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.

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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.

What Do Minimalism, Zero Waste, and Gratitude Have in Common?

Minimalism, zero waste, and gratitude are terms that seem to show up everywhere these days but, did you know they are all connected?

Living with less? Having an empty bin as a goal? Practicing gratitude daily? They may not seem like they are connected but I will show you that not only are they connected but they are dependent on each other. If you leave one out, you risk not getting the full benefit of a slower lifestyle and worse, risk a relapse to the status quo.

In a nutshell, all three are tools to get you off the consumerist hamster wheel and live a simpler more fulfilled life.

“Too many people spend money they earned…to buy things they don’t want…to impress people they don’t like.” -Will Rogers

Minimalism

Minimalism is a lifestyle choice to live with less. Less things. Less space. Less time commitments. And even less debt.

You live with the things you truly enjoy having and decide that keeping up with the Joneses is not only a waste of money, but a waste of energy, too.

Minimalist Home

Minimalism tends to be portrayed as white, clean, and bare aesthetics. But the truth is minimalism will look however you want it to look in your home. If you want jewel-toned walls with a couple of posters from your favourite bands, that’s fine. If you decide to paint your walls Wise Owl and have a gallery wall with photos displayed of your family, that’s ok, too.

The idea is that you keep things that you enjoy and want to display. If you have keepsakes from loved ones or certificates of your achievements then you should be decorating your home with those things. If it’s something that you would rather put in a box, in the loft then it’s probably time to part with that item.

What sets minimalists apart from non-minimalists is they have less things. The things they do have all have a place to be stored away in leaving clear worktops, tables, desks, etc.

Cleaning a minimalist home takes less time because there is less stuff to manipulate or work around.

A minimalist home is a relaxing space. When you aren’t worried about finding stuff or the daunting task of cleaning and maintaining a bunch of stuff a weight is lifted from your shoulders.

Minimalist Wardrobe

Capsule wardrobes tend to be all the rage. Pinterest is filled with tons of capsule wardrobes for work, for holidays, for every season, and this may seem like a minimalist wardrobe.

There’s plenty out there who will give you an exact number of items you should own and lead you to believe that’s a minimalist wardobe.

But, it’s not.

Your wardrobe should contain clothes that you love wearing. Chances are you know what those items are already. They are the ones that always seem to end up in the washing pile. It’s not a set number and it doesn’t need to be.

Your other clothes (the ones that don’t end up in the wash) seem to sit inflicting guilt because you never wear them, or hope to get back into them, or they still have tags on them or whatever the reason are the ones that shouldn’t be there.

A minimalist would let those clothes go and not worry about guilt and “maybe somedays.”

Joshua Fields Millburn said in The Minimalists, that everything in his closet is his favourite and this should be the approach you take. Even when it comes to your I-don’t-have-anywhere-to-be-today-and-I-didn’t-have-time-to-shower-anyway clothes should still be your favourite sweatshirt and trackie bottoms.

If you have a top or a dress that you like, but always choose something else when given the choice. That’s the stuff that should go.

Steve Jobs aside from being the co-founder and CEO of both Apple and Pixar, he was also known for wearing the same clothes every day. Why? Decision fatigue.

Every decision from what to have for breakfast, to what you are wearing, to what order to get ready all takes brain power. We use so much of our freshest hours making so many little decisions that it’s no wonder we are dragging by the afternoon. So instead of staring into the wardrobe thinking, I have nothing to wear or What should I wear? you can pare down your clothes. Not only will you own just your favourites, you are giving yourself more energy or brain power in the morning because choosing what to wear isn’t a tedious task.

Once you have reduced what you have, you may also find that you take better care of your clothes, shoes and accessories as well since you don’t have “backups” or other alternatives lying around taking up space.

Minimalist Schedule

A minimalist would look not only at her home but at her schedule as well. Are we trying to create the smartest, well-rounded kids in the world? Jamming the family’s schedule so full of extra-curricular activities beyond school and work will also take a toll.

