We’ve all done it.
You buy certain foods or ingredients with the intention of whipping up some culinary masterpiece (or just a decent homemade meal) and something happens that changes our plans. The next thing you know you have a tub of clotted cream a week past it’s use by date and a bag of wilted, slimy spinach.
If you are lucky enough to have toddlers, you will know the struggle of making a meal that is a hit one week and thrown in your face the next. Penny is really good at launching her food across the table or onto the floor with her lightning fast ninja skills rendering the food inedible depending where it lands. For Olivia, she is going through the brown food phase where if it’s not chicken, chips, or bread she won’t eat it.
And then there’s just the general food waste from peeling potatoes or tossing broccoli stems or the outer peels of the onions. Not to mention the well-intentioned leftovers that don’t get eaten.
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So, what is the main cause of food waste?
UK fruit and vegetable farmers waste about 37,000 tonnes of their crops each year. A third for reasons like not being the right size, shape, or colour for supermarkets! Supermarkets are a driving factor in farm waste because they always demand farmers to have enough supplies to meet possible demands or the farmers risk losing their contracts.
Britain’s restaurants throw away 600,000 tonnes of food every year with a third of it being unfinished food from customers’ plates. Restaurants here for whatever reason have decided to adopt America’s out of control food portions leading to food waste from the customers. The rest is from the food prep process.
Food waste in U.K. households though was a staggering 6.6 million tonnes in 2018 and 70% of it was edible.
And what is the most wasted food in the UK?
Potatoes. (Followed by bread, milk, bananas, and salad).
To put some perspective on this…
The farm waste alone is enough food to feed the residents of Manchester their 5-a-day for a year.
What are the problems with food waste?
First is the money wasted. The average UK household throws away £60 a month (or £720 a year) in edible food. I know I would love to have an extra £60 a month!
Secondly, is the environmental impact. Every bit of food requires, land, water, and other resources to grow, pack and ship the food. The carbon footprint created is huge.
Which thirdly leads to the climate crisis. Food waste sent to landfill creates enough methane (a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming) that if global food waste was a country, it’s emissions would be third after only China and the USA.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning food insecurity or food poverty. In the UK alone, 1 in 5 children under the age of 15 does not have enough food to eat regularly. While this is not necessarily yours or my fault when we throw away potato peelings, the food being wasted at other points in the supply chain needs to be distributed to those that need it as opposed to going to waste.
So, what can you do to reduce food waste?
Luckily, there are some small, easy changes we can make to stop wasting food as well as a few more activist-type things we can do to get food waste reduced in other ways.
No matter how many you decide to implement here are 9 tips to reduce your food waste. Every bit you don’t throw away is a positive step for the planet.
1. Meal Planning
Taking the time every week before you shop is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your food waste.
By having a plan, you buy only what you need and you alleviate stress during the week because you know what you are having to eat every day.
When you make a meal plan, you also are more realistic about what you are going to eat and it gives you a reason to not impulse buy in the shop because you already know what’s on the menu. If it’s not on the list, you may not have time to eat it before it goes bad.
Shopping on a full stomach also helps you to avoid over-buying temptation.
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2. Try a Food Delivery Service
Gousto is my favourite food delivery service for several reasons.
First, and most importantly, the recipes are delicious.
There are so many different types of food that it gives you a chance to try a recipe without worrying about screwing it up because they give you exactly the right amount of everything. The only way you can balls it up is to burn it.
Which is the next important bit. You order the amount of servings you need and Gousto gives you the exact ingredients, no more, no less. There is virtually no food waste from their recipes.
Another reason I like Gousto is they take their packaging seriously. When I received my boxes they use wool to keep the cold items insulated which can be repurposed for things like insulating your loft or making a pet bed (which wasn’t totally horrible, but now they use Eco Chill plastic free boxes and reduced their plastic use by 74.5 tonnes a year!
They aren’t stopping there either. Gousto’s goal is to make all their Gousto-branded plastic packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2022.
