We all understand that it's not good to waste food, but did you know that cutting down on how much food you waste is a great way to help the environment. While nobody intends to waste food, often busy lives and changing plans mean that food, bought with good intentions, doesn’t get eaten. In fact, it is estimated that the average Irish household throws out €400 – €1000 worth of food every year!
On top of the financial cost, when food is wasted so too are the resources used to produce, transport and supply it. This means that food waste causes unnecessary carbon emissions, and it is currently one of the leading drivers of climate change.
The good news is that reducing our food waste isn’t actually too difficult, once you know-how. You don’t need to invest in any fancy equipment or give up the foods you love. Here are seven simple things you can do to cut down on your food waste to enjoy a healthier pocket and a healthier planet.
1. Make a shopping list
No matter what your lifestyle, there are little steps you can take to be more aware of the food you purchase. Writing a good old fashioned shopping list is a sure way to prevent food waste and save money. Before doing so, take some time to look at the food you already have and plan your shopping accordingly. Keep a notebook or piece of paper somewhere handy in the kitchen, using your phone works well too.
As you use something up, make a note of it on your shopping list. When it comes to doing the shop, you’ll already have your list written. If shopping lists are really not for you, take a 'shelfie’! Taking a photo of what you have in your fridge, freezer or cupboard before you leave the house will help remind you of what you already have and what you need.
2. Get savvy with your freezer
Making sure you correctly store your food means that, when life gets in the way, your food can get another chance. Using the freezer is one of the simplest ways to prevent food from going to waste. From batch cooked dinners and portions of soup to chopped vegetables and even eggs (without the shells), there’s almost no limit to the ways you can use the freezer to reduce waste.
Bread is one of the most commonly wasted foods in Ireland so if you sometimes struggle to finish a loaf, pop some slices in the freezer for toasting later. Buying pre-frozen vegetables is another great use of the freezer - it means you can cook the right portions without any going to waste. This is ideal for vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and squash that, when fresh, can be hard to use up. Labeling food before freezing is a great idea as you avoid ending up with Unidentified Frozen Objects!
3. Love your lunchbox
Making your own lunch saves food waste and money. You don’t have to make something especially for lunch every day, leftovers from dinner often make the perfect lunch. If you have a few carrots that’ll never get as far as the pot, chop them up and have them with something like hummus for a healthy lunchtime snack.
Storing chopped carrots in a glass or jar of water in the fridge will keep them fresh for longer. While it takes a bit of forward planning, packing lunch also helps you make healthier choices and can avoid unnecessary packaging from pre-prepared, shop-bought meals.
4. Operate a self-serve system
If you are feeding a family or group, serve food in dishes in the centre of the table and let people take what they need. Then at the end of the meal, whatever is left can be stored and served again. We're obviously much more inclined to save leftovers from a serving dish than from someone's plate. You can also work this system straight from the pots and save the extra washing up!
5. Choose foods that are local and in season
Choosing foods while they are in season reduces the resources needed to grow, transport and store them. It reduces supply chain food waste and the overall carbon footprint. Without the need for long term storage or forced growth, buying seasonal usually means buying food at its tastiest! What’s more, buying locally produced food keeps money in your community, supporting rural Irish businesses.
6. Get composting
Composting at home or using a brown bin means that food that ends up being wasted, or unavoidable food waste like orange peels, is still put to some good use. Home composting has the added benefit of providing you with an amazing free resource for your garden. If that's not for you, make sure to segregate food waste into the brown bin to ensure it goes to a commercial composting or anaerobic digestion facility. Here it will be made into soil improvers or renewable energy.
7. Be a Food Waste Champion!
It can be challenging to fight food waste solo. Do what you can to get others involved. If you're living in a house-share or if you’ve got a shared canteen at work, create a 'Please Eat Me' spot in the kitchen to make it easy to share food that may not be eaten.
If you’re eating out and have leftovers, don’t be afraid to ask to take it away for later. Talk to friends and family about the issue. The more people that start thinking about their food waste, the better for our planet.
The EPA’s Stop Food Waste programme is the national food waste prevention campaign, providing guidance and resources to help you reduce your food waste. For more on how to make the most of your food, visit the A-Z of Foods here.