Rushing around to get to appointments or lessons or practices or rehearsals leaves little down time for you or your family to decompress and just be. Weekends suddenly revolve around activities and family meals are eaten on the run.

By cutting back on the scheduling, we find out what is the most important to keep in your schedule, but more importantly you gain free time. Time to have a family game night, time to go to the park for an impromptu picnic, time to just do nothing.

Minimalism allows you to take life a little slower. It gives you time to notice little things. It gives you time to spend with your friends and family.

So how does zero waste fit in to all of this?

“The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change.” -Greta Thunberg

Zero Waste

Zero waste is a form of minimalism with the focus being on reducing or eliminating waste.

Waste comes in many forms and not just what ends up in our bins, but that’s where most tend to start.

With the plastic problem and climate crisis at the front of many of our minds the zero waste movement is gaining a lot of traction. You may notice shops trialling bulk buy schemes, eliminating plastic from the produce section, and even stores eliminating plastic carrier bags all together.

You may see bamboo being used more widely as a disposable alternative and suddenly companies are using green in their products’ colour-schemes.

The problem with this is that while bamboo is a sustainable material, the disposable part of these and other “green products” are not. Replacing plastic with bamboo is a step in the right direction, but the fact is bamboo needs to be disposed of properly to break down or it will still contribute to landfill space and greenhouse gas production.

Tossing bamboo items in the bin prevents the breakdown process from happening because it’s in a plastic bin liner. Instead of being a solution, bamboo replacements can become part of the problem quickly.

So what do zero waste minimalists do?

Zero Waste is about reducing first.

You may remember the 3 Rs of recycling- recycle, reduce, reuse? Well this has since been updated to the 5 Rs of recycling- refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose or repair, and lastly, recycle.

Recycling is not a bad thing but it’s clear that it’s not a solution to the world’s overconsumption.

A zero waste minimalist is a minimalist in the sense that they do not fall into the trap of buying happiness- hence both groups know how to refuse.

What happens with minimalists though, even though they are doing the right thing in refusing to buy more, more, more, for many the underlying motivation is purely aesthetics.

Zero wasters are living closer to our grandparents’ lifestyles when single-use plastic didn’t exist.

So, instead of accepting the bamboo cutlery as a replacement for plastic, the zero waster carries her own reusable set. Instead of replacing plastic water bottles with glass or water in a can, he carries his own bottle wherever he goes. It means carrying the same bag week in and week out during her weekly shop and avoiding the plastic “forever” bags. He is also more likely to make snacks or food from scratch to avoid single-use plastic.

Reduce and reuse are the first steps to zero waste.

Zero waste is about repurposing and repairing.

Sure, there are so many lovely, zero waste products made from cottons, bamboo, metals, wood, but chances are there is a replacement in your home already so you don’t need to buy anything new, eco-friendly or not.

For example a zero waster will cut an old towel to make cleaning rags instead of buying new, pretty, eco-friendly ones. He will wash an empty jar of passata and use it to store dry foods. If your clock accidentally tips over and the glass cover comes off (me) she gets some gorilla glue and takes the time to fix it.

When a zero waste minimalist does make a purchase, it’s about quality not quantity. She buys with the expectation that it will last forever and like other minimalists will take better care of said purchase if the goal is to not have to replace it. She is also going to try to source the needed item second hand without hesitation because that is what zero waste is about.

And just like minimalism when you have less and don’t intend to constantly replace items, you take better care of your things. This is an important habit to pass on to your kids. As well as teaching them to be responsible with their things you show them that running out and buying a replacement is not a sustainable option.

And ultimately zero waste means just that-zero waste.

When all is said and done the goal of a zero waster is to have an empty bin and not just the rubbish bin, but the recycling bin as well. This was a huge “ah-ha” for me.

The U.K. alone ships and average of 800,000 tons of plastic away to other countries (countries that don’t have the capacity to handle it) to deal with so having an empty rubbish bin and a full recycling bin is still waste at the end of the day. The recycling also has a carbon footprint when created and must undergo a process to be reused creating a further footprint.