I don’t use the service all the time, but sometimes it’s nice to have a break from meal planning and have everything done for you. You even get a lovely recipe card for each recipe you try meaning you can make it again (like double batches of their Butter Chicken) by shopping the ingredients yourself.
The price is so reasonable, too. Yes, it may cost a little more than shopping yourself, however you won’t have the food waste and it’s still waaaaayyyy cheaper than eating out multiple days a week.
3. Store Your Food Correctly
Potatoes are the number one food wasted in the UK. Would they be wasted as often if we stored them correctly?
Potatoes need to be stored in a cool, dry room, closet, or cupboard. The also need to be kept away from onions. Onions actually cause potatoes to sprout sooner which is only useful if you plan to plant your potatoes.
Instead store them with an apple. Apples (along with many other fruits) release ethylene gas, which in this case helps to keep the potatoes fresh and firm. So if you are buying a big bulk bag, be sure to toss an apple in to keep them fresh as long as possible.
Aside from apples, many other fruits also emit ethylene gas like; apricots, cantaloupe, honeydew, bananas, avocados, peaches, nectarines, pears and plumbs. All of these fruits need to be kept away from your green vegetables as they will rot faster.
Stone fruits like avocados, peaches, etc. will continue to ripen at room temperature so once they are ripened put them in the fridge (away from the veg) to preserve them until they are ready to be eaten.
Fruit like grapes, oranges and berries should be stored in the fridge.
Treat your greens like flowers.
When you buy fresh herbs, broccoli, celery among others, storing them in water will keep them fresher and firmer longer than just storing them in a crisper drawer.
4. Revive Food That Appears Near Death
Have wilty, sad lettuce? Bendy carrots or broccoli? Floppy kale? If you didn’t store your veggies correctly and they get to this point, don’t despair and don’t throw anything in the compost, yet!
When it comes to celery, kale with stems, broccoli, bendy carrots, or brussels sprouts on a stem; they all can be revived by putting them in a jar of water and leaving them in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. They will perk back up and be ready to go.
If you have loose lettuce leaves or strawberries with a bit of mushy spots, grab a bowl of ice water and leave them for 20-30 minutes and the leaves will crisp back up and the strawberries will look good as new.
Use the leftover water to water you plants as the water will be filled with vitamins and nutrients that your plants will love.
Throw it in a blender or food processor with some herbs and you have yummy bread crumbs. You can also run a stale loaf under the tap to moisten and toss it in a warm oven for a few minutes and it should soften back up!
5. Your Freezer is Your Friend
If you bulk buy fruit or vegetables and then think, “whoops, not sure I can actually use all or this,” your next thought should be your freezer.
Freezing extra food is easy and with a couple tips, the unfreezing process is even easier.
Grab some sheet pans and a silicon baking mat.
If you buy, say, one of those 5 kilo packs of chicken breasts, you might be able to eat some right away, but not all of it.
So, remove the breasts you won’t be using immediately from the packaging and lay them on the sheet pan not touching each other. Let them freeze for a few hours or overnight then package them in one large container. You can then remove what you need without having a huge chunk of chicken frozen together.
This tray method also works with cut up veg. When you freeze items individually first they will stay separated once you store them in a container making it easier to remove just the portion you need.
Vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower need to be blanched first or they will turn into a weird mush when they thaw.
Freezing your flour for a couple days before storing it in the cupboard will increase it’s shelf life and prevent any weevils from hatching.
You can even store the bulk Starbucks coffee you bought your husband for Christmas (haha, me!) in the freezer to prolong its life.
If done right you can freeze just about anything to keep it from ending up in the bin before you can use it.
6. Use Your Food Scraps
You may have seen the genius of regrowing food scraps in water. Veggies like lettuce, cabbage, celery, spring onions, carrot tops, bok choy, and several others can be regrown by keeping the ends in a jar water in a spot that gets some sun. In a few days you will see them growing back.
You do eventually need to transplant them to soil after about 4 weeks or they will stop growing any further, but it’s a great way to save money and easy enough for me to be successful (which says a lot given my black thumb).
