10 Simple Tips to Reduce Your Food Waste

wasting food, how to reduce food waste

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.

Grab Your Free Copy of The Busy Mum’s Weekly Meal Planner!

The planner can be printed out or used on your smart device. Save money and stress less by staying organised. Oh, and reduce your waste, too!

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ways to reduce food waste, reduce food waste

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.

Stale bread?

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.

vegetables that percolate, tips to reduce food waste in water

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.

7. Compost

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.

Getting to Know the 5Rs of Recycling

Growing up we learned the 3 Rs of Recycling; reduce, reuse, recycle. We recognise those three folded arrows that have been around since 1970 (which were actually created as part of an Earth Day contest).

Over the last 50 years we have focused on the recycling part. We can now see how ignoring the reduce and reuse has led to a crisis that recycling alone can’t fix.

Nowadays we have 5 Rs; Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose or Repair, and Recycle. You can also make a case for another R- Rot, aka compost.

Notice recycle is last on the list.

The UK can be confusing for recycling because every local authority has it’s own rules and certain facilities for handling waste (unless you live in Wales as they have a country-wide policy).

As of now the UK doesn’t have the capacity to recycle all of the plastic it produces and has no choice but to send it to other countries or to landfill. This is why reducing the plastic in our life is so important and we need to focus on the other 4 Rs first.

If you can’t do one of the 5 Rs then ideally your waste would be compostable and using the landfill is the last resort.

So how well do you know the 5 Rs? Let’s find out.

1. Refuse

The first R is to refuse. If you say no to waste in the first place, the following Rs don’t even matter. For example, say no to straws with drinks (even the paper ones). Bring your own containers to the chippy so you can say no to polystyrene take-away boxes.

And here’s an important one; not buying something because it’s eco-friendly, like wax wraps. As nice as they are in theory the most eco-friendly thing you can use is something you already own like a food storage box.

If enough people refuse these types of items, then the demand goes down and ideally disappears or gives way to a closed-loop system of products.

2. Reduce

Reduce is next in terms of importance. We are living in a world of fast fashion, fast electronics, fast, disposable everything it seems. We don’t buy with the intention of keeping something, we buy with the intention of upgrading, which leads to a lot of waste.

Fast fashion accounts for 92 million tonnes of waste every year. E-waste is around 50 million tonnes a year.

By reducing the amount we buy and the amount we upgrade, we are reducing waste.

Instead of buying a new outfit every time you go to a birthday party, race day, or a night out with your friends, try rewearing something you already own. If you want something no one has seen, try borrowing something from a friend. If you want something fancy but know it’s a one time occasion try hiring an dress from By Rotation. It’s a fraction of the price, so you get to wear quality clothing and you aren’t left with the guilt of an expensive dress sitting unworn in your wardrobe, or holiday clothes you only wore for that week in Spain two summers ago.

Cheap clothing from fast fashion retailers has a reputation for not lasting, gets worn once, and has a low resale value (think like £1-2, max).

Buy quality over quantity. You want to buy things made to last. And if something goes wrong with your items skip to number four below.

3. Reuse

Plastic bags came along as the replacement for paper bags in an effort to save the trees. The problem is that while paper bags were repurposed into homemade textbook covers and costumes in primary schools, plastic bags weren’t being reused from one week to the next.

The waste got out of control and we now are drowning in that plastic.

Items like plastic bags and even bread bags should be used again and again until they fall apart before they are recycled.

Treating recyclables as disposables will not solve our plastic pollution problems. Recycling schemes just can’t keep up.

4. Repurpose or Repair

As mentioned in number 2, quality over quantity is what will help reduce waste. If we buy with the intention of keeping an item, we take better care of those items.

If your favourite coat loses a button or gets a rip in the lining, you repair the item as opposed to putting it in a charity bag or taking it to the tip.

If you have lovely Egyptian cotton towels that have been used to the point of fraying and getting holes or stains, repurpose the towel buy cutting them with pinking shears (to prevent fraying) and use the squares for cleaning cloths, family cloths, or make your own baby spit up rags like I did.

By repurposing or repairing, you are extending the life of your belongings and reducing waste.

