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10 Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste at Home

5th June is World Environment Day, a chance to look at what we’re currently doing to protect our precious environment, and to ask ourselves, honestly, whether there’s more we could be doing.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one area that I’m consciously trying to work towards is Zero-Waste living. A key component of that is trying to minimise food waste. While a lot of food waste comes from the food industry, household food waste actually accounts for 70% of the overall total food waste in the UK!

Not only is this a waste of our money, but it also wastes the energy and resources that went into making, processing, and distributing that product. What’s worse, food that’s sent to landfill gives off methane as it decomposes, and this greenhouse gas is one of the worst contributors to climate change (so much so that, yearly, food waste produces more greenhouse gas emissions than air travel). Overall, food waste accounts for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Clearly, trying to reduce our food waste at home is a crucial part of trying to do our bit to protect the environment.

But we don’t usually waste food on purpose! And sometimes we’re not even aware of how much food we’re wasting. So where do we even start?

Here are 10 ways to begin to reduce your household food waste.

#1 Compost or feed scraps to animals

Some food is inevitably going to end up in the bin, like peelings or banana skin (although sometimes you can do ingenious things with these scraps like creating baked vegetable crisps out of peelings!).

But without doubt, one of the best ways you can minimise the damage of these scraps to the environment is by composting them (turning them into useful manure that actually protects the environment and soil), rather than sending them to landfill (where they produce methane gas, which is extremely damaging to the environment).

Many towns and cities now have composting schemes, where they will send you a small compost bin to keep at home, and come collect it sporadically. But what if your local authority doesn't offer this?

If you have a large garden or allotment, then one option is just to have your own compost pile at home (you would just need to have space for this outside). There are lots of tips for how to manage this online. If you live in an apartment and/or don’t need the compost yourself, you can often find local farms who would be willing to take your compost (just keep it at home until you’ve built up enough), although they might not come collect it so you might have to take it yourself. It's worth checking to see if there are other groups in your area who have maybe teamed up to do something similar (maybe a different person offers to go to the farm with everyone’s waste each month), or who collect compost to use on communal allotments or communal gardens. If no groups exist, maybe you could create your own! Check to see if your neighbours might be willing to participate.

A great tip for if you have to keep your food scraps at home before adding them to a compost but don’t want to end up with flies in your kitchen or a bad smell, is to keep the food scraps in the freezer in a big container!

Another option if you have space outdoors and time to look after them, is to rescue some backyard animals, like hens. Many animals will eat a range of vegetable peelings, fruit cores, and other such scraps, and, with hens, you would also get fresh (and much healthier) eggs to enjoy occasionally. There are charities that periodically rescue 'battery hens' and ask people to re-home them. This requires that you have a lot of love and patience to give to these traumatised individuals, as well as having enough space, money and time to look after them. But, if this was something you were already considering, then knowing that you can also feed them many kinds of plant scraps might be an added bonus! (Plus hens have really funny personalities once you get to know them!)

#2 Plan your meals in advance (and try to use the same ingredients)

I know I’ve said it before, but meal planning is one of the best habits you can get into, not only for eating healthily and saving money, but also to avoid food waste. If you’ve planned out what you’re going to eat for the week and just buy the ingredients for those meals, you’re less likely to end up with wasted food at the end of the week. A good tip is to leave one day unaccounted for (so plan for 5-6 days instead of 7) as we tend to overestimate how much food we’ll need.

Another tip is to plan your week’s meals so that you’re using the same ingredients in more than one meal. For example, say you make a curry that requires fresh coriander, so you buy a bag of coriander, but you only need half the bag. Instead of wasting the other half, plan to make another meal later in the week that also uses fresh coriander, so it doesn’t go to waste!

#3 Take a shopping list with you

Similar to the above point, if you’ve planned your meals in advance then you can write a list of what you need and only buy that. Going shopping with a list saves you from impulse-buying food that you might not end up using.

#4 Shop more often

Sometimes we waste food not because we don’t need it, but because it’s gone off before we get around to using it. If you only go shopping once a week, on a Sunday for example, for a week’s worth of food, then the fresh veggies you bought for Saturday night’s dinner might have gone off by the time you come to cooking them. It can sometimes be the case that the food is actually still perfectly fine to eat, it just doesn’t look as appetising (limp carrots, for example!). In which case, we just need to change our perception, more than changing our shopping habits. But if the food really has spoilt, and would be dangerous to eat, then one solution is simply to shop more often throughout the week, especially for fresh produce that spoils easily.

#5 Buy smaller jars/quantities

Have you ever had that one jar of random sauce that you opened for one recipe that required just a tablespoon of it so now it just sits in the fridge, haunting you, until it finally grows mould and you can justify binning it (and fight over who has to clean out the jar)? No? Just me?!

