Like many children in the 1980s I ate my dinner while images of the terrible famine gripping Africa played on the evening news. My parents made sure I knew I lived in the “lucky country” and ensured we ate everything on our plates.
On the rare occasion where there was food waste, it mostly went to our family Labrador, who inhaled it in seconds as only labs can do.
Fast-track three decades, and our busy lifestyles, increasing household wealth, and tighter consumer cosmetic standards on food have contributed to the modern issue of food waste.
Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted. Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries (source).
Social, humanitarian and financial impacts aside, food waste is a considerable global environmental issue. The impact of food waste on climate change alone is so significant that reducing food waste has been listed within the top five solutions for climate change by a leading environmental researcher (more on this below).
In this post, I unpack the issue of food waste and discuss how it’s generated, the impact of food waste on the environment, and simple measures you can take to reduce food waste in your home.
Food waste is food that is lost or discarded uneaten.
It includes food that is spilled or spoilt before it reaches its final product or retail stage (i.e. food loss) and food that is fit for human consumption, but is not consumed because it is left to spoil or is discarded by retailers or consumers (food waste).
Harvested apples that fall off a delivery truck for example, are considered food loss. A box of oversized or blemished apples thrown away by a store, on the other hand, is classified as food waste.
The causes of food waste are numerous, and occur at the stages of production, processing, retailing and consumption.
Production –poor or failed crops, harvesting or pest control issues.
Processing -storage and cooling facilities, packing and transport issues.
Retailing –retailer cosmetic standards, infrastructure or market / price mechanisms, institutional and legal frameworks.
Consumption –oversupply of food at the restaurant or household level.
It’s fair to say that in the industrialized world, food waste is a by-product of our affluent and time-poor society.
Australians reportedly toss up to 30 percent of the food they purchase; a staggering 315 kilograms of food per household each year at a cost of just over $1,000! (source)
Can you imagine going to the supermarket and buying three bags of food, only to leave one behind on the counter? That’s what’s basically happening each week in the average Australian (and US, UK and NZ) home. We’re only eating two of the three bags of food we’re buying.
Social, humanitarian and financial impacts aside, food waste is a considerable global environmental issue.
Every time we throw food in the bin we’re not just wasting our money. We’re discarding the vast amounts of resources, energy and water that it took to produce, process, store, refrigerate, transport and cook the food. If that’s not bad enough, rotting food in landfill releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is particularly damaging to our environment.
In fact, the impact on climate change is so significant that reducing food waste has been listed within the top 5 solutions for climate change in Paul Hawken’s book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.”
Together with a team of several dozen research scientists, Hawken mapped, measured and modelled the 100 most substantive solutions to climate change, using only peer-reviewed research.
The impact on climate change by reducing food waste alone, is reported by Hawken to beat solar farms and rooftop solar combined!!
So, there you have it! If you’ve ever doubted that you can make a difference… reducing food waste helps address the biggest environmental issue of our generation, climate change!
Keen to reduce food waste in your home? Here’s seven pointers to get you started:
Meal Planning is the critical ingredient in reducing your food waste. I find that by planning each meal for the week ahead, I’m less likely to buy too much food in the first place. Meals out and leftover meals are also included in my meal plan to further keep my food purchasing in check.
When out shopping stick to your shopping list. You haven’t saved anything if you’ve bought twice as much of an item because it was special, only to toss it a week or so later when it’s wilted or growing a science-project-worthy colony of mould.
When unpacking food and groceries, move older products to the front of your pantry, fridge and freezer and place new products towards the back to help you use up food before it expires. If you have trouble keeping track of your food stocks, develop a labelling system or place a list of contents and date to consume by on the door.
If you’re regularly dealing with pest problems or throwing away stale biscuits and cereals, it’s worth investing in quality, air tight containers to store your food. Repurposing glass jars is an inexpensive way to achieve this if the designer pantry storage system isn’t within your budget.
Too often we tend to throw out food that, while not in our ideal form, could easily be transformed into something more appealing. Broccoli stalks are a perfect example. They add bulk to stir-fries and soups and are great at absorbing the flavour of dishes. They can also easily be frozen for when you get around to making some vegetable stock.
Overripe bananas make the best banana bread, cakes and smoothies. Wilted vegies are perfect for stock or vegetable soup, and stale bread and lonely crusts are perfect for homemade breadcrumbs for rissoles or schnitzels. Simply whiz them in your food processor, dry in low oven or food dehydrator and store in an air tight container when cool.
I’m sure my household isn’t the only one where milkshakes are on the menu the day the milk expires. Of course it’s great to exercise caution when it comes to food safety, but in many cases, expiration dates on foods are just as much about manufacturer’s recommendations for peak quality as they are for food safety. If stored correctly, most foods (including meat and dairy) will stay fresh several days past their “Use By” date. If the food looks, smells and tastes okay, chances are it is fine.
Before the days of refrigeration, preserving food was a common occurrence throughout the world to ensure adequate food supplies all year round. Preserving food is still a fantastic way to stretch your budget, help the environment and live a healthier life all at the same time. If you’re lucky enough to receive a box of fresh produce such as apricots or tomatoes from a friend’s garden, preserve or dehydrate them to enjoy for months to come.
Some of the foods we throw can easily be used again. For example, I always reuse chicken carcasses from a steamed or roasted chook to make bone broth. Even onion and garlic skins can be added to a broth to enhance the flavour.
Despite your best efforts, there will be occasions where you need to throw out food and for this I recommend keeping chickens, a worm farm or composting.
The Bokashi Composting Unit composts all food waste including, meat, fish, dairy, citrus, onions, egg shells, cooked, raw and processed foods and fits discretely beneath most kitchen sinks.
To use, simply layer your food waste with Bokashi One Mix in a Bokashi One Bucket. Due to the air-tight bucket and the micro-organisms present in the Bokashi One Mix, the waste ferments. It does not decompose inside the bucket, it reduces in volume as the water content of the waste drains through the grate at the bottom of the bucket.
The wonderful Bokashi juice produced is alive with micro-organisms and can be used in the garden and in cleaning tasks around the home (it’s the best drain cleaner!). When the bucket is full, the waste is transferred outside and buried beneath the soil to complete the composting process, which is quick thanks to the micro-organisms present in the Bokashi One Mix.
Food waste is a considerable environmental and social issue and change starts in the home. Luckily reducing food waste is not as hard as you may think and with a little extra organisation and planning, you can soon be on your way to a food-free household bin.
If reducing your food waste is important to you, join our online sustainable living club, Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs for ongoing support and tips to create a healthy, waste-free, sustainable home.
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