Food waste is a bigger problem than you might think. In 2015, UK households wasted 7.3 million tonnes of food (1). This led to accusations that the government was failing in its goal to reduce food waste. In terms of cost, this translates into £13bn being disposed in food each year, or £470 per household. Let’s put that into perspective. It’s like taking £470 each year and burning it – since that’s effectively what we’re doing with food waste.
Except it’s worse than just wasting money. If you burned £470, it wouldn’t damage the environment. Global food waste is a different story. Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption – that’s 1.3 billion tonnes – gets lost or wasted (2). And the environmental consequences of this are devastating.
Food waste impacts the environment because most of it ends up in landfills where it decays and produces the greenhouse gas methane (3,4). In light of this, Vision 2020 aims to bring about a change in government strategy, to ban food waste going to landfills, and to have it recycled instead.
But we don’t have to wait for the government to wake up and act. Each and every one of us can take small and simple steps to greatly reduce food waste. While there are clear failures on the part of the government, people don’t have to throw away a third of all the food they buy every year. Let’s not forget how important personal responsibility is in living sustainably.
Here are 5 things you should be doing now to reduce food waste:
- Stop buying so much food!
Your aim should be to cut down on how much food you buy by a third. There are different ways you can do this. You could work out how much you tend to buy each shop, and then try and work out how to cut a third of that. Or you could shop more often, buying only what you realistically think you will eat. Download a grocery shopping list app (i.e. mySupermarket) if that helps you track what you need to buy.
You could get a bit more disciplined with your attempt to reduce food waste. You could plan your meals for the week and make a detailed shopping list with all the ingredients that you’ll need. The only problem is that there will be days where you eat out (unless you decide to stop eating out completely). So maybe ensure that whatever you buy can last, so that eating out won’t mean leaving food to expire.
- Stop making so much food!
We’ve all been guilty of it. Making more food than we want to eat. Or more food than we can physically eat. This is especially true when it comes to cooking pasta, where it seems like you can never make the perfect amount for how hungry you are. If you try and make less, you make not nearly enough. And if you try and make a bit more, you end up making enough for two other people.
So as a general rule of thumb, don’t over-serve food. Under-serving food is fine, because if you or someone else is hungry, then you can always serve more. But if you over-serve, then you might not want to save the food that’s been left. Using small plates can be a good way to avoid over-serving food. As well as eating until you’re satisfied, not until you’re painfully full and slipping into a food coma. When it comes to pasta, weigh how much you need!
42.4 kg of avoidable food waste found in New Zealand household rubbish bins in 2014 – Wikipedia
- Saving and eating left overs
If you do make too much food, always try and save it as left overs. Storing left over food in Tupperware is one thing, but sometimes it will just sit there in the fridge. So eventually it then has to be thrown away. Don’t get into the habit of saying I’ll eat it soon, but never doing so. Eat it for lunch or dinner the next day. And if you say to yourself but I had that yesterday, then make sure that if you make too much of something, that it’s something you like. Also, a lot of dishes can be refrigerated for a while before going off, so eating the same thing once a week isn’t such a burden.
- Store food in the right places
Food Republic has a really useful infographic on where food should be stored in the fridge. Heart.org also highlights where to store your fruits and veggies to make them last longer. These simple tips can help you avoid throwing away food due to improper storage.
- Donate to food banks
If you know you’re not going to consume items before they go bad, then take the time to donate them to a food bank or soup kitchen. This will reduce food waste and allow you to help those in need. It is an easy thing to do that benefits your wallet, the environment and those who are struggling to afford the essentials in life.
Global issues such as food waste require governmental and inter-governmental action. But that’s just one part of the solution – one piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is sustainability. Individual action also plays an important role. While the government can take steps to tackle the environmental damage caused by animal agriculture, for example, we shouldn’t depend on the government for creating change. We can make a huge difference through personal decisions such as what we eat. Likewise, we can effectively reduce food waste by changing many of our daily habits.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
I’m currently a Writer at The Canary, covering issues relating to the food industry, drugs, health, well-being and nutrition. I’m also a Blogger for Inspiring Interns, where I offer careers advice for graduates. If you have a story you want me to cover, drop me a message on Twitter (@samwoolfe). You can also check out my travel blog (samreflectsontravel.com) and personal blog (www.samwoolfe.com) to read my articles on philosophy, psychology, and more opinion-related content.