5. Recycle

Recycling is a plaster for a stab wound. It doesn’t help much. With only 9% of the world’s plastic ever being recycled the best thing we can do is avoid, avoid, avoid single-use plastic as much as possible. You can check out my Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste for more tips.

Aluminium and glass are valuable for recycling as both can be recycled indefinitely.

When you recycle aluminum, particularly tin foil, first make sure it’s clean of any food waste and dry. Then ball up as much as you can before putting it in the bin.

Small foil wrappers won’t be picked up by the recycling machines so the bigger the ball the better. 

Paper is fairly easy to recycle but paper products can only be recycled about 4 times before losing it’s integrity and needing virgin material.

As with aluminium you need to make sure the paper or boxes has no food waste or things like acrylic paint, glue, glitter, or any other artsy embellishment. The food and art materials contaminate the paper making it unrecyclable, hence no pizza boxes, greeting cards, or your kids art projects.

Putting the wrong items in the bin or not disposing of the items properly can contaminate the entire truck of recycling resulting in it all going to landfill.

And then there’s plastic.

There are several types of plastic and though most can be recycled, it’s not as easy as throwing it in the recycling bin.

Plastic has 7 different recycling codes depending on the type of plastic material it is.

Code 1 PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

PET is typically used for bottled drinks and some packaging. It is meant to be a single-use plastic. Boo. The reason? Reusing these bottles increases the chance of the plastic leaching into the contents because the surfaces are porous which is what causes the plastic flavour coming through in the contents.

There are some reusable bottles made from PET but make sure it says so before reusing.

PET can be recycled though and should be. About 60% of PET bottles are recycled in the UK which is good but could be better.

The best alternative would be to bring your own bottle and purchase your soft drinks in in cans or glass bottles.

Code 2 HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE is a stiff plastic that is used to make things like detergent bottles, children’s toys, and milk jugs. It is one of the safest plastics to use and also very durable.

HDPE can be reused and recycled.

Code 3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC is used for food wraps, bouncy castles and soft play coverings, as well as shower curtains and inflatables. This plastic should not be heated and contains phthalates, which depending on the type used can lead to reproductive defects.

Though we don’t ingest PVC, continuing to use products that increase the production of phthalates can’t be good for the environment.

PVC is also hard to recycle and is generally not collected at the kerbside.

Code 4 LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

LDPE is found in carrier bags, bread bags, and things like squeezy bottles. It is one of the safest plastics to use and the number to look out for if you end up buying plastic bowls, plates and cups for your toddlers.

Before I changed to a lifestyle of avoiding plastic consumption, I bought what would be safe for my girls and IKEA’s childrens dinnerware is Plastic Code 4.

Despite being safer, LDPE is hard to recycle, hence having to recycle bags at large stores because they likely won’t be collected kerbside.

Code 5 PP (Polypropylene)

PP is most commonly used in things like yogurt pots, medicine containers and ketchup bottles. It is often labelled microwave safe because it is more resistant to heat, but you are still better off transferring the contents to a non-plastic dish and then heating.

Many recycling programs will accept PP, but you need to check with your local authority.

Code 6 PS (Polystyrene)

PS also known as Styrofoam is commonly used in take-away containers and packing peanuts. This type of plastic leaches toxic chemicals if heated and is hard to recycle.

Avoid.

Code 7 Other/PC (BPA, Polycarbonate)

Bisphenol A (BPA) is famous for leaching into baby bottles years ago and was ultimately found to be an endocrine disruptor that can disrupt normal hormone functions. Given that hormones regulate almost everything on our bodies this is scary.

BPA is now banned in baby products but can still be found in other products though many companies proudly write BPA-free, but have replaced it with similar bisphenol chemicals like BPS which turns out to be just as bad.

BPA and the alternatives have been found to disrupt sperm count and egg quality which can be passed down to future generations as well!

Avoid Products with number 7, Other or PC in the triangle.

 

Check out RecycleNow.com to find out what specifically gets collected in your area. Recycling should be a last resort when it comes to plastic. Try to avoid single-use plastic as much as possible.

If you have to buy plastic look for bulk containers of yogurt instead of individual pots. Section the yogurt into your own containers. You will reduce the plastic waste and you will save money as well as the single-serving yogurts tend to cost more.

