No-one likes throwing food away. However, The Waste and Resources Action Programme says UK households chuck over 6 million tonnes of food each year. So, what more can we do to reduce food waste at home?
Food waste: a real hot potato
Being food-conscious isn’t just about saving money or emptying your bins less often. In fact, our food is linked to the whole environment, from biodiversity loss to water pollution and climate change.
Sadly, when we throw an apple or banana away, we don’t just lose a healthy snack. Really, we waste everything that went into making it: the land, the water, the transport, the packaging and the labour.
That’s why we think it’s time to spill the beans (not literally — unless you’re pouring them on toast). Here are a few quick facts about food waste and the environment:
- About 30% of carbon emissions come from our food
- Farming uses about 70% of freshwater worldwide
- Globally around 40% of food produced is wasted
Thankfully, there are some ways we can stop our food from going to waste.
What we can do to reduce food waste
In essence, there are three questions we need to ask:
- Am I buying the right amount of food?
- Am I using the food I have before it goes off?
- Can I keep my food fresh for longer?
If you have time on your hands, you can also try foraging or growing your own food. You might be surprised at what’s available for free, and how much you can grow even in a small space. But for now, let’s look at seven ways to waste less of the food that you buy.
1. Check use-by and best-before dates
The first way to reduce food waste is to only buy what you need. With a little planning, this is really easy to do.
Start by making a note of the food you buy and the food you use (or don’t). This will tell you how much you need to buy and highlight anything you’re buying too much of. Then you’ll know not to buy that type of food so often.
Another tip is to check the use-by dates of fresh food before you buy it. That’s the date to go by, rather than the best-before date. Ask yourself if you’ll have time to eat the food before it goes off — if so, you’re good to go.
Finally, get in the habit of checking what you have when you write your shopping list. Try to finish up any fresh food you have before buying more. In the UK, the most commonly wasted items are apples, bananas, broccoli, cucumber and potatoes.
2. Batch cook to prevent waste
If some food is going to spoil in the next few days, do a quick search to see what you can make with it. You could work the ingredients into a meal you already planned, or add them to the mix in a soup. Cook a big batch and freeze it or spread it out over a few days.
Of course, this can also include being creative with leftovers. For inspiration, check out these leftovers recipes from BBC Good Food.
3. Check your fridge freezer temperature
If you find your food goes off quickly, you might need to check how your fridge or freezer is working.
A few things to check are:
- How cold your fridge is — it should be below 5 degrees
- How full your fridge is — crammed fridges don't cool as well
- How often you open the fridge door — only do this when it’s needed
If you try these things and it’s still not right, it’s probably time to book a repair.
4. Put a freeze on food waste
Assuming your freezer is working okay, that’s one of your top tools to stop food going bad. And there are a surprising number of ways you can preserve things in the freezer.
Most of us know we can freeze things like chicken breasts or meat, for example. But what about eggs or butter? Luckily, we’ve got the answers to some of your most common questions.
5. Make a pickle out of leftovers
Got a fridge full of leftovers? Drying, canning, curing and pickling can make that food last longer. It’s fun to learn a few new dishes while cutting down on what you throw away.
Here are a few fermented favourites:
- Sauerkraut — this sour cabbage dish will last in the fridge for up to six months, and it’s full of friendly bacteria for your gut
- Kimchi — fermented cabbage and carrots in a tangy sauce, which makes for a tasty side dish in Korean cuisine
- Fermented ginger carrots — these have a sweet flavour plus the zingy ginger, and they’re one kids tend to like
These are just a few examples. Basically, there aren’t many vegetables you can’t pickle. Around the world, people pickle things like asparagus, cauliflower, fennel, green beans, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, peppers, squash, tomatoes, turnips and more. Check out BBC Good Food’s pickle recipes.
6. Share surplus food
Sharing food is probably the oldest way we build bonds with other people. Sharing is caring after all! From family to friends and co-workers, we all like getting around the lunch or dinner table together.
So if you have extra food, why not offer it to someone nearby? You could make someone happy and stop food going to waste in the process. It’s a win-win.
7. Compost your food waste
However much we try to use all our food, sometimes we have to say ‘ashes to ashes’ to that mouldy loaf. What we should avoid is sending it to landfill, where it'll rot in a big pile. The methane gas produced in that way is a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Composting, on the other hand, allows oxygen into the process, which keeps the methane low. Putting compost back into the earth also helps keep the soil productive. Whereas in a landfill, all the energy that went into that loaf goes to waste.
In a nutshell
From buying to eating and storing your food, we’ve seen there are a lot of ways to cut food waste. As far as food goes, all our eggs are in one basket — the planet that we live on. So, if you’re trying to waste less, you should consider yourself one smart cookie.