The UK has a problem with food waste. Here are some statistics I found on the government website:
- We waste around seven million tons of food every year
- The average household throws away £470 worth of food per year
- Bread, fruit and vegetables are the most wasted foods
- Businesses are guilty too – the manufacturing and retail sector wastes 1.9 million tonnes of food per year
- Globally, a third of the food we produce every year is wasted
Sadly, I don’t find these statistics too surprising. I’ve lived with a lot of people with a very wasteful attitude to food. But I don’t think they intended to be wasteful – they just didn’t realise there was a better way. So I thought I’d write a post to help you reduce the food waste you produce. Firstly…
Buy only what you need
It sounds really obvious, but buying too much is one of the main causes of food waste. When it comes to perishables, be honest with yourself about how much you’re going to get through.
We’ve all been there – staring at the 3 for £5 offer, trying to convince ourselves that we can use three pots of hummus. Spoiler: you probably can’t. Don’t let special offers trick you into buying more than you need. It’s not a good deal if half of it ends up in the bin.
This applies when eating out, too. Don’t order an obscene amount of food. And be one of those annoying people who brings Tupperware to take their leftovers home.
If you do end up with something you know you won’t eat, try to give it to family and friends rather than throwing it away.
Ignore the best before
‘Use by’ and ‘best before’ dates are a guideline, nothing more. And they almost always err on the side of caution, because food companies are scared of getting sued if someone eats gone-off food and gets ill. Instead of looking at the dates, use your common sense. Does it look and smell ok? If so, taste a bit. If it seems fine, it probably is.
Cook with what you have
Some of us decide what we want for dinner then go out and buy the ingredients, even if there’s already plenty of food in the fridge. Instead, try to make a meal out of what you already have. See what needs using and try to figure out a way to include it in your meal.
Be aware of how much you make. If you’re only cooking for yourself, don’t make enough for a family of five! (Unless you plan to freeze it and eat it throughout the week, of course. That’s a smart thing to do.)
Don’t be scared off if things are a little past their best
Things may be a little stale or otherwise past their best, but this doesn’t usually make them inedible. You may have to get a bit creative though. Stale bread can become toast or breadcrumbs, and wilted vegetables can go into a soup. Black bananas can become banana bread. And if something just has a few bad bits – those black bits in potatoes, for example – you can usually just cut them out.
Personally, I will happily cut the mouldy parts off bread or vegetables and eat them anyway. You may not want to to go that far though! And some things just aren’t salvageable. But if something does have a bit of mould on the outside, it may be fine inside – onions, for instance, often get mould on the skin which doesn’t affect the inside.
Separation is sometimes a sign that your food has gone off. However, other foods may separate harmlessly. When my soya yoghurt starts to separate, I just mix it up again and it’s fine. Find out which foods you can safely eat when they separate.
Sometimes, things left in the fridge for a while can become dry on the outside. If this happens, try cutting off the outer layer. They’re probably fine inside – even that shrivelled aubergine at the back of the shelf.
I often freeze things like pitta bread and English muffins, since it takes me a while to get through a pack. It’s easy to defrost them in the toaster, grill or microwave. You can do this with leftovers too if you’re not going to eat them in the next couple of days.
Recycle your food waste
Dispose responsibly of any food you can’t save – don’t just bin it, if you can help it. Your local council may provide a bin so you can recycle your food waste. Use it! Otherwise, consider getting a compost bin if you have space. You can always give the compost to friends and family if you don’t have a use for it.
It’s possible to virtually eliminate food waste if you plan carefully and be aware of the food you have. The planet and your wallet will thank you! If you have any more ideas for reducing food waste, feel free to leave them below.