You May Enjoy: 5 Easy Zero Waste Changes in Your Kitchen

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Make sure to check out the On-Pack Recycling Labels (OPRLs) as there will be additional information as to what parts of the packaging is or isn’t recycled.

One extra advantage to this is, if you are trying to avoid plastic all together, the OPRLs can tell you if there is hidden plastic packaging inside a box. I know so many (myself included) who have been duped thinking they bought zero-waste chocolates only to open the box and find everything is wrapped in plastic!

Often if you check the back of the packaging it will have an OPRL for each component of the packaging so you can easily see if there is hidden plastic lurking.

Beware of TetraPaks

Tetra Paks are the containers used for milk alternatives and for several juices. The cartons are made of a mix of materials and have a different recycling process. Some authorities will recycle them at the kerbside, others require that you bring them directly to your HWRC.

Tetra Pak had to spend time and money teaching authorities how to recycle their product. Now that they are recyclable, unless you go to the tip regularly chances are most people still won’t be bothered.

This would be a good point to bring up with your council asking them to collect more from the kerbside to encourage less waste.

Recycle More Through Terracycle

Let’s face it some products just don’t have a plastic free option and not everyone has the means, skills, or time to make their own from scratch. Luckily there’s a program that recycles the obscure items that your local authority won’t.

Enter Terracycle.com.

Terracycle has made it a point to recycle the things that “can’t” be recycled like contact lenses, crisp and confectionary wrapping, and ballpoint pens. You collect those items and take them to recycle points where they are recycled into useful things like picnic tables and park benches.

Many of the drop off locations are local schools and by dropping your waste off there, the school benefits from Terracycle’s point system that allows the schools to earn money.

This will take some extra effort on your part as it means saving your recycling and remembering to take it to drop off points. But at least you know that your waste has a better chance being recycled through these schemes and not becoming a problem in another country.

Rot

Food waste is a huge issue worldwide. In 2018 the UK threw away 6.6 million tonnes of food waste and 70% of it was food that could have been eaten.

Sending that food waste to the landfill creates methane gas because the food is in a bin bag that doesn’t allow oxygen in to break it down. So not only is it wasteful but is contributing to greenhouse gases.

By setting up a compost heap in your garden you can get rid of not only food waste but paper waste that can’t be recycled (like pizza boxes and used tissue) Instead of creating greenhouse gases, composting creates lovely compost for the garden and can also provide a habitat and food for insects, frogs and toads.

If you aren’t ready to go full compost you can get a bokashi bin (or just the bran if you have another bin) for just your food scraps.

My council is piloting a food waste bin (not in my area, boo), so it is worth writing to your council to see if they plan to implement a similar program and in my case ask when it will be rolled out to my area.

Of course, the best way to reduce food waste is to not have it in the first place, see number two above. Meal planning and sticking to a shopping list are both easy ways to reduce your food waste and save money on your shopping bill.

What Happens to Waste in Landfills?

Waste heading off to a landfill will have one of two options; either to get incinerated or buried. Burning the waste will lead to carbon dioxide air pollution but Sweden burns their waste to provide heating and electricity for almost 2 million people. Yes, it still produces waste in the terms of air pollution, but is it any worse than what manufacturers produce and vehicles and…landfills?

Landfills are like garbage cemeteries. The waste gets buried where it will slowly decompose (like thousands of years if it’s plastic). And because there is no oxygen to help break down the waste, garbage like food scraps will release methane gas which makes up 10% of the world’s greenhouse gases. The gases that contribute to global warming.

The best thing we can do is to keep as little waste going to landfills as possible. If you can afford to, make the switch to compostable bin liners so when the waste does arrive at the landfill (ideally), the bag will break down and allow air in to break down the contents of the bag.

The More You Know

Having a better understanding of how you can use the 5Rs to reduce your waste and leave a smaller footprint on the planet is key to making changes. If we consciously think about where each purchase fits in those Rs we can make better choices including the choice to not buy at all. I hope this helps you reduce your waste.

Grab Your Recycling Cheat Sheet Here!

With this Cheat Sheet you will never again be confused with what can and can’t go in your recycling bin. There’s even a sheet of tips with items that you might not think can be recycled but actually can!

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