We all know how easy it is to allow a banana to go off or a loaf of bread to turn stale, or to just not get round to eating those leftovers we’ve carefully saved in the fridge.
So we all understand the problem on a personal level. What is harder to grasp though is how much our individual waste adds up.
Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted.
produced for humans is wasted.
In developing countries that waste can often be due to problems in the production process or a lack of storage facilities.
In wealthier countries, the problem is at the end of the supply chain; the problem is us. We throw out about 30% of all the food we buy.
Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
The cost is staggering. The water wasted growing the crops, the fertilisers and fuels used in production and transportation and the greenhouse gases released when food rots in landfill. And that’s before we’ve even considered the money we’re wasting on food we never use.
Here are 10 ways you can tackle the problem.
1. Plan your shop
It sounds simple (and it is) but this is one of the most important things you can do. When food shopping, don't buy too much.
Plan out your week’s meals and make a detailed shopping list with the ingredients you'll need. Stick to that list.
2. Get to know your freezer
Whether it’s for storing ingredients or leftovers, the freezer can help you slash food waste. Freeze surplus fruits and vegetables when they’re in season, freeze bread and other food that you get through slowly.
Prepare and cook perishable produce, then freeze for later use.
3. Learn the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates.
The two types of date marking are use-by dates and best-before dates. Food Standards Australia New Zealand advises that foods that must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use by date. Foods should not be eaten after the use by date and can’t legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health or safety risk.
Most foods have a best before date. You can still eat foods for a while after the best before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality. Foods that have a best before date can legally be sold after that date provided the food is fit for human consumption.
Canned foods do not need to have a date code, as they may retain their quality for many years and are likely to be consumed well before they spoil.
Don’t forget to follow any specific storage conditions stated on the pack, in order for a product to keep until its best before or use by date. For example to keep refrigerated or frozen.
4. Store food in the right place
Keeping food at the correct temperature can give a major boost to its lifespan. Heart.org breaks down where to put your fruits and vegies to make them last longer.
Once you’ve worked out which foods need to go into the fridge, understand where in the fridge is best. Again this will help extend the shelf life of your fresh foods.
5. Cook more than one meal at a time
Making several meals at once saves energy, water and time.
Having prepared meals waiting in the freezer also greatly reduces the temptation to resort to a takeaway or other unplanned food purchase.
6. Portion control
As boring as this sounds, it is important.
By keeping your portions in check and being mindful when you eat you can limit overconsumption at meal times and also prevent plate waste. You can always go back for seconds.
7. Know what you have
Keep an eye on what’s in your fridge. So many well intentioned boxes of leftovers lurk at the back only to be rediscovered when they are way past their prime.
A tidy fridge will mean you can see what needs to be eaten soon and what ingredients you do and do not need to buy at the shop. Also make sure you put new supplies at the back so you eat the older stuff first.
8 Donate your food
If you find you still have too much, consider donating it to someone else who needs it. That could be a neighbour, relative or a local food charity. Nutritious, safe and untouched food can be a great help to those in need.
9 Compost food scraps
Instead of throwing food in the bin, compost it. This way it will turn it into nutrient-rich fertiliser rather than just rotting in landfill.
But composting should be a last resort. The US Environmental Protection Agency has a food recovery hierarchy on how we use our food, stating first that we should reduce the waste we create, then donate food, try to feed livestock, use waste for industrial energy and then compost.
10. Keep track of what you throw away
To help reduce your food waste, keep a log of what is getting thrown out each week. You‘ll be surprised at how much it adds up to and can spot patterns of over-buying.
In the end you’ll save money and help the fight against food waste.