In Australia we waste up to 30 per cent of the food we purchase. That’s a great waste of money, and it also has a negative impact on the environment. In NSW alone, the average household wastes up to 315 kilograms of food a year, at a cost of just over $1,000.
Every time we throw food into the bin we’re also discarding the vast amounts of resources, energy and water that it took to produce, process, store, refrigerate, transport and cook our food. So it makes perfect sense to become waste-wise in the kitchen and rethink the way we shop.
Much of the food wastage in our kitchens comes from simply buying too much or inadequate planning. To reduce the amount you throw away:
- Check what’s in your fridge before you go shopping and plan your next meals around what needs to be eaten. Don’t forget to look at the back of the shelves and in those hidden corners. Put things in the freezer if you aren’t able to eat them soon.
- Before you go shopping, think about what you will eat for the next few days and make a list of what you need. This will help you to buy only what you need—minimising food waste and saving you money.
- Buy in quantities that you will use.
- Keep a store of long-life basics in your cupboard—like pasta, rice, tinned fish or beans or frozen vegetables. This makes it easy to prepare a quick meal when you add a few fresh ingredients.
- Check use-by dates to make sure you will eat the product before it goes out of date.
- Remember to take your reusable shopping bags.
- Try to include local or organic food in your shopping. This helps reduce emissions from transport as well as the use of pesticides.
- When purchasing fish, choose species which are not overfished or threatened. Ask your seafood retailer for advice.
- Try to select food with minimal packaging to reduce waste to landfill.
Store food correctly
Different foods have different storage needs. Correct food storage has a huge impact on the freshness and shelf-life of food.
Keep your food fresh and avoid wasting energy by having your fridge set at the right temperature—below 5 degrees Celsius for the fridge and below –15 degrees Celsius for the freezer. Use a fridge thermometer to check.
Keep a range of air-tight plastic containers for storing various foods once they have been opened or cooked. Keep old margarine and takeaway food containers including their lids for this purpose.
Air-tight jars (like jam jars) are great for storing dry ingredients like flour or rice or leftover liquids.
Here are some tips for storing food:
- Most vegetables keep best in the refrigerator—in the vegetable keeper if you have one. Once cut, vegetables are safest stored in the fridge.
- Remove vegetables, herbs and mushrooms from plastic bags as they will ‘sweat’ and spoil.
- Store potatoes, onions and other root vegetables in a cool dry place. If your potatoes turn green, don’t eat them—put them in your compost or worm farm.
- Refrigerate raw meat immediately after purchase until cooked. Keep meat in a sealed container so it doesn’t contaminate other food. Store it in the coldest part of your fridge (usually next to the coils).
- Store opened pasta, rice and cereals and other dry ingredients in air-tight plastic containers.
For lots more tips on how to choose and store different foods visit Love Food Hate Waste.
Use your freezer
If you’re trying to reduce food waste, your freezer can be your best friend in the kitchen. Use it to store food that would otherwise go off.
- Use your freezer to store leftovers for a later lunch or single meal. Do not reheat more than once.
- If you’re cooking a curry or stew, cook extra and store some in the freezer for an easy meal later on. Remember to thaw items in your fridge overnight rather than in the microwave.
- If you are unlikely to use a whole loaf of bread before it goes stale, break it up into portions and store it in the freezer.
- Lots of fruits and vegetables are suitable to freeze. You can blend frozen strawberries or raspberries into a smoothie or use it as a topping. Freeze bananas that were getting very ripe, these are great for baking.
- You can even freeze some cheeses like parmesan or gruyere.
- Freeze liquids like stock and even wine in small containers or in an ice cube tray and use as needed in cooking.
Cook what you need
Try to cook only as much as will be eaten. A portion guide may help you to work out how much to cook for each person.
If you have extras every night, adjust the amount you cook.
Get inventive with leftovers and put even small leftovers in the fridge or freezer for a handy lunch or snack. There are plenty of websites with new and traditional recipes that make use of leftovers to provide nutritious and delicious meals.
- Keep leftovers for lunches or snacks, or as part of another meal.
- If you can’t use leftovers straight away, freeze them for later. Don’t reheat leftover food more than once.
- Be creative and invent your own recipes from what’s in the fridge. You can search for recipes online by key ingredients.
- Keep scraps for pets. Make sure the food is suitable—for example, onions are toxic to dogs.
- Chickens will dine on a variety of kitchen scraps. They’ll also provide fresh eggs, pest control and garden services.
Refuse and re-use packaging
The majority of packaging that comes with your food can be avoided or recycled. Here are some ways you can reduce or re-use packaging:
- Refuse excess packaging. Look out for products with less outer materials.
- Fruit and vegetables come in their own packaging and rarely need to be put into separate plastic bags for purchase.
- Recycle packaging where you can and re-use containers. Plastic take-away containers from restaurants can be used for storage or as a lunch box, and margarine containers are great for paint holders if you’re renovating.
- Take your own bags when you go shopping.
- Pass on egg containers to friends or colleagues who keep chickens. The cardboard can also be ripped up and used in your compost.
- Plastics, tins, paper and cardboard and drink containers can all go in your home recycle bin. Check our recycling guide and make sure you know what your local council does and does not collect. Bottles can be recycled and don’t forget the corks from your wine bottles.
- Cork is a valuable natural resource. Find out where you can recycle cork stoppers from wine bottles through Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou.
Compost food scraps
You can turn food scraps into compost for your garden to reduce waste and return nutrients to your soil.
You can compost most types of food waste including:
- uncooked vegetables and scraps
- tea bags
- crushed egg shells
- coffee grounds
- Non-food materials such as plants and flowers, grass clippings, leaves and shredded paper, cardboard or pet and human hair.
It is not recommended that you put the following items in your compost as they do not break down quickly and can attract animals or vermin:
- dairy products
- meat or fish
- lemon or orange peels.
Keep a small container for food scraps handy in your kitchen and empty it regularly into your compost bin.
Cut up large pieces of food scraps as they will break down more quickly.
Start a worm farm
You can also recycle food waste by turning it into rich fertiliser through a worm farm. Worm liquid and castings are excellent for pot plants or can be given to neighbours with gardens in exchange for fresh vegetables.
You can have a worm farm even if you live in an apartment and don’t have much space. There are clever worm farm kits that fit under your sink or on your verandah so they’re easy, space-efficient and clean.
While worms aren’t fussy eaters, you shouldn't don’t feed them:
- dairy produce like butter or cheese
- meat or fish
- fat or bones
- onions or garlic.
Grow your own food
Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a great way of reducing some of the harmful gases produced by processing and transporting food. Not only is growing your own food rewarding—it tastes better too.
Even if you don’t have a garden, it’s easy to grow a few fresh herbs or salad greens in a pot on your verandah or kitchen so they’re always on hand. Instead of buying costly bunches of herbs at the supermarket that you may not use, you can snip off just a few leaves as you need them. The flavour of fresh herbs will give your meals a lift.
Consider using organic principles for the food you grow.