Our world is so off balance when it comes to food. Parts of our planet starve, while others toss away masses of perfectly good food. You might not think that tossing your leftover dinner in the bin matters, but reducing your food waste is one of the most important things you can do for the planet. Reducing the amount of food you toss away will also save you some cash.
According to the OzHarvest charity in Australia each year:
- 4 million tonnes of food ends up as landfill, enough to fill 8,400 Olympic sized swimming pools.
- One in five shopping bags end up in the bin = $3,800 worth of groceries per household each year.
- 35% of the average household bin is food waste.
- Nearly three million people are living in poverty, one quarter are children.
- Over 644,000 people now receive food relief each month, one third are children.
The good news is that food waste is on of the easiest things to reduce and deal with.
I know at Hub Central we didn’t used to think twice about tossing food scraps in the bin, thinking that as it was organic matter it would just rot down in landfill. However, when organic material such as food scraps and green waste are put in landfill, they are usually compacted down and covered. This takes away access to oxygen and means the waste is broken down in an anaerobic process (without oxygen). Eventually this releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The implications for global warming and climate change are enormous. Methane is also a flammable gas that can become dangerous if allowed to build up in concentration.
Composting your food scraps and green waste in a compost bin – either at home, in a community garden, or using something like ShareWaste, or the council green bin programme, eliminates many of these problems.
When it comes to the inbalance of food security across the planet, OzHarvest say that:
- There is enough food produced in the world to feed everyone.
- One third of all food produced is lost or wasted –around 1.3 billion tonnes of food –costing the global economy close to $940 billion each year.
- One in nine people do not have enough food to eat, that’s 793 million people who are undernourished.
- If one quarter of the food currently lost or wasted could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people.
- Almost half of all fruit and vegetables produced are wasted (that’s 3.7 trillion apples).
- 8% of greenhouse gases heating the planet are caused by food waste.
- If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after USA and China.
- Eliminating global food waste would save 4.4 million tonnes of C02 a year, the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road.
- Throwing away one burger wastes the same amount of water as a 90-minute shower.
How You Can Reduce Your Food Waste
We seem to have lost touch with where our food comes from – the energy it takes to grow and harvest it, the way it finds its way to your table, and the cycles of the seasons. In the past we would grow and hunt all of our own food, and eat what was available and in season. Food would come as it came – there would be blemishes and damage, but you ate it anyway. There were gluts of certain foods, with a shortage of others. You might be overloaded with apples for example and so a variety of apple recipes were created. When the seasons changed you would turn to stone fruits. We appreciated food more because there were lots of times where we didn’t have it, and we used all of it.
Now you can get whatever food you want, whenever you want. The idea that food such as fruit should be “perfect” or thrown out, is part of the problem. I once saw grapes from America in the supermarket and loudly voiced my distress at this (to nobody in particular). A rather large man turned around and started arguing with me, yelling at me that some people might want red grapes, they might NEED them, he shouted at me. Excuse me, I said, this is one of the biggest issues we face – WAIT for the red grapes, they will be in season here soon enough. Giving red grapes a business class seat on a plane all the way from the USA is not my idea of a healthy diet or a healthy planet.
More recently I was shopping for pears, being in season at the time and particularly delicious. Two young men were hovering over them, tutting and nodding their heads across the perfect pears, just ripe for the eating, discussing which ones to take off the shelf. I told them these were the exact ones I was looking for! “They are perfect”, I said. “Oh but they are a bit soft”, one replied…I have to wonder what they did with those beautiful pears, which by the way, were divine. Waste has a deep long-term impact on our planet and our health, so the question is how can we manage our waste better? Our consumer driven society and a love of convenience makes it very hard to become waste free, but there are plenty of steps you can take to be as waste free as possible.
Write a List
Do you write a weekly meal plan? How about a shopping list? This can really help in reducing food waste and saving cash. It also helps stay organised in a busy household. If you work out what you will have for your main meals for the week, write a list and then stick to it, not only will you stay in budget, but you will have healthier meals. You will also avoid impulse buying, or buying things that end up wasted. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of quick buying. In reality, you can usually cobble something together with the staples you have at home – if you have planned it out, and thought about what makes up a healthy meal.
It is easy to get distracted by sale items when you are in the supermarket, or be tempted by what you see. But if you can stick to a meal plan and a shopping list, it really helps. You can use pen and paper, or one of the many apps available now to help you plan. It works best if you write down the meal plan first, so you know what ingredients you need to buy. You can use a whiteboard or blackboard, your notes app on your phone, a document on your computer or paper and pen.
Sit down and plan the next week of meals and then write a shopping list to match it
- Remember to include plenty of fruit and vegetables – buy as fresh and as whole as possible and reduce the processed foods you buy
- Consider school lunches and snacks
- Buy some things in bulk if you plan to make a meal like a soup so you can freeze some for later use. Doing this also helps reduce food waste
- By creating a detailed list, you will be less likely to be tempted by specials, deals and impulse purchases at the shops
- A good shopping list will take into account what you already have in your fridge, freezer and cupboard and will help you stay focused on what you need at the supermarket. So have a nosey around in your current food stocks and then work from there
- Consider quantities and who will be eating at your place this week
- Involve the whole family in the process to keep the kids engaged in healthy eating and teach them this important life skill
Buy local food
The Sustainable Table website states that up to 60% of our eco-footprint is embodied in the food that we buy. “The environmental issues of today are all linked to our food system. Without a sustainable environment we will not have enough food to feed ourselves, and without a sustainable food system we will not have a natural environment to support our food-growing capacity.”