You can also save scraps from celery, onions, and carrots in a bag in the freezer. Once you have enough you can make your own vegetable stock before sending the scraps to your compost heap (if you have one).
Broccoli stems, cauliflower leaves and carrot leaves are all edible. I knew about the broccoli, but the leaves blew my mind.
Broccoli and cauliflower stems can be cut up and roasted or used in soups. The leaves of the cauliflower can be treated just like cabbage leaves and steamed or roasted. Carrot leaves make a yummy pesto.
Egg shells can be crumpled and added to your plants. If you have veggies growing, broken egg shells around the plant can keep slugs out.
Potato peelings? Roast them with salt and pepper for some homemade crisps.
Composting is a great way to reduce food waste in a way that isn’t toxic for the environment.
When food is thrown in the bin and heads to landfill, it will be trapped in a way that as it decomposes it will release methane gas which is one of the worst greenhouse gases.
However, in a proper compost heap the food scraps will break down with proper exposure to air leaving you with lovely compost to use in your garden in about a year that saves waste and saves you money.
Some councils are piloting food waste programs, so it would be a good idea to check with your council to see if they have plans for such a scheme.
8. Best Before vs. Use By Dates
We often take the dates on the packaging so seriously that if the clock strikes midnight on the day after the date on the package, the carriage turns back into a pumpkin and everything is suddenly rotten.
It’s just not true.
For many food Best By or Best Before just means that there is a set amount of time that the perfect quality of that food can be expected. You can use the food past the date, but it might not be as fresh tasting.
Use by dates are a little different in that there will be some ingredients that only last so long before bacteria grows and you risk getting sick.
Use your nose, it’s usually the best indicator if something is off.
For something like eggs, grab a glass of water and gently plop the egg in. If it sinks, it’s totally fine. If it sinks but stands up, use it because it won’t last much longer. If it’s bobbing or floating, it’s no good.
9. Have the Right Tools so You Can Get Every Last Bit
Getting to the end of the peanut butter jar or the tube of tomato puree may just seem like, “ok, I’m done,” but most likely there is another servings worth in there that will be rinsed away or thrown away.
Having a small silicone spatula is the greatest tool for scraping the bowl when you are baking, but it also can scrape the sides of a nut butter jar better than any knife can. When I ate peanut butter sandwiches daily (yes, I have the palate of a 5 year old), I found I could get one or two extra servings just by scraping down the sides.
The metal tubes of tomato puree that become impossible to squeeze towards the end, can be salvaged with a tube key. The key gives you the extra leverage to make sure you get everything out. You can also use it for toothpaste tubes and nappy cream tubes as well.
Keep glass jars for storing half used produce like tomatoes or onions. If you don’t have glass jars or small containers on hand, you could try silicone lids which are a great replacement for plastic clingfilm.
These three tools that make sure you get your money’s worth and keep food from being wasted.
10. Write an Email to Your Food Shops
No, this is not glamorous stuff here, but the fact is that if enough of us write to our shops things will get done.
Does anyone remember the April Fools Sainsbury’s video by Greenpeace? The video caught so much traction it was trending on twitter and led to several execs having to change their phone numbers because of all the phone calls from frustrated customers. The actions of the people led to Sainsburys pledging to reduce their plastic by half by 2025.
Most of the big supermarkets signed a pledge in 2019 to reduce food waste, but signing a pledge and taking action are two different things and what we want to see is more transparency. Are the chains really making good of their pledge?
I know you may feel like you can’t change anything as one person, but that didn’t stop Greta Thunberg.
Be like Greta.
Use your voice for good.
Here’s an email template you can use to give you a head start (no sign up required, just download it). All you have to do is look up the contact info for your local shops or their corporate headquarters and ask them for proof of their actions to reduce food waste.
And, a bonus tip…Don’t be afraid of the wonky vegetables.
Take action to start reducing your food waste today!
Applying any of these tips to your food routine will help you reduce your food waste and potentially save you time and money. Giving number 10 a go is a good way to get some action from the shops. I hope you give them a try. Let me know in the comments below if you have found other ways to reduce your food waste.