You avoid single-use plastics, you petition your politicians to take action on climate change — but what about food waste?
In a fast-paced world full of balancing work, socialising, side-hustles, and studies, it can be tricky to keep tabs on your groceries and you can end up throwing stuff out.
Globally there is an oversupply of food but it is far from evenly distributed. According to the Food Aid Foundation an estimated 795 million, 1 in 7 of the world’s population, are undernourished, while staggeringyly, a third of food is wasted across the supply chain.
This disconnect is bad for lots of reasons, but especially for the impact it has on the environment – food waste going to landfills releases large amounts of methane gas, which contributes to global warming. That impact can be reduced through curbing waste or re-purposing unused food — helping what’s known as a “circular economy”.
Helen White from the Love Food Hate Waste campaign explains: “A circular economy means that resources are used repeatedly and efficiently to ensure nothing gets wasted. Not wasting food is a great place to start and enjoying every bite saves all the edible parts of your food from the bin – win-win!”
In the UK, food prices have been rising — March 2019 saw the highest rate of inflation on food prices in six years — so reducing waste can benefit your wallet, too.
The good news is there are lots of small, simple changes that you can make to start as well as apps and websites to help you. Here are our top tips:
1. Shop smart
First things first, it’s good to get ahead of your food shop to start the process of reducing food waste. It might mean you shop more frequently but buy much less to make sure you only get what you need for the next couple of days or so. Or shop for the week but meal plan, write shopping lists, and don’t go food shopping on an empty stomach.
“Buy what you need. If you won’t eat the extra, just don’t buy it!” says White. “Try taking a picture of your fridge contents before you head to the shops so you don’t end up buying something you’ve already got.”
2. Use what you’ve got
Once you’ve got the things you need, White suggests that you get creative in the kitchen to use up the stuff that’s left – you might surprise yourself with how you can use up ingredients.
“Eat what you buy," she says. "From bread crusts to potato peel, there are ways to use up almost every edible bit of your food."
Search “leftover recipes” online and you’ll get lots of inspiration from cookery sites like BBC Food and Jamie Oliver as to how to use up common leftovers.
3. Store everything properly
Who doesn’t love Tupperware? Storing leftovers will definitely make you feel like an adult and give you more freedom with leftovers.
Don’t fancy the same thing again every evening? Bring last night’s dinner into work for lunch instead or keep it in the freezer for another day.
If you’re avoiding plastic, look for plastic-free food containers that use recycled and durable materials; there are glass, stainless steel, bamboo, or cotton options out there nowadays.
Make ample use of your freezer, too.
“Some food (most fruit and veg) fares best in the fridge, some (bread, potatoes) does better in the cupboard," says White. "Most importantly, almost anything can be safely frozen up right to the ‘use by’ date."
4. Pick up deals from cafes or restaurants
There are few apps out there now which have linked up to cafes and restaurants that have excess food they want to sell on, usually for at least 50% of the original price.
Try Too Good to Go or the Karma app, for example – they’ll show the food that’s going in your area that you can “rescue” from the waste bin, from sushi to sandwiches to curries.
It’s food that would have gone to waste and it’s a great way to get a takeaway after a busy day without splashing the cash.
5. Share food with friends … and neighbours!
Cooking for more than just yourself is a good way to cook more efficiently — so it’s another excuse to have people over and share.
If you’ve still got ingredients left that aren’t out of date you could even take a photo and post it to a food sharing app such as Olio, which helps neighbours pool their food resources.
It’s also a good way of seeing what food is being shared in your area — saving those pennies again.
“We believe that small actions can lead to big change,” Olio’s founder, Tessa Cook, told Global Citizen in 2017. “Collectively, one rescued cupcake or carrot at a time, we can build a more sustainable future where our most precious resources are shared, not thrown away.”
6. Donate food
Perhaps you’re moving house and you don’t want to bring tins with you — or perhaps you just have loads of food that you think would more likely get used up elsewhere.
Well, it’s not a bad idea to donate usable, in-date food to a local food bank. According to the UK’s largest food bank provider, the Trussell Trust over 90% of the food they provide is donated by the public.
Despite being a wealthy country, the UK has a food poverty problem — it’s estimated that 2 million people in the UK are malnourished and over 500,000 people are reliant on food parcels.
Before donating though, check with your local food bank as to what they really need at the moment and use the Trussell Trust website to find more about what’s in a typical food parcel.
7. Use a compost bin
Last but not least, an unglamorous but essential element of reducing food waste is to make use of a compost bin.
Check to see if your council supplies them and order one for collection, or get one yourself for use in your own garden if you have one — the plants will thank you for it.
According to the Do Nation campaign to change habits, composting can save almost 150 kilograms of CO2 over the course of year from going to landfill sites.
Composting old or unused food means it can be re-used as soil fertiliser or even be converted to biogas that can used as electricity or fuel.