Without a direct connection to the produce you are buying, you lose touch with the people who are growing your food, and the energy involved. In days gone past, our grandparents didn’t waste anything. I remember my mother and grandmother using the dripping from the roast pan, the bones from the roast to make soup stock and the entire chop in a chop stew. Vegetables were used at their end of life in soups and stews. A backyard vegetable garden and fruit trees were standard. Gluts of fruit were made into jams and pies, and stewed and frozen for later use. You would never consider buying food from overseas and local produce was what it was all about. Choose locally grown food wherever possible, visit the organic markets, fruit and vegetable shops and local growers. Get to know the food suppliers in your local area so that you can understand where things come from. Get skilled in reading labels to see where food in the supermarket has come from.
Grow some of your own food
It is so very satisfying to pick something from your garden and then bring it to your table for dinner. It can be as simple as some basil or a lettuce grown in a pot. All of us can grow something, even if you only have a windowsill in the kitchen to grow some herbs. Community gardens are also a great way to grow and share local produce if you can’t grow anything at home. Head here to locate your nearest garden.
Here are some tips for container gardening
- You don’t need a lot of space to start growing your own herbs and vegetables. Just about anything that can be grown in a garden can be grown in a container or pot. It is lovely to include something you have grown yourself in your evening meal. If you want an edible garden but lack the space, container gardening is the perfect way to grow your own food.
- The best way is to use containers which you have reused or recycled. The most important thing is to make sure the container or pot has drainage holes at the bottom to allow the water to drain and prevent the roots from rotting. You may need to drill or cut a few holes at the bottom of your container if it does not have any.
- Container gardening is great for unleashing your creativity. You can grow herbs and veggies in old colanders, hanging baskets, crates, buckets, and boots, anything you want really. Look for old buckets or container ideas in the op shop and your own shed. Think outside the square and get creative!
- Make sure you use the right size pot. If you grow beetroot and carrots, you will need deeper containers and pots than if growing lettuces, kale or Asian cabbages for example.
- Use a saucer or a tray underneath your pots/containers if planted indoors, to prevent water from running everywhere. You can also use a saucer for outdoor pots on a deck or porch. Depending on the container, you can use a horticultural liner to hold the potting mix in.
- A combination of organic potting mix with organic fertiliser (chicken manure, blood and bone, seaweed fertiliser or worm juice) is great for feeding vegetables and herbs as they need plenty of regular food to be able to create great food for you! You can also add coconut coir to help with water retention. Feed your potted crops weekly or fortnightly with an organic seaweed liquid fertilizer.
- Make sure you water regularly, as the soil will dry out quicker in pots and containers. Water well – the water should pour out of the pots, and the soil should feel soaked. Water levels can be a bit tricky to judge, but you can use the finger rule: stick your finger into the soil about 1 to 2 cm deep, if the potting mix feels dry, then your plant needs watering. Mulching will help retain water (spread mulch like sugarcane mulch or pea straw on the potting mix surface).
- Sun: 3 to 6 hours a day is good enough for most of the leafy greens/6 hours plus is perfect for your fruit producing crops such as tomatoes, zucchinis.
Ideas for preventing food waste include:
• Freezing the leftover vegetables, ends of vegetables and skins and use later for a stock or putting them in the compost
• Plan your meals – buy only what you need when it is fresh and in season
• Grow your own – no need for packaging and less waste, no need for food miles and you know your food, where it came from, how it grew and what is in it
• Compost all of your food scraps that can not be used, and put this back into your garden
• If you don’t have a space for a garden, try a community garden or talk to your neighbours about sharing a space, use a container – think outside the square!
Special Bonus for my book!
If you would like to order my book, Healthy Planet, Healthy People, Healthy Home, which has a section on sustainable food, gardening and cooking – we are offering a spring special deal on the print/ebook package – just head here and use the code “Springsprung” to get 20% off the package – the ebook contains bonus content from the amazing Maggie Beer.
Some Of What You Will Get From The Book – see more here
Stories from the various contributors and myself, about our journey to a more sustainable home we love
- Learn more about sustainable building and design
- Get the basics on why you should have a home garden, how to start composting and why your food source and waste is so critical to our planet
- Learn some great DIY, upcycling and craft projects
- Improve your health and wellbeing, and the health of our planet, through the growing, cooking and eating of food and grab a few old fashioned, yummy recipes from our contributors
- Create a more sustainable home you can love, the way you like to decorate, with the things you like to have around you – making it your own, not something out of a magazine
- Have fun and see the impact you can have on the planet, in making, creating and doing it yourself
- Take a peek into some beautiful homes with house tours, to see what a sustainable home might look like