How to Reduce Food Waste
It’s no surprise that food waste is a major global problem.
For example it has been estimated that we waste between 30% and 50% of all the food we produce, whether that is in the supply chain or at home.
Bearing in mind the environmental costs of producing food, experts believe we could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10% across the globe if we just stopped throwing away perfectly edible food.
But putting aside the obvious global issues, food waste also affects us as individuals. A study in the UK, for example, found that the average British household wastes £700 a year on food that they throw away; that’s roughly $1,000 a year we could all be saving just by reducing our food waste.
I don’t know about you, but an extra $1,000 a year sounds like a pretty tempting bonus for reducing our food waste.
Of course talking about it is one thing; its quite another to actually do something about it. Which is why we created this article.
We’ve gathered together a comprehensive list of tips and advice for reducing food waste at home, together with actionable steps for implementing them.
Read on to discover how you could be saving money – as well as helping the environment – with just a few changes to your current shopping habits…
Before You Go Shopping
Reducing food waste doesn’t start when you get home from the supermarket; it starts before you even get there. Using a few simple-to-remember rules you’ll be able to shop smarter, buy only the things you need and make sure you use up all the food already sat in your cupboards..
Carry Out an Inventory
Start off by spending some time going through your kitchen so you have a better idea of what you already have. That doesn’t just mean your cupboards, but also your fridge, freezer and even your fruit bowl.
Carrying out a food inventory like this serves two purposes:
Many recipes involve a multitude of food items; for example if you’ve baked a cake recently you might have half a bag of flour, some yeast and a couple of eggs left over.
Realistically there’s a fair chance that these ingredients will just sit there in your cupboard until they go out of date. So consider what you need to buy in order to turn these “odds and ends” into delicious new meals.
There are a number of websites that allow you to enter a few random ingredients before conjuring up delicious recipe options.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Do You Really Need To Shop?
Once you’ve got a fair handle on the food already sat in your kitchen the next question to ask is whether you actually need to go shopping at all.
Many people get into a habit of shopping on the same day each week, whether they need to or not. Consider whether you actually have enough food to last you for a few more days rather than following a set habit.
Furthermore, consider doing smaller, more frequent shops rather than doing a giant haul once every week or two. Why? The supermarkets turn over so much food that if you shop more regularly you’d be purchasing longer-dated food.
This reduces the amount that you will potentially throw away, and helps to keep your shopping more deliberate.
Plan Your Meals
So you’ve decided that its time to visit the grocery store.
However the worst thing you can do if you’re trying to reduce food waste is just to wonder around in a daze, succumbing to every last marketing trick the retailers have to throw at you. Instead, you need to get organized and make a plan.
There are two aspects to consider here. The first of these is what you’re doing over the next week. For example will you be eating out at all? Will you be away from home for a few days? The last thing you want to do is purchase a week of food while forgetting that you’ll be eating out twice this week.
The second aspect to consider when meal planning is that you actually plan to eat. Try not to just buy whatever you fancy, but instead based on the ingredients in your kitchen try to decide exactly what meals you’ll be consuming in the near future.
There are a range of apps and websites that will assist with this, such as eMeals, which makes forward planning your meals as easy as possible, and even provides you with a grocery list to take with you.
Make A List
Lets be honest; while supermarkets are necessary evil for many of us they’re also experts at convincing you to buy products you wouldn’t normally consider.
With your meal plan in place the next smart step is to print this out or make a list with pen and paper.
With your list in hand you’ll know exactly what you need to buy to use up the produce in your kitchen – and you’ll also avoid making any impulse purchases that you’ll regret when they go in the bin six months later.
Have A Meal
Shopping on an empty stomach is dangerous territory.
It encourages us to buy more than we need, or to pick up things that we otherwise wouldn’t have considered.
It’s smart, therefore, to have a bite to eat before heading out for groceries with your list in hand.
At The Supermarket
So far, so good.
You’ve made a note of what food you already have and have turned this into a workable meal plan for the forthcoming week.
However even once you get to the supermarket there are things that you can do to reduce your food waste in the future.
Consider Pack Sizes
Most of us have heard that buying in bulk works out cheaper than purchasing smaller pack sizes.
In general this is true – but with one important caveat…
If you buy a larger pack than normal, yet end up throwing half of it away because it went out of date, then its probably not the bargain you assumed.
Therefore while you shouldn’t necessarily shy away from larger pack sizes, be realistic with how often you’ll eat that food, and how long it will therefore take to finish up.
Sometimes buying a smaller pack that you’ll use up entirely can actually be better for the environment and your pocket.
