Grown for the bin: our problem with food waste
By Tegan Sharp
The term food waste is often misunderstood as the kitchen scraps or inedible bits of food that go into the bin. In reality, the term is used to refer to all the perfectly edible food that goes uneaten. This includes the two week old asparagus at the bottom of your fridge, the old banana going brown in the fruit bowl, and the half of your meal that you couldn’t finish at the restaurant last night.
Let’s start by bringing you up to speed on the latest food waste facts for Australia:
- Food waste costs the economy around AUD$36.6 billion each year.
- Approximately 7.6 million tonnes of food across the supply and consumption chain is lost annually. To put that into perspective, this equate to about 312kg per person, one in five bags of groceries or AUD$2,500 per household per year.
- Food waste alone accounts for around 3% of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
- Australia uses around 2600 gigalitres of water to grow the food that is wasted – the volume of water in five Sydney Harbours!!
- The amount of land used to grow wasted food covers in excess of 25 million hectares, a landmass larger than the state of Victoria.
Take a minute to breathe and digest that absolutely mindboggling information. Once you’re feeling ready, you can read on to figure out how we can clean up this mess. While it may feel daunting after what you’ve just read, the good news is that it is possible to turn this tide, and it starts with YOU.
According to non-profit food rescue organisation OzHarvest, the Top Five Most Wasted Foods in Australia are: fruits, vegetables, bread, bagged salad and leftovers. This makes sense given that they have a shorter shelf life when compared to the other packaged and preserved foods we consume. Being more aware of how long foods last and how much we really need is a great start in reducing our food waste. A lot of our food waste is a result of our habits and so to change the waste we need to look into the habits relating to how we buy, store and eat food.
Practical Tips for Reducing Food Waste at Home
- Plan your meals – One of the biggest things you can do to curb your food waste at home is to start planning your meals. And no, this doesn’t mean you need to count calories or cook all your meals at once, it simply means to outline what you’re going to make for the week to take note of what you’ll need to buy. Without meal planning, we tend to over buy and thus have waste – you end up not using all the things you buy and can’t get to eating them before they go bad. Creating a simple dinner and lunch plan for the week can help you allocate ingredients to set meals.
- Stick to your shopping list – Following up from your meal plan, writing a shopping list is a great idea to keep you on track with what you actually need. And what is equally important it sticking to this list! Even if pumpkins are on special with a 2 for 1 offer, if you only need one for your meal plan it is best to only buy what you need.
- Take stock of what you already have – Not only will this save you money but it will significantly reduce your food waste by using what is already in the pantry or fridge. There is simply no point in buying another 10 apples when you already have a bunch sitting at home. Before you go to the shops take the five minutes extra to just do a quick check.
- Store your food properly – When groceries are stored properly, you’ll get more shelf life from them and thus more time to use them before they go bad. Check out this detailed food storage guide for tips.
- Utilise leftovers – Cooking the exact amount you need can be challenging, but making the most of leftovers is easy. Pack it for lunch or have a weekly ‘Leftovers Night’ to clean out the fridge.
- Compost food scraps or put them in your FOGO bin – For the top and tale scraps of your vegetables or the leftovers you didn’t get to in time, use a home compost or lime-green lidded FOGO bin to turn your waste into something good. When we put food in the general waste bin it gets sent to landfill and can’t break down properly causing it to release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that is more than 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
- Choose imperfect fruit and veg – Your carrot does not need to be an Instagram model. I promise that the wonky looking one will taste exactly the same, maybe even better. Choosing odd shaped fruit and veg can help it from being sent straight from store shelves to the bin. At a time when people only want the best looking apple, be the person to choose the one getting left behind.
- Put down the peeler – Unless the skin is really beyond eating, peeling can be a pretty unnecessary step in the recipe. Carrots, cucumbers, potatoes, and apples can all be eaten with the skin on just give them a wash and you’re good to go.
- Utilise your freezer – You can cut up fruit and veg and freeze them for use in meals or smoothies later on so if you have some food you’re not going to use now, extend its life by putting it in the freezer. Leftovers can also often be frozen which saves waste but also provides a meal for a night you might not feel like cooking—just remember to put labels and dates on items and try not to forget about them!
- Get creative and break the rules – If the recipe calls for beans but you have broccoli, or potatoes but you have sweet potato just do a swap and create your own ideas. Recipes shouldn’t restrict you, they should be there to inspire you—you never know what amazing recipe you might end up with just by using up what you have on hand!
So, there are 10 tips to get you started and on your way, but remember that this is by no means an exhaustive list and that there are loads of other food waste tricks and hacks out there. Learn about them, try them and share them. Find what works for you and encourage others to do the same!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tegan is a recent graduate of a Communications & Media/ International Studies double degree at the University of Wollongong. She currently lives in Fremantle and is enjoying exploring the beautiful landscapes of Western Australia. She is a passionate sustainability advocate and hopes to inspire others to adopt the same passion for protect our beautiful planet.