I care about the environment and I try to make decisions that minimise my footprint. I recycle & buy recycled, I turn off the lights when I leave a room, I carry a reusable water bottle, I shop at the farmers’ market to buy local, organic foods and I choose non toxic cleaning products. Recently I have been thinking about how much food I waste and the impact this has on our planet. Its not a huge amount because I’m conscious of it and have been for a while, but there is room for improvement. No doubt there is room in your household too.
Lets look at some stats.
- Australians discard 20% of the food we purchase. That means 1 out of 5 grocery bags is thrown out. Thats a lot.
- Australia wide, that equates to $8 Billion worth of edible food wasted.
- Annually, that would fill 450,000 garbage trucks. Thats enough to make a convoy of trucks between Aus and NZ…3 times.
- Up to 40% of the average household bin is full of food waste.
- The biggest wasters are young consumers (aged 18 to 24) , people with a household income above $100K and families with young children.
- 20% to 40% of fresh produce is rejected before it even makes the shelf, because of consumer cosmetic expectations. This one makes me particularly sad.
- Click here for more stats and a visual representation of this information.
Thats a lot of waste isn’t it, are you shocked? The single fact of ‘waste’ is bad enough, but as far as the environment goes, there are a few other things we need to take into consideration. Food production its extremely resource-intensive. To produce food we need water, energy, land (and we sure know how to clear forrest after forrest to get that land), and human labour. Then there is the processing which usually involves more water, more energy and more human labour. Don’t forget the distribution side of things, which again racks up more energy and human labour. Packaging, warehousing, transporting and preparing food, it all takes resources too! The other side of food waste is what happens when it rots in landfill. It gives off a greenhouse gas called Methane which is 25 times more potent than the carbon pollution that comes out of your car exhaust. Yep, really.
All of these environmental issues aside, there is the simple fact that 842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat. And here we are wasting food…its so unbelievably sad.
Ok so lets look at the practical side of things so that we can make a change. Why is food wasted? There are quite a few reasons but here are the main ones from the consumer end:
- We cook too much food at one time
- We forget about leftovers in the fridge/freezer
- We buy more food than we need
- We buy takeaway instead of using what we already have.
- We over order when eating out and we don’t finish what is on our plates. Then we don’t ask for a doggy bag because we are embarrassed to.
Are you guilty of some of these things? Its ok if you are, the main point is that you recognise when your being wasteful so that you can change it.
This is the simplest way to avoid wasting food and so many of us do not do it! Plan your meals, try to incorporate the food you already have into them, write out a shopping list of all the ingredients you will need (after you have checked your fridge, freezer and cupboard to make sure you don’t already have them) and then buy only what you need. Remember, its not a bargain if you end up throwing it out – don’t get sucked into buying more that you need. Oh, and keep a pen and paper near your fridge so you can write down things as you run out of them.
Don’t over cook & always use your leftovers
Its sounds great in theory, making 5L of stew all in one go. You can eat some for dinner, have left overs for lunch the next two days and freeze the rest. But in reality, you eat it for dinner and don’t feel like it the next day so grab something else and the batches that you put in the freezer get forgotten about and eventually thrown out. Right? So, cook only what you really need and what you will actually eat. Be realistic! Make an absolute point of eating your leftovers. Revamp them! I will put just about anything in the fry pan and scramble an egg or two into it for breakfast. Turn left over veggies into a stir fry or a chunky dip. Use leftover roast beef or steak for a thai salad. Use your leftover herbs to make pesto or herb butter. Use the leaves from your celery as greens in a salad, they are delish! Add chicken or tuna to a leftover salad to turn it into a complete meal. Use the bones from your roast chicken to make an incredibly nutrient dense broth. And sprinkle your potato peels with salt and pepper and some ghee, then roast. There is so much you can do, get your creative pants on!
Some foods will last longer than others. Salad foods and leafy greens won’t last as long as potatoes for example. Use these items first (this comes back to planning your meals) and if needed, shop for these things more often rather than buying in bulk and risking it perishing. If something is going to spoil, freeze it. It’s probably the best and easier way to preserve your fresh food. Or why not invite people over for dinner if you have food that needs to be eaten straight away? Also, learn the difference between a use by date & best before date here and get a run down of how long food will last here. As a last resort, use the compost bin because this is still better than the trash. Oh and just a little fact: Some fruits ripen faster in the presence of ethylene gas. Bananas give off huge amounts of ethylene gas, so don’t keep them in the fruit bowl.
Do you have any ideas for minimising food waste? Or a great idea for using leftovers? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.