Check Use-By Dates
Supermarkets want to reduce food waste as much as you do; after all every item they throw in the bin costs them money.
Multiply that by somewhere the size of a supermarket and even just a slight improvement can have a massive impact on profits.
One of the techniques retailers use is known in the trade as “rotation”; quite simply the shortest-dated items are put at the front of the shelf, while longer-dated products are put towards the back.
You can turn this concept to your advantage by carefully checking the dates of perishable goods before putting them in your cart.
For example if you’re planning to roast a chicken tonight it makes sense to consider taking the shortest dated item. After all, you’ll be cooking it tonight, and it prevents someone else buying something that will pass its use-by date before they get to eat it.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re picking up something for next weekend consider doing a little “digging” to see what different dates are on the shelf.
Under such circumstances it can make sense to buy the item with a longer date – meaning you’ll have longer to use it up at home.
Consider Shelf Life
If you’re anything like most consumers a large part of your food waste is fresh produce – particularly fruits and vegetables – that have turned.
However it’s possible to buy many of the same products either canned or frozen.
That fresh bag of peas might look delicious, but its already reducing in quality.
Consider swapping fresh veggies for better-preserved equivalents that will last you much longer.
When You Get Home
You made it home in one piece, with your fingers aching under the strain of all those shopping bags.
Now the real fun begins.
The reality is it is at home that you can arguably have the greatest impact on your food waste.
Let’s dive into all the strategies you can apply to make sure you use as much of that food you just bought, rather than ending up putting it in the bin.
Start A Food Journal
One of the most powerful strategies for reducing food waste is creating a food journal.
In essence this is just a diary or a calendar which lists the best before dates of what you just bought.
As you unpack your groceries simply make a note in your journal of when each item needs to be used by.
Then, as you consume food in your kitchen you simply cross them off your list.
In this way you’ll know instantly what needs to be used in the near future.
There are also apps that can help with this. The Food Keeper app is free and available on both Android and iOS systems. It lets you record the dates of food, and then sends you alerts when food is getting close to it’s date.
Rotate Your Groceries
When you’re putting your groceries away do you just open up the cupboard and bung the food in?
A better idea is to take a lesson from the supermarkets and to actually “rotate” your food.
Check the dates as you go, putting the shortest dated food at the front of the cupboard, and longer dated food at the back.
This way if you’ve got three tins of beans you can be certain that you’re using the one with the shortest date – without having to constantly check each item for the best date.
If you’re just starting a food journal then this process of rotation can also be a great place to start making a list of your shortest dated food so that you can be certain of using it before it needs to be thrown away.
Store Your Food Properly
The longer your food stays fresh the longer you will have to eat it.
Therefore it makes sense to learn how best to store your food.
As it turns out many of us aren’t storing our food in the most efficient ways, and as a result its going off a lot sooner than it necessarily needs to.
For example did you know that sitting a lettuce in a glass of water – just like a bunch of flowers – can double the time it will stay crisp and juicy?
Here are some of the most effective tricks for prolonging the lifespan of your food:
Keeping milk in the fridge door can lower it’s shelf life because of all the warm air that hits it whenever you over the refrigerator. Instead, try keeping your milk further inside the fridge to keep it fresher for longer.
Left in a plastic bag, onions soon sweat and go off. Extend their life by allowing air to circulate. For best results try storing them loose in a bowl or basket, or use net bags (as available from garden centers).
Never store bread in the fridge, where loaves dry out and rapidly go stale. Instead, store your bread at room temperature, carefully wrapped in its bag for freshness.
For an even longer shelf life consider splitting your loaf into usable section (3-4 per loaf tends to work well) and then freeze each of these sections individually.
This way you can simply use up the first section, then defrost the next ready for use. This way you’ll always have fresh bread when you need it.
Surprisingly, stuffing lettuce and similar leaves into the bottom of your fridge may not be the most effective storage solution.
Here they frequently wilt and wither, becoming unusable within days. Instead place your salad leaves into an airtight container such as a lunchbox or a salad bowl covered in plastic wrap.
Add a sheet or two of paper towel to the top of the leaves, to absorb any excess moisture, and then place the container into your fridge.
Do you ever fancy a nice slice of fresh lemon in your gin and tonic?
The problem is that many of us end up throwing away the rest of the lemon a few days later, a withered, dehydrated version of its former self.
You can keep sliced lemon fresh for up to a month by simply placing it in fresh water, sealing the top and placing it in the fridge.
Does your frozen food suffer from “freezer burn” which makes it look unsightly?
