you’ll be surprised.
- Check the dates at the shop. Expiry or used-by dates on items like fresh meat should be followed. So, before you by an item, check that it won’t go off before you plan to use it, and/or freeze it (if possible) as soon as you’ve bought it to extend its life.
- Rotate your stock. When you buy new food, make sure you move the old stuff to the front. This stops you continually eating the new bits while there are items at the back of the shelf going off.
- Store it properly. Read the instructions. Don’t put something that should be refrigerated in the cupboard only to realise once it has gone off, and don’t open something if you won’t be able to use it all within the time frame it gives you.
- Batch cook. There are a lot of recipes out there that only need a little bit of an ingredient (particularly if you are catering for a small number of people). And there are lots of ingredients that once opened only keep for a very limited time. So, consider batch cooking. Multiply up the recipe to a quantity that uses all the ingredient, then freeze it in portions. It’s a massive time saver as well! Just make sure the ingredients can be frozen – e.g., most of the time you can’t refreeze items – and keep a note of when you made it.
- Someone could use it, even if you won’t. Do some research and find out what charities you have in your area. Shelters and food banks collect food to feed those less fortunate, so, if it’s in date but something you won’t eat, donate it. Soup kitchens can make use of food that is about to go out of date, again supporting those without access to food.
- Ask local businesses etc. to do the same. Remember, it isn’t just households that are to blame. If they aren’t already, ask restaurants, supermarkets and food retailers to take place in food recovery schemes. Surplus is then directed to shelters, soup kitchens and other charities that can make use of it. Ask school and workplace canteens to offer half portions for those that aren’t particularly hungry, and to opt for non-buffet style service, so that leftovers can safely be reused.
- Make sure your waste goes to the right place. If it does need to be thrown away remember composting and anaerobic digestion are the best (most environmentally friendly) ways to deal with food waste. In the UK, however, currently only 20% of food waste makes it to these disposal methods.
- Consider starting a compost heap (if you have the space). Like I said, it’s not that difficult and you’ll have some excellent soil at the end of it!
- Use the schemes offered. Only about half of English councils are currently offering food collection schemes which send waste to be properly disposed of. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are all offering schemes a lot more widely than that. If your council is offering a scheme, make use of it. If they don’t, do some research. There might be some local charities that will dispose of your food waste instead. This way your waste’s impact is limited, plus your general bin will start to smell a whole lot better.
Attempting to incorporate some of these suggestions into your life can greatly reduce your waste and carbon footprint. Encourage others to do the same where you can. But remember not to be too hard on yourself if you do waste something, it’s hard and life is already tricky. Just do your best.
If you are interested in reading more about the problems the world is facing regarding waste and what can be done, we have other blogs in the waste series – Articles 3 and 4: The Plastic Problem and Articles 5 and 6: Relearning How To Recycle.