FOOD WASTE & HOW TO AVOID IT
By Flora Beverley
Food waste is a very serious concern globally, with far reaching environment, economic and social effects. Food is wasted at every stage of the process between farm and our plates, meaning that the energy, resources and money put into growing the food in the first place is wasted, without actually providing any benefit to the consumer.
In the UK, WRAP estimated that around 22% of all food is wasted post-farm-gate. In 2019, this had a value of over £19 billion a year, associated with over 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The majority (70%) of this is household waste, not hospitality and food service (12%) as often expected. Reducing this waste could save UK households around £700 a year, and provide those without access to regular meals an extra 10bn edible meals each year. To put global food waste into perspective, if it were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US.
Thankfully, food waste in the UK has reduced since 2007, when large-scale interventions were put in place to raise awareness of food waste and reduce waste across supply chains and in households. Between 2007 and 2018, edible food waste in the UK fell by 21%, although globally the figure is still almost incomprehensibly high, at 1.3bn tonnes globally per year. This is a third of all food produced for human consumption, and enough to feed all the 815 million hungry people in the world four times over.
Every day in UK homes we throw away: 4.4m potatoes, 0.9m bananas, 1.2m tomatoes, 0.7m oranges, 20m slices of bread, 5.2m glasses of milk and 2.2m slices of ham. The majority of this is cause by over-purchasing and over filling plates, and storing items wrong. Despite the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables thrown away, access to these products is still an issue for many. According to charity Food Foundation, as of 2018, 3.7 million children in the UK alone were living in homes unable to afford to eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables each week.
It is important to remember that not everyone has access to the same privileges that could reduce household waste. While poverty leads to an increased need to save as much food as possible, many people living in deprivation may lack the time needed to manage and prepare meals effectively due to juggling multiple jobs and long working hours. Shopping may also be done in bulk, increasing the risk of food spoiling before it is eaten. This is something that’s key to remember when implementing strategies to reduce food waste at home.
However, there are many things we could all be doing to reduce the amount of our food that ends up in landfill. As the majority of food waste in the UK comes from households, it is up to all of us to reduce the amount we personally throw out. Below are some great tips to reduce the amount of waste you produce.
10 ways to help you reduce your food waste
- DON’T OVERBUY
Plan your shopping to purchase only what is needed, and have regular clear-outs of your cupboards to have a better idea of what you already have. Challenge yourself to use up only what you already have in your cupboards and fridge every so often before buying new items.
- USE COMMON SENSE WHEN IT COMES TO USE BY AND BEST BEFORE DATES
Ignore best-before and try to use before use-by, although many foods are ok after this point too, especially vegetables. Use common sense to avoid throwing out perfectly good foods, and only buy items you know you can use before their use-by date.
- USE YOUR FREEZER
Foods that are able to be frozen should be placed in the freezer before they go off so they can be consumed later on.
- LEARN HOW TO USE LEFTOVERS
And experiment with dishes using what you need to use up. It can be fun thinking of new ways to use food! Prioritise using up leftovers over buying new food.
- BUY WONKY VEGETABLES
(or try a ‘waste veg’ veg box, such as Oddbox) This reduces waste before the farm gate, which is a significant proportion of food that is wasted due to size and shape requirements. Some supermarkets provide wonky vegetables at a reduced price.
- FIND RECIPES THAT USE THE ‘INEDIBLE’ PARTS OF VEGETABLES
(which are most often quite edible), e.g. carrot-top pesto, sauteed beetroot leaves, vegetable broth, roasted potato peels, broccoli stem stir fry, tomato carpaccio etc.
- FREEZE HERBS OR MAKE HERB-INFUSED ICE CUBS
Fresh herbs go off very quickly, but freezing them retains their flavour and allows you to use them over a longer period of time.
- LEARN HOW TO STORE FRUITS & VEGETABLES
Many like being refrigerated, while others prefer storing in dark places, and others on the countertop. Keep fruits separated – apples, bananas and pears give off ethylene gas, which ripen fruits around, causing them to go off quicker.
- COMPOST AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
While not every area provides composting bins, if you are able to do so this significantly reduces the amount of food making its way to landfill, and allows nutrients to be recycled back into the earth.
- DON’T FORGET TINNED & FROZEN VEGETABLES
Many people can be quite condescending about these options, but in reality frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables reduce waste as they last significantly longer than their fresh alternatives, and you only use the amount you need, when you need it. They also often have higher levels of nutrients, thanks to being frozen immediately after being picked, rather than travelling long distances while fresh.
There are a myriad of ways to use your food so that as little as possible gets wasted. Here in Europe most of us are incredibly lucky to have almost unlimited access to fruit and vegetables everyday, which unfortunately leads to a wasteful attitude, and the 30% food waste figure we see globally. However, much of this is avoidable which just a little rethinking of our shopping and cooking habits. See what you can do this week with your leftovers and ‘waste’ products – you’ll be surprised how far they go!
Flora Beverley is a fitness model, blogger and social media consultant based in London. She is passionate about healthy living and loves to take part in physical challenges such as the Tokyo marathon, 2 boxing fights and a 50km ultramarathon. When not in the outdoors, Flora creates food and fitness content for her Instagram, blog and YouTube, and writes for various publications such as Eco-Age. Alongside her love of food and fitness, Flora speaks passionately about sustainability and mental health, using her platform to disseminate information and myth bust, encouraging others to speak up too. Using her background in Biology, she aims to back up everything she writes with scientific evidence and reduce the amount of misinformation online.