This problem occurs when air particles comes into contact with the food, freezing on impact and leading to damage. The solution is to store frozen food in airtight containers.
For best results use a vacuum sealer before popping food into the freezer, and be sure to always tightly roll opened bags after use to keep the air out.
Learn to Preserve Food
When you consider the food we throw away as a nation it is our fridges which are the worst culprits.
All those fresh fruits, vegetables and chilled meats are normally the first thing to turn.
But there are all sorts of ways you can extend the shelf life of such products.
If you find that your leeks are going limp, and your strawberries are going squashy, there are all manner of techniques you can apply to stop them ending up in the bin.
Start by chopping up your fruits and vegetables. The smaller the individual pieces are, the quicker they will actually freeze, so the fresher they’ll be.
While chopping, dispose of any “nasty” bits such as bruises, as these won’t store very well.
- Gather two pans. Fill one with boiling water from the kettle, and the other with iced water.
- Put the hot pan on the stove and bring it to rolling boil, then pop your chopped vegetables into the water.
- Leave to boil for around 2-3 minutes. This process, known as “blanching”, is important because it reduces the enzymes which causes vegetables to spoil.
- Drain the vegetables and then dump them into the pan of iced water to instantly stop them cooking.
- Once the chopped vegetables are cool to the touch they can be prepared for freezing.
Generally speaking most fruits can be frozen without the need for blanching.
Try applying ascorbic acid to stop fruits like apple from browning during the freezing process.
Once you have your fruits and vegetables ready for freezing, pat them dry with kitchen towel and lay them out on a tray lined with baking parchment. T
his serves two purposes; firstly, thinly layered food freezes much quicker, so your food remains fresh for longer.
Secondly, freezing in layers stops the food from “sticking together” in the freezer, so makes serving the food easier later on.
Place into the freezer overnight until properly frozen.
Lastly, gently remove the frozen fruits and vegetables from their trays and place into bags for proper storage.
Remember to squeeze out as much air as you can. This stops ice crystals forming in the bag, which can shorten the shelf life of such foods.
If you regularly find yourself freezing fresh food then investing in a vacuum sealer can make the process of removing air from the bags much easier and more effective.
Sliced food tends to dry much quicker and more efficiently than whole food items. Therefore unless you’re trying to dry something very small (such as peas) it is a good idea to thinly slice your food.
With your sliced produce you’re then ready to begin the dehydration process.
The goal is to gently heat the food at a temperature which will push out the moisture but prevent all-out cooking. Experts recommend temperatures of around 55’C for fruits and vegetables, and 75’C for meat.
If you plan to dry food on a regular basis then you’ll want to consider two possible options; drying racks that can be placed into the oven, or a proper food dehydrator.
Simply set the correct temperature, thinly lay out the food you want to dehydrate and leave it for the required time. Properly dried food should be crispy and brittle on the whole.
The following chart provides some guidance on the average drying times for different foods at the above temperatures:
Use The Whole Food Item
As a nation we throw away a huge amount of food that is edible – even delicious – simply because we assume that certain things can’t be eaten.
For example did you know that you can eat the leaves of carrots or broccoli?
So when you’re preparing for dinner don’t assume that all those “off cuts” from your chopping necessarily need to end up in the bin.
Consider the following suggestions for using more of what you’ve purchased:
Potato peelings are delicious and nutritious and can easily be turned into a tasty snack.
Simply drizzle them with cooking oil, spread them thinly on a baking tray and pop them in the oven at 200’C for around 20 minutes. Add a small dash of salt and you’ll end up with a plate of hot, crispy potato treats.
Its like making your own potato chips from the stuff that would have otherwise gone into the bin.
Believe it or not carrot tops can be turned into a delicious pesto. Simply blend the following ingredients together until they reach a creamy consistency:
- 30 grams of Parmesan
- 20 grams of carrot tops
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil
- 3 tablespoons of pine nuts
Check Your Trash
One problem of modern life is the “out of site, out of mind” attitude we have towards our garbage.
Once something goes into that bin we’re unlikely to ever consider it again.
But for anyone looking to reduce food waste your trash represents a fantastic opportunity.
Invest in clear bin liners and tale a few minutes each week when you’re putting the rubbish out to consider what you’ve thrown away this week.
When you start to develop an appreciation for what food you’re throwing out you can begin to remedy the situation.
You can buy less of that item, learn how to store it better or how to use it when it’s “on the turn”.
Adding a “what we threw away” section to your food journal therefore can make a beneficial source of information for reducing future food waste.
Learn How Long You Can Store Food
We’re all OK when an item of food has a date on it. Sure, you might miss the date – but at least you know when that item of food is ready to be disposed of.