So a zero waster will reuse the recyclables as many times as she can before tossing them in the recycling bin.

Ok, so maybe the connection between those two was pretty obvious but connecting gratitude is what makes any type of minimalism successful in the long run.

“If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never have enough.” Oprah Winfrey

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Gratitude

Gratitude is simply being thankful for what you have. It can be expressed in different ways like being thankful for past experiences, not taking good things (no matter how small or trivial) for granted or, feeling hopeful and optimistic about things to come.

However you choose to express your gratitude, it’s an important piece of the minimalist lifestyle.

Gratitude is a great way to fight advertising and consumerism.

You see around 3500 advertisements a day. Your child is exposed to about 40,000 a year. Companies spend millions upon million of pounds trying to figure out how to get you to buy. They play on your fears; fear of missing out, fear of being out of the loop, fear of not looking good or appearing clever, rich, or cool, fear of not being like everyone else.

Gratitude can change your outlook on what you buy and suddenly keeping up with the Jonses’ seems silly.

Gratitude allows you to live your best life doing, buying, and wearing things that make you happy because you like it.

When you are happy with what you have things like “this season’s trends” and “Panetone’s colour of the year” don’t make you bat an eye because you know what you like and don’t need someone else to tell you what to do.

When you combine gratitude with minimalism and zero waste, you then pare everything down to your favourites and you are happy about it and the drive to buy something for the little rush of dopamine you get isn’t there anymore. Shopping no longer becomes a recreational activity.

Gratitude makes the transition to minimalist lifestyles easier.

If you are grateful for what you have, having less isn’t a punishment. Researchers from UC Davis and the University of Miami found that practicing gratitude daily leads to more optimism and contentment in our lives. They found that those who show gratitude exercise more and go to the doctor’s less than people who focus on the negatives.

So often we assume that minimalism is like self-imposed austerity and you aren’t allowed to buy anything and that’s just not true. At the end of the day when your home and life are decluttered you are grateful for the space and grateful for the time that has been created with your choice of less. When you chose to buy something, your criteria will have changed. You will buy quality; you will make sure you need the item before allowing it to occupy your space and time and if you are more eco-minded you will have no problem looking for alternatives in your home or second-hand before you buy new.

Gratitude Helps with the Eco-Anxiety Caused by Going Zero Waste

Eco-anxiety? Yes. When you spend a lot of time reading negative news stories about the planet, the countdown timer of irreversible climate change, the uphill battle fighting plastic, and hundreds of other stories demonstrating humans causing our own extinction can leave you feeling helpless and depressed.

You may start to think things like, What’s the point? I bought my fruit without plastic this week but everyone else around me could care less and the shops are still filled to the brim with single-use plastic. It’s easy to feel like your efforts don’t matter. It’s easy to be overwhelmed at the world your kids are growing up in. It’s tempting to just give up.

But, don’t.

Gratitude can help. By looking for the good things in your day, you are making your days more about the positives and not letting the negatives be the highlights of your day.

I have been battling post-partum anxiety for almost a year now and have found practicing gratitude has been a helpful addition to my Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and for good reason. According to researchers at UC Berkley, practicing gratitude on top of counselling leads to greater benefits than when counselling alone and that’s even if gratitude doesn’t ultimately become a habit because it has a lasting effect on your brain.

So much of your time, money and energy is spent pursuing the things you don’t have. Gratitude changes your priorities to appreciating what you do have.

Once you have gratitude ingrained as a habit, suddenly you look around and realise you do have enough and now being minimalist (and sticking to it) is easy.

Summary

When you put gratitude together with minimalism and zero waste it’s like opening your eyes and seeing the world a different way (and it’s not always rosy). You see how fast the world is moving and how much waste is everywhere-whether it’s rubbish in the streets, the aisle after aisle of single use plastic, the hundreds of shops peddling the latest trends at the lowest prices, or families spending less and less time together as a family.

And suddenly it’s easier to not be a part of it.

You may start to feel like you are doing a good thing making the switch and know that you are making a difference.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” -Dr. Suess, The Lorax

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