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Stop Food Waste: A Climate Story

It’s easy to think of climate change as an oil problem. A big industry, fossil fuel burning, occasionally plastic polluting problem. But it runs so much deeper than that. Climate change and it’s superior sibling ‘Sustainability’ cross almost every aspect of our lives. Food being a pretty big one. How we produce it, the packaging it comes in, what we choose to eat and how we get rid of any waste, all play a part in the climate story.


One way for us to take action as individuals (and businesses if you run a cafetiere in your office!) is to reduce food waste. And, like a lot of actions – it even has it’s own day. Stop Food Waste Day is the largest single day of action in the fight against global food waste.

 

WHY IS FOOD WASTE A PROBLEM?


Wasted food = A climate change creator. Not only is it a waste of resources and a global travesty that we choose to throw food away over feeding our neighbours but we’re also adding to the climate chaos. As food decomposes it releases greenhouse gases, primarily methane, which is 25 times more potent than Carbon Dioxide. If this annual wasted food were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emission producing country in the world! So now you see why food waste is such a big issue. Not only could we be feeding around 870 million people with that food but we could also be having a huge positive impact on emissions.


Yellow and orange peppers piled up

Food waste isn’t simply the stuff we chuck in the bin when it’s past it’s best, or the leftovers which aren’t quite enough for a full meal. Food waste starts at the farm and goes all the way to your potato peelings. 33% of all food produced is wasted every year! That’s around £628 million worth of food annually. Not only that but 15% is wasted before it even leaves the farm.


 

HOW IS FOOD WASTED?

Unrealistic standards. 

Up to two-fifths of a crop can be wasted by the standards placed on farmers for ‘perfect’ fruit and veg. Retailers specify shape, size, colour and lack of blemishes. The reality is these make no positive difference to the taste or safety of the food we eat, it is simply about looks.


Poor storage and transport conditions. 

Whether this is at home or before we purchase the produce. Another huge area of waste is from the poor storage and transport of food. From cracked eggs to mouldy strawberries, we lose a huge quantity of food every year in this category.


Excess.

This is food which has been bought by the consumer and never eaten. In the UK we waste tonnes of food every year because we bought to much or didn’t fancy what we had in the fridge.


Waste. 

The last stop on the waste journey, and a tale of two halves. There’s actual waste – potato peelings, bones, banana skin etc. Then there’s the food which gets thrown out after we’ve cooked it/prepared it; the few bits of spaghetti because we cooked too much, the portion of pie which ‘isn’t worth keeping’ and the bit of meat we forgot to put in the fridge so ‘better not risk it’.  

 

HOW CAN YOU HELP STOP FOOD WASTE?

Buy wonky veg and cheaper veg. Some retailers are beginning to sell some ‘less beautiful’ produce. If we all make a concerted effort to vote with our feet and only buy the wonky produce, supermarkets will begin to understand that we don’t mind if our bananas don’t have a perfect curve or that our peppers needn’t be exactly 10cm long with an unnaturally shiny skin! If we can persuade retailers to stop putting these unnatural standards on farmers we'll very quickly have a lot less waste and an additional knock on will be the need for LESS agricultural land.


Buy what you need. This might seem obvious but only buy what you need. Plan your meals for the week and always have a day without anything planned to use up what’s left in the fridge. Always check your stocks before you go to the shop to avoid building a leaning tower of pasta in your pantry, and make sure you include any left over ingredients in one of your meals.


Store Food Properly. Ensure your fridge and freezer are at the correct temperature. Make sure your cupboards with food in don’t get too hot. Don’t store food on open shelves in the sun. Always read the label if there is one and store the food as directed.


Check dates. Always keep an eye on dates on pantry items, dairy, meat and fish. Move items to the front which have shorter shelf lives. If something is going to go out of date before you can eat it, consider how you could preserve it longer. Freezing is often your easiest option – can it be frozen as is, or would it be better if you blended it into a soup or made a pie?


Waste not want not. If you’ve followed a recipe, it’s highly likely you’ll have some odd bits of produce left over. Rather than let these go to waste, consider how you could include them in another recipe. If you’re struggling for ideas sites like Recipes (stopfoodwasteday.com) and delicious. magazine - 1000s of Recipes and Cooking Ideas, from Quick Midweek Meals to Weekend Feasts (deliciousmagazine.co.uk) are a great place for ideas.


Some quick tips:

  • Leftover veg can be made into a soup or stir-fry.

  • Lentils and quinoa can be added to a chilli or bolognaise.

  • Bread can be whizzed into breadcrumbs and stored in the freezer or if it’s still soft enough freeze the slices, which can be put straight in the toaster.

  • Herbs can the chopped into freezer bags and frozen or placed in olive oil.

  • Left over roast meat is perfect for popping in a pie or having with a baked potato.

  • Turn cold pasta into a salad for lunch the following day.

  • Did you know you can freeze cheese! Don’t let it go to waste – freeze it, add it to soups, grate some onto an omelette or stir it through some pasta.

A fridge with sustainable storage and lots of fruit and vegetables

You might also have leftovers – yum! Rather than throw them away think about how you can repurpose them, or store them for the next day.


Turn a small amount of left over bolognaise into a chilli by adding some beans and spices, mix leftover roasted veg with some tinned tomatoes for a take on ratatouille and whiz left over hummus with some olive oil and lemon to make a tasty salad dressing.


Invest in some sustainable storage and take that leftover curry to work. Finally, don’t be afraid to have a bit of a mixed up meal, with a variety of leftovers on one day if you’ve got a selection of small bits left.


Dispose responsibly. When you do have waste, dispose of it responsibly, this can maximise the amount of waste that can be recycled and minimise the emissions produced.


  • Ensure recyclable packaging if free from any organic material before you place it in the recycling bin.

  • Use a green waste bin if it’s available in your area.

  • Compost at home if it’s an option, not only will you be getting rid of your green waste responsibly but you’ll be creating happy, healthy soil for your garden too.

 

For more information on farming food waste read this WWF report: Hidden waste: The roadmap to tracking and reducing food surplus and waste on UK farms (wwf.org.uk) 


Want to learn how to make an even bigger impact - join one of our Carbon Literacy Courses.



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