Over the last year, attitudes and behaviours towards food waste in the UK have seen a positive shift. As coronavirus restrictions forced people indoors, and the threat of the virus limited trips to the supermarket, people planned more of their meals, were more likely to check their cupboards before going shopping and cooked more resourcefully.
According to data collected by Wrap, a UK-based charity that is trying to reform the global food system, self-reported food waste fell to 18.7 per cent in November 2020, a decrease from 24.1 per cent reported a year prior.
Despite this marked improvement, the issue of food waste is still significantly contributing to the climate crisis. In the UK, approximately 6.6 million tonnes of household food is thrown away each year, of which almost 75 per cent could have been eaten. The food items most disposed of are potatoes, bread, milk, bananas and salad.
Some local councils have introduced food bins where the collected waste is sent to an anaerobic digestion plant, microorganisms break down the food and produce biogas which is used to generate electricity. However, much of the UK’s food waste still ends up in landfills, where it rots and produces methane, a gas that has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
While Wrap predicts that global food waste produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all commercial flights, its research found that if every UK household stopped wasting food for one day, it could have the same benefits for the environment as planting 640,000 trees.
“Climate change is happening now and is the greatest threat to our planet, and our future generations. We must act, fast. Wasting food has a huge contribution to global emissions but is often overlooked or ignored.
“We are so used to wasting food that we’ve forgotten its value, and the cost that feeding our growing global population has on the natural world,” Marcus Gover, CEO of the charity said.
In a bid to improve public awareness of the issue, food waste charity FareShare has partnered with footballer Marcus Rashford and chef Tom Kerridge to produce a new recipe page.
The hub, launched on 22 July, features a variety of recipes to help families make cost-effective meals using leftover food items which are commonly thrown away including an “odds and ends tuna salad” and an omelette that can be made in the kettle.
Aside from getting creative with leftovers and scraps, there are also numerous ways to reuse food peelings to get more bang for your buck. Watermelon and banana peels can be repurposed into a tasty curry (thank you Nigella Lawson and TikTok), while sprouts can be used to regrow the vegetables they came from.
Here is a selection of tips to help you spend less at the supermarket and make the food you do buy go further.
Grow your own
A huge variety of vegetables we eat and dispose of every day can – with a bit of persistence – be regrown from our kitchens. For example, the core of the romaine lettuce, which is often discarded, can produce new leaves within weeks. Simply place the core in a jar that is filled with around a half-inch of water and leave it somewhere it will be exposed to direct sunlight, ensuring that you change the water daily. After a few weeks, it should begin to sprout new leaves.
The same can be done with spring onions. The ends of the bulbs, where the roots grow, are usually chopped off and put in the bin. Instead, stand the bulbs root-end down in a small jar and add just enough water to cover the roots. Leave them somewhere the sun will get them, making sure that the water does not dry out. Within a few days, green shoots should start to emerge from the tops.
This method can also be used to regrow the roots of other fruits and vegetables, which can then be planted in soil. Carrot tops placed in some water and left in a well-lit area for a few days should sprout new shoots. Once they do, the tops can be planted in soil carefully so that the shoots aren’t covered, from which new carrots will grow.
There are several steps you can take to get more organised before doing a food shop which could reduce the amount of food that gets thrown away at the end of a week.
One helpful tip is to create an inventory of the perishable ingredients in your cupboards, such as onions and garlic. This way, you can more easily keep on top of how much you have of something so that you don’t end up buying items you don’t need.
Creating a weekly meal plan before going grocery shopping can also minimise food waste as it gives you a guideline of how much food you will need. If you know which meals are coming up, and you buy all the ingredients for them in one shop, it means fewer trips to the supermarket throughout the week and fewer impulsive purchases.
Know how to make your food last longer
Knowing the difference between a best before date and use before date could drastically reduce the amount of food we are throwing away. A best before date is an indication of product quality; that bread is still safe to eat, but it may not be as soft as the first day you bought it which may not make a difference if it’s being turned into toast, bread and butter pudding or a bruschetta
However, once food has gone past its use-by date, it is no longer safe to eat and should be discarded. Many people don’t often check these carefully, and much of our food is mistakenly thrown away after the best before date.
Sophie Peach, the owner of the Sustainably Lazy blog, recommends transferring your store-bought food into Tupperware or jars because “then you will become used to looking at food to see if it is good enough to eat”.
Potatoes are the food item most thrown away in the UK, with 4.4 million spuds estimated to be wasted by British households every day
Another of her helpful tips is to store newer food at the back of your fridge. As food items can easily get hidden behind each other in the fridge, it’s easy to forget what you have when you can’t see it. The food you bought most recently is clearer in your mind so by bringing older food that needs to be eaten to the front, you’re less likely to forget it and less chance it will be wasted.
Potatoes are the food item most thrown away in the UK, with 4.4 million spuds estimated to be wasted by British households every day, according to charity UKHarvest. To keep your potatoes fresh for as long as possible, make sure you store them in a cool and dark place.
If you have excess potatoes you know you won’t use before they go back, they can also be pre-prepared for quick roast potatoes. Simply cut and parboil them and freeze them in portions. They can then be roasted directly from frozen for your next Sunday lunch.
Scraps can also make for tasty stock. Savvy cooks swear by always keeping a “scrap bag in the freezer”. As the name suggests, this is a place to throw all of your scraps such as carrot peels, herb stems as well as onion and celery ends.
Once the scrap bag starts to fill, these can all be added to a pot. Cover in plenty of water and simmer for a few hours on low heat. After some time, pour the stock through a fine-mesh strainer. This can then be used as a base for soups and sauces. Either keep in the fridge if you know you will be using it in a few days, or pour it into an ice cube rack to keep in the freezer.
Celebrity chefs Nigella Lawson and Nadiya Hussain are big fans of making food scraps go the extra mile.
Lawson’s personal favourite is a banana peel curry. Although the combination of fruit peel and spices may sound bizarre, she says the fruit peels have a “velvety texture” that perfectly soak up the spices of the curry.
Read here to see how Lawson makes her cauliflower and banana peel curry.
The peels of bananas aren’t the only kind used in curries. Watermelon rind curry is traditionally eaten in some parts of India. One viral TikTok, posted by user “rootedinspice” shows how the skin of the fruit can be made into a tasty dinner.
The dish, called ‘tarboosh ki sabji’, involves cutting the rind into small cubes and boiling in water for 20 minutes.
Once boiled, in a pan toast some cumin seeds, turmeric, coriander and red chilli powder and asafoetida, a powdered Indian spice that comes from a variety of fennel. Then add your rinds in, stir for a few minutes and finish with dried mango powder and salt.