I don’t know about you, but I seem to find a lot of recipes that only require a small amount of something, and, while I would normally recommend to find another recipe that also uses that ingredient, and have them both the same week, it’s not always possible. But sometimes you can find smaller jars of that ingredient if you just do a bit of digging/shopping around, which means you end up wasting less.

If it’s not something that comes in a jar, but something that can be bought in smaller quantities, then don’t be afraid to just buy what you need (sometimes we feel ridiculous just asking for one tiny quantity but, really, the cashier doesn’t care!).

#6 Make a meal out of leftovers/scraps

If you have enough leftovers to make one (or more) portion, then I highly recommend eating leftovers as lunch the next day (or even for dinner, to save you having to cook again!). But say what’s left is not quite enough for a portion, then what do you do?

Well, maybe you add other things to it to bulk it out and make it into a portion. For example, say you make a big portion of roast veggies, and you just have a small amount left. Maybe you could just add them into a mixed soup you’re making. Or maybe you chuck them into a stir-fry. Turning your scraps into other meals is a skill, and something worth putting time into, considering how much food waste it could save.

#7 Grow your own

As previously mentioned, for me, some of the main foods that tend to get forgotten about in the fridge are half-used packs of fresh herbs. If there are fresh produce items that you know you tend to waste, besides planning several recipes that use that ingredient throughout the week, another way to avoid wasting it is to try growing it yourself. This works really well for things like herbs or leafy greens that spoil easily, and where you usually only need a handful at a time. If you have a garden, you could grow them outside, in pots or sacks (you can grow potatoes in these!), but, if you don’t have a garden, you could also just try growing them on a warm windowsill. That way they are handy when you need them, you only need to snip off a few leaves at a time, and the rest can stay in the soil, ready for the next time!

#8 Freeze leftovers that can’t be eaten in time

If you’re making a large quantity of food (maybe you accidentally make more than expected, or maybe you just prefer cooking that way), you can portion it out so that you have dinner or lunches throughout the week. But food that’s been cooked usually only stays edible for around 4 days in the fridge - after that it may start to spoil. So, if you made more than 4 days’ worth, you can freeze the rest. That’s why I recommend investing in a big freezer if you have the space and money, as it can be a great investment not only for your health (meaning you have healthy food on hand for days you can’t be bothered cooking) but also for the planet. Of course, some meals don’t lend themselves to being frozen, so, in that case, if it’s impossible not to cook smaller amounts, maybe there’s a neighbour or friend you could give the extra to? No doubt they would be grateful to have a healthy home-cooked meal, and you get to reduce your food waste, win-win!

#9 Ask for a “doggy bag” in restaurants (bonus points if you take your own container!)

Portion sizes in restaurants are usually more than you would eat at home, and often our eyes are bigger than our tummies (why is it we think we can manage 3 courses out when we would never dream of eating that much at home?!)! Not forcing yourself to eat everything you ordered is a healthy habit to get into, but then we face the guilt that all that food is just going to get thrown in the bin! Well, why not ask if you can take the rest home? Most restaurants are more than happy to give you a ‘doggy bag’, and you have every right to ask - after all, you paid for it! Even if you’re not going to eat it yourself, if you have animals at home (and the food is safe for them) you could take it home as a treat for them, or maybe another member of the family could eat it.

The only downside with this is that they will often pack the food in plastic Tupperware or – worse – Styrofoam packaging, which is terrible for the environment. So, if you want to be really environmentally-savvy you could get in the habit of keeping reusable containers in your bag (such as stainless-steel tiffin box or bamboo lunchbox). This might not always be possible, but certainly if you’re going somewhere that you know serves large portions, or where you know you might order too much, then it’s great to be prepared!

#10 Ask for child’s portion or share

Carrying on from the above point, when dining out we often end up ordering more than we can eat, because we like the sound of the dish or because we want to try different things, plus restaurants tend to serve large portions. So, if asking for a ‘doggy bag’ is not an option (or you feel too uncomfortable doing so), why not ask the restaurant if they’ll make a child’s portion for you? Many restaurants are fine with this, as it saves them money (they use fewer ingredients so can make more portions to sell). If they say no, another option is just to share the meal with the person you're eating with. That way you get to try the food, but you don’t end up forcing yourself to eat more than you’re comfortable with, or wasting the rest.

Key Takeaways

So there you have my top 10 tips to reduce your household food waste. Overall, it comes down to planning and being well-organised, shopping around for exactly what you need, and getting creative (finding recipes that use leftovers, for example, or learning how to grow things or make your own compost).

What are some other ways you’ve found to reduce your food waste? Would you like more tips like these? Let me know in the comments below!

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