12 Tips For Reducing Food Waste

12 Tips For Reducing Food Waste

On Tuesday night I saw the documentary Dive! It’s a documentary about people living off America’s food waste. It’s one I’d recommend: short, to-the-point, educational and inspiring.

Here’s how the documentary is described by the makers:

“Inspired by a curiosity about our country’s careless habit of sending food straight to landfills, the multi award-winning documentary DIVE! follows filmmaker Jeremy Seifert and friends as they dumpster dive in the back alleys and gated garbage receptacles of Los Angeles’ supermarkets. In the process, they salvage thousands of dollars worth of good, edible food – resulting in an inspiring documentary that is equal parts entertainment, guerilla journalism and call to action.”

And the trailer:

Food waste is a problem in so many ways. It’s estimated that a third of all food produced for us to eat ends up in landfill. A third! Food that’s taken land and energy to produce, required water and nutrients, needed labour to ensure it grew, could be harvested and processed, fuel to transport…and then it ends up in the bin. If that’s not the biggest unnecessary waste of resources, then I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, whilst we’re throwing all this perfectly edible food in the bin, people are going hungry. I’m not just talking poor people in less developed countries in overseas nations. I’m also talking about the people right here in our communities. In America one in six people are at risk of hunger. In the UK almost 1 million people have used food banks to get access to food.

The majority of this wasted food will end up in landfill, taking up valuable land space. Because of the sealed landfill environment, food waste breaks down here anaerobically, releasing methane gas (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.

You’d expect there to be some food waste at all steps along the chain, but food waste on this kind of scale is completely unnecessary!

There’s clearly a broken system that allows this kind of food waste to occur, and there’s a need for change. However, as consumers, we can still take some responsibility. It is estimated that half of all the food we actually buy goes to landfill.  There’s plenty of scope for us to make changes to the way we shop, and the way we think of food.

Here’s some ideas to help you reduce the amount of food you throw away!

Things We Can Do to Reduce Our Food Waste

1. Understand best before and use by dates.

If something is stamped with a “use by” date, it should be used before that date. If it’s stamped “best before” it means the retailer thinks it would be better if you used it by that date, but it will be perfectly safe to eat after this date.  Remember, retailers have a vested interest in you throwing the old one in the bin and buying a new one!

2. Use your judgement.

Learn to recognise if something is bad or not, rather than relying on the ultra-conservative supermarket “best before” dates.

3. Don’t buy more than you need!

The special offers and bargains touted at you in every aisle and every corner of the supermarket are there to make you spend more, not save you money, and they can become overbearing and wear you down. It may seem counter-intuitive to only buy one if the second one is “free”, but if it ends up in the bin, you haven’t saved anything. Leave it on the shelf for someone who needs it. If you stop shopping at the supermarkets you will have less exposure to all the advertising, and will buy less as a result.

4. Store it properly.

When you get home from shopping, it’s easy to dump the bags down on the counter and think you’ll sort them later, or just stuff everything in the fridge quickly. But taking the time to sort things out means less food goes to waste. Ensuring that chilled food remains chilled, rotating the new food with the things that are already in your fridge, and putting anything that is prone to wilting in a salad crisper or suitable storage container will extend the life of your shopping and mean there’s less going bad.

5. Use the most perishable items first.

Plan your meals and arrange your fridge so the food that is most perishable gets used up before the longer-lasting stuff.

6. Cut the bad bits off.

If a piece of fruit of veg is bad, cut the bad bit off rather than throwing the whole thing away. If only part of a product has gone bad, use your judgement as to whether or not it’s salvageable.

7. Find alternative uses.

Milk that has started to sour may not be great on your porridge but will work wonders in baking. My mother  uses sour milk to make scones, and they are delicious. Fruit that is going soft can be stewed to make compote, and limp vegetables can be made into soup.

8. Make use of everything.

Rather than peeling your veg, give them a good scrub and cook with the skins on. If you do peel them, keep the scraps and use to make vegetable stock (you can store in the freezer until you have enough). Meat and fish bones can also be used to make stock. Egg shells can be ground down and sprinkled on the garden – they are a great source of calcium. Citrus rinds can be made into candied peel, or the zest can be frozen or dried; if you don’t want to eat them you can use them to infuse vinegar to make a citrus cleaner.

