Food waste is as damaging environmentally as plastic waste, due to the squandering of energy and resources involved in growing and distributing the food in the first place.
Most food waste comes from individual households, so how can you cut down the amount that ends up in the bin?
We’ve rounded up some simple switches you can make to get on top of food waste at home – from organising your kitchen effectively to easy ways to use up leftovers.
Gut health myths busted – we reveal what really works for improving your gut health, and why it matters
1 – Organise your kitchen
An organised kitchen is a key starting point to creating a zero waste lifestyle.
Overstuffed cupboards or fridges with older foods languishing at the back are a recipe for discovering out-of-date horrors hidden away down the line.
Here’s how to manage your kitchen:
Rotate goods when new items come in. Zero waste chef Martyn Odell, of The Lagom Chef, says: ‘Just like in restaurants and shops, put the new stuff at the back and move the older stuff to the front.’ This ensures nothing is lurking at the back of the cupboards, fridges or freezers.
Create an ‘eat me first’ box or shelf in your fridge. Jen Gale, who runs community interest company Sustainable(Ish), says: ‘Move everything that’s approaching its use by date here so everyone knows that this needs eating first.’
Audit your food. Make a habit of going through kitchen cupboards and fridges twice a week, making a note of food items that will go off soon. Combine it with other weekly chores so you don’t forget.
2 – Know the foods that go off first
Keep an eye on the perishable items (such as meats, fish and salads), because that’s the stuff that will go off more quickly. Your non-perishable items don’t need as much attention.
Martyn says: ‘This will take away the stress of using all of your ingredients and draw attention to the fresh items which will end up in the bin faster than, say, a bag of rice.’
‘Best before’ refers to quality, so after that date it’ll be safe but might not be at its best.
‘Use by’ refers to safety so after this date you mustn’t eat it, even if it looks and smells OK.
3 – Get your portion sizes sorted
When the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) asked people why their food ends up in the bin, 25% said it was down to cooking and serving too much – a matter that comes down to understanding portion sizes.
Helen White, specialist advisor on household food waste at WRAP, says: ‘Try to find your own hacks for measuring food that work for you. For example, a standard builder’s mug can be used as a measure for rice: a mugful of dried rice should serve four adults when cooked.’
The Love Food Hate Waste website has a portion planner which is a useful starting point.
Confused by portion sizes?– we take a look at unrealistic packaging portion guides
4 – Plan ahead
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says we waste 30% of the food we buy, which it likens to taking £100 out of the bank and putting £30 straight into the bin.
Keeping a meal planner will help you write a shopping list to stick to, thereby saving money and generating less waste by only buying what you’ve planned for.
Jen Gale says: ‘A meal planner will also help you save time as you can factor in a spot of batch cooking in days when you have more time.’
5 – Get creative
Martyn Odell says: ‘This may seem like common sense, but zero waste involves actually cooking the food you have bought. A massive 41% of waste is created because food wasn’t used in time.’
This is where good menu planning comes in. You only need to rotate a handful of dishes throughout the week to use up the ingredients you’ve bought.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with adapting a simple dish. For example, you can change a classic bolognese sauce into a chilli con carne, meat pie or even a lasagne.
This can help to change up leftovers so you don’t get tired of one meal, or can incorporate an ingredient you know needs to be used up – for example grating a spare carrot or courgette to bulk out a tomato-based sauce.
Another great option for leftover odds and ends, particularly fruit and veg, is making up a quick batch of soup, or a smoothie.
- Pressure cooker buying guide – get the lowdown on stovetop vs electric options
- Soup maker buying guide – how to pick the best soup maker
6 – Freeze what you can’t eat
Jen Gale says: ‘Most things can be frozen, so if you’ve got leftovers, or things approaching their use by date, whack them in the freezer. Don’t forget to label them so you know how long they’ve been there.’
- Divide up bigger dishes so you can easily dig out a couple of portions at a time.
- Grate hard cheese before it is frozen and give defrosted skimmed milk a good shake before using it.
- Eggs cope well in the freezer with a bit of prep. Beat until blended, pour them into freezer containers and label the containers with how many eggs are in each before freezing.
For more freezing tips, see our guide to surprising foods you can’t freeze and a reminder of what you can.
7 – Get composting
Many councils collect household food waste, but the other option, if you have the space for it, is to learn how to compost at home.
There are various options for home composting in addition to conventional composting. These include solar digesting (which is part-buried in the ground and breaks down even cooked food), wormeries, and bokashi bins where the food waste is fermented first before being composted.
When you compost at home you stop waste going to landfill and end up with a soil improver to benefit your garden.
Best and worst compost bins – see our guide to the best options for home composting
8 – Make sustainable kitchen swaps
There are lots of small lifestyle tweaks you can make that can help add up to big zero waste gains for the environment – and many of these can be implemented in the kitchen.
Here are some disposable kitchen items you can swap in for reusable ones:
- Plastic straw – invest in some metal ones
- Kitchen roll – use old tea towels or T-shirts cut into squares to mop up spills, and then wash to reuse
- Paper napkins – buy in some cloth ones that are washable
- Plastic sponges – look for scourers made from hemp, loofah or recycled foam
- Cling film – there’s an increasing range of options, including wax wraps, cloth covers and silicone lids. Compostable cling film is also available
- Sandwich and freezer bags – reusable silicone bags and glass/steel containers, or recycled glass food jars are all good alternatives. Cotton, hemp or linen bags are good for storing veg.
9 – Buy to last
Making high-quality choices next time you need to buy something, whether it’s for knives that can be re-sharpened, tableware made from strengthened glass or appliances that have longer warranties and are built to last, are all good choices to reduce waste in your kitchen.
Jen Gale advocates buying to last or choosing secondhand where possible. ‘It will save you some money, and it will save the resources needed to make a new one’, she says.
Check our guide to the most reliable kitchen gadgets for the brands that stand the test of time.
10 – Check your fridge temperature
Keeping your fridge at the correct temperature will help keep your food fresh.
WRAP says the average UK fridge temperature is set way too hot at 7°C – setting it at below 5°C could extend the life of milk and other perishable items.
Zero waste ideas from the professionals
We asked chefs for their top tips on reducing food waste. Here’s what they suggested:
Use leftover citrus peel to make your own limoncello
Ollie Hunter, Masterchef semi-finalist 2013 and author of ’30 Easy Ways to Join The Food Revolution’, suggests re-purposing citrus peel to make your own liqueur if you have leftovers from recipes that require the juice.
He says you can use the zest to make limoncello or orangecello. Simply add to a Kilner jar: one litre of vodka, 300g organic caster sugar, and add your peelings whenever you like. Store for one or two months, giving a shake every now and again to ensure the sugar is dissolved. Drain your new delicious drink and bottle it up.
Don’t forget canned food
Celebrity chef Phil Vickery, ambassador for Love Canned Food, praises the convenience and longevity of canned food. He says: ‘One of my office lunchtime picks which makes use of canned fish is an avocado and salmon bagel. It’s a simple snack which will leave you satisfied and stop you reaching for the biscuit tin. Simply toast a bagel and top with smashed avocado which has been flavoured with a squeeze of lime juice and salt and pepper – flake the salmon over the top and enjoy!’
Eat more veg – and make it local