But what about that chicken you roasted yesterday? How long do you have to use it up?
Or what about that bit of cheese with mold on it – can you just cut the mold off, or should you throw the whole thing away?
The truth is that you probably have far longer than you realize to use up these items that don’t with dates on them.
But how long…?
According to the US Food Safety office, fresh eggs can be kept for 3-5 weeks before they might need to be thrown away. Even hard boiled eggs can be kept for up to a week in the refrigerator.
If you’re in any doubt about whether eggs are safe to eat there’s a very simple test you can carry out. Simply fill a bowl with water and gently pop the eggs in.
Eggs which sink to the bottom are safe to eat. Eggs which sink, but stand up on end are still OK to eat but have the shortest shelf life left – so should be eaten soonest.
Eggs which float are off – and only then should be disposed of.
One of the most common sources of food waste are cooked meats – like the leftovers of that roast chicken on Sunday.
But how long can you really keep that chicken in the fridge before it becomes a danger to health?
The answer, according to the US government is 3-4 days – probably quite a bit longer than many people realize.
Don’t rely on the “best before” or “use by” date on fruits and vegetables.
They’re a reasonable indication, but the true shelf life will depend on how (and where) you store them.
For example leave potatoes sweating in a plastic bag in the summer and they may only last a matter of days.
However let the potatoes “breathe” by placing them in paper bags or storing them loose in a fruit bowl, and keep them cool, and they can survive for weeks or even months.
So don’t throw fruit and vegetables away just because they’ve passed the date on the pack – use your nose and your eyes to assess each item individually. If it looks and smells good enough to eat then you’re probably safe.
If you cheese develops mold before the use-by date don’t throw away the whole block. Experts recommend removing roughly an inch of the cheese around the mold; the rest should still be perfectly safe to eat.
Still Tasty is a great website which describes itself as “your ultimate shelf life guide”. It’s free to use and provides a huge database of food items and how long you can keep them for.
Save Your Leftovers
One of the most common sources of food waste is people cooking too much. But don’t let that food go to waste.
Either start preparing smaller meals, or otherwise save leftovers to consume the next day.
The US government claims that leftovers can be reheated a second time safely, potentially saving you the hassle of having to cook from scratch every night.
Start A Compost Bin
The purpose of this guide is of course to help you reduce your food waste as much as possible.
But even the most frugal cook will end up throwing the odd thing out – even if it is just a few nasty bruises they’ve cut off an apple.
Even here, though, there are ways to reduce the food that actually goes to landfill.
A better option for the environment – and your pocket – is to compost any plant matter that you’re throwing out.
This not only prevents the food going to the tip but can produce wonderfully rich compost for your garden in a very short space of time.
Almost any container can be used to make compost, though for best results consider investing in a proper compost bin.
Simply place the compost bin in a warm and sunny part of your garden (which speeds up the composting process) and mix two parts food waste and one part garden waste.
Soon enough you’ll have piles of delicious, crumbly, sweet-smelling compost to use around your garden.
Buy A Digester
Composting is a great idea for plant material but what about the other food you might need to dispose of, such as bread, meat or cake?
This food clearly cannot be put on a compost heap without attracting local vermin, not to mention filling your garden with unpleasant smells.
However there is a solution to even this food, in the form of a “digester”.
Digesters appear at face value to be quite similar to compost bins, but they have a few unique angles to them. Firstly, they don’t have ventilation holes; this means no smells for you, and nothing to attract vermin. They are also better insulated so get much, much hotter.
Rather than producing compost, the waste breaks down into a mixture of water and nutrients, which slowly drains out of the digester into the surrounding soil.
As you can see, even unwanted chicken can find a use, nourishing your lawn rather than ending up in landfill.
Donate To Others
If you’ve gone through all of the previous steps and you’re still unlucky enough to find yourself with leftover food, don’t go throwing it in the bin.
Instead consider donating it to other people or even to food banks who provide meals to the less wealthy.
There are a range of organizations and tools which make donating food simplicity itself.
Here are some great options:
A Thank You - And A Request
As you have seen in this guide, there are loads of ways to reduce your food waste. With a little planning and forethought we can all save money and help the environment too.
If you’ve read this far then I wanted to thank you for taking the time to learn how to waste less food – and I want to set you a challenge…
Don’t just sit on this information – go out and use it. Try out a few tips and see just how much you can reduce your food waste.
Just as importantly, please consider sharing this article with your friends, or mentioning it on discussion forums. The more people who know how to reduce their food waste, the better off we’ll all be.