9. Don’t throw food away!

There are plenty of alternatives to sending scraps to landfill. Feed them to chickens (ask your neighbours if you don’t have your own), compost, worm farm, use a bokashi bin or even dig a hole in the garden. For dry goods and things you bought but don’t like, even if the packets are open, try donating to family and friends, or even listing on Gumtree or Freecycle.

10. Buy the ugly fruit and veg!

People from western cultures have become accustomed to buying perfect fruit and veg, but that’s not what it looks like in real life. Even though we know this, we still gave a tendency to look for the “best” ones in the stores. When you go shopping, keep an eye out for ugly, misshapen fruit and veg, and buy these instead. You’re probably saving them from landfill!

11. Speak to your local supermarket and / or independent grocer.

Talk about food waste. Find out if they donate to food banks, if they compost, or if they have any other ways that they reduce waste. Start the conversation.

12. Volunteer at a Food Bank. 

Food banks don’t just need food, they need people. The numbers of people (predominantly volunteers) needed to collect, wash, process and deliver this food  is what stops Food Banks being able to distribute more food to more people in need.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What struggles do you face when trying to reduce your food waste? What successes have you had? Are there any tips you’d like to add? Anything that has worked really well for you? Have you ever tried dumpter-diving?! Please share your experience and leave a comment below!

30 Responses to 12 Tips For Reducing Food Waste

  1. Fantastic, practical tips! Thanks Lindsay! I try not to buy more fruit and veg until I have used up what is in my fridge (otherwise I tend to get excited about the new stuff and forget about the older stuff). I have a long way to go, but am very inspired by the blog.

    I volunteer for OzHarvest in Sydney, http://www.ozharvest.org/what-we-do/. OzHarvest has a range of activities focused around rescuing good food that would otherwise go to waste (from grocery stores, restaurants, farms…) and redistributing it to charities that help feed those in need. They have locations across Australia and are hugely flexible for volunteers – in case anyone is looking for volunteer activities. :-)

    • Hi Mel, thanks for your comment! I get a veg box delivered once a fortnight, so on Wednesdays when it arrives I have so much food! I have to be really careful to store it all properly and make sure it gets used in order – it’s always a panic that I’ll be able to use it all, but I always do!

      Thanks for sharing the link for OzHarvest! I really want to get involved with something like this. I’m looking at options around Perth at the moment. We’re moving suburbs at the end of the year, and I think there’s a place there, but I need to do a bit more research. If you know of any places in Perth, please let me know their contact details!

      • Hi Lindsay,
        I’m still experimenting with produce options, I’m off to try a new market on Sunday. Fingers crossed. Hopefully it becomes a new habit.

        OzHarvest is in Perth (Hurray!!!)
        OZHARVEST PERTH
        Office: 1 City Farm Place, East Perth, WA 6004
        Phone: 0473 440 884
        Email: perth.info@ozharvest.org

        The activities in Sydney are spread throughout the city, suburbs, and greater Sydney area. If they don’t have an exact match for what you are looking for, I’m guessing they would be fully supportive of expanding and supporting new activities / areas. I believe OzHarvest Perth is much newer and would have great opportunities to expand. I’ve helped at markets with raising awareness and funds, at cooking events, and at their veggie garden, and there is so much more. If you think it might be a match for your interests, I’d encourage you (or anyone) to give them a call or email and chat. Just from reading your blogs, I think they would be very lucky to have you as a volunteer. Hope it works out!

    • But the trick is getting it right! : p Especially when supermarkets are designed and products are marketed to make us buy more than we need! Shopping local and avoiding the big stores definitely helps with buying less – there is less choice, and very few “enticing” offers!

  2. I’ve tried dumpster diving, it’s rare to finish a session disappointed. There’s usually heaps of veggies, but there’s also a lot of processed food so I end up torn between environmental and health values!

    You’ve made a great list of ways to reduce food waste and I know that practising most of them means my own food waste is well below the average.

    One tip I wanted to share was to wrap your fresh produce in a damp tea towel and place this bundle inside a plastic bag when storing in the fridge. It helps keep your veggies fresher for longer and slows down lettuce wilt etc. It does mean you can’t see what you’ve got, but so long as you practice tip 5 and check your crisper often, you should be Ok :)

    • I’ve never tried this, and I really want to after watching Dive! I think the winter would be better – it’s just too hot at the moment. Did you go with someone who already knew what they were doing, or on your own?!

      I’ll have to try that with some of my more wilt-prone things. Not with a plastic bag (I don’t have any!), but I’m sure putting it inside a sealed container – or even the crisper tray – would work. Thanks for the tip!

      • I thought the plastic bag aspect of that tip wouldn’t be suitable for you ;) Putting the tea towel wrapped vegies in the crisper tray might work ok, but you’d want to redampen the towel as I find the crisper tray on it’s own doesn’t do a great job.

        I’ve always gone with people who dumpster dive regularly. I’m still a novice, so it’s useful to have an ‘old hand’ to mentor me and to give moral support – I’m terrified of being told off! Plus – a lot of dumpsters are now locked but regular divers hold skeleton keys that can give access.

        • Hehe, no they wouldn’t! Yeah, I think redampening it might be the best way. Crispers are terrible – mine makes everything go limp! Totally pointless…

          I will have to find out about round here. My local shopping centre has a locked bin area, I spied it yesterday. Will start looking out…!

          Skeleton keys, goodness! These dumpster divers are so prepared!

  3. There is another good book called “America Wasteland”, by Jonathan Bloom. Like many things in our world, we now live in an era where we know the price of everything and the value of nothing, which is creating a tremendous amount of waste. I think when it comes to being ‘green’ and sustainable, we need to put our efforts toward saving our potable water and our food system. Neither is sustainable at this point, and both are the only true physical needs we have to stay alive.

    • I haven’t read it; I’ll check to see if the library has it. (…Just checked, they don’t. Will see if any friends have it.) I totally agree with the sentiment though, and the points you made!

      We need to fix our broken systems…

  4. Thanks Lindsay for your post. I just realised that, i am already doing all these points except number 9 and 10. Will try to include these 2 point too. :)

  5. These are all so so good. We only shop at supermarkets for things that we store (beans, rice, nuts etc.) and we try to shop at the farmers’ market when we need something in addition to our weekly CSA delivery. I agree that we as a culture throw away so much food and do often purchase more than we can eat. Thanks so much for sharing on this important topic!!

  6. The amount of food wasted is outright disgusting. Not only is food wasted at the stores and in our homes but food that isn’t perfect is rejected before ever getting to the stores.

    Your tips are all fantastic but here’s one I would add. My grandparents who were born in 1914 and 1919 knew not to waste anything. So twice a week we would have a clean out the fridge meal. Every scrap was saved from previous meals, even if it was only a spoonful, and then all the leftovers were set on the table for us to choose from. The meals were interesting to say the least but I always enjoyed them. By doing this twice a week we never had any food waste.

    • Wow Lois, that’s really cool! I love it! such a great idea. It probably wouldn’t work in our house, because I’ll make something and we eat it day after day until it’s gone… Sounds kinda boring, but we usually have a couple of things on the go. We both take lunches to work so that also uses up leftovers. And I’m very good and turning leftovers into new meals by adding extra vegetables ; )

      It might not work in my house, but I will share it with my mother, because it would definitely work in hers! ; )

      • It doesn’t work for me any longer being just one, but was great when the boys were home and worked great when they had friends over that were picky eaters as there was usually something for everyone. Hope you mother gives it a try, it makes at least two nights a week of zero meal planning too. :-)

  7. Great tips, LIndsay! Being single I have a hard time buying bananas, mushrooms, and sprouts in small enough quantities that they do not go bad me. Bananas can be used in bread but the sprouts and mushrooms can be a little more problematic. Thanks for the informative post. :)

  8. Lovely and very helpful post!My girls and I are trying to minimize our waste ate home and we are recently talking about the food waste we are producing and how to minimize it. They took the idea with a great interest and we are now searching different ways to reuse our cooked leftovers, fruit and vegetable scraps, everything which lefts in our kitchen at all. The girls have a lot of fun inventing new sauces and dishes and learn how important is this all for people and for the environment. Your post gave us some very good ideas and we are definitely trying to make things happen better. thank you for sharing!

  9. Thanks for your amazing ideas! What I do to avoid food waste at home is ‘the reverse shopping list’. I list ALL the food I have at home: fresh, canned, freezed… fruit on counters, flour or pasta in jars, veggies, salsa or butter in the fridge, freezed chicken… ALL. And I design my weekly menu bases on what I have, so I just have to buy fewer things, I save money and I avoid food waste. As time goes by, the process takes less time.

    • Thanks Marina! That is a great idea. I do something a bit like this every three months or so – look it the cupboard to see what random things are sitting there untouched, and plan to use them up. Sometimes it backfires though and I like the new recipe so much that I go out and buy more of the ingredient I’m trying to use up when it runs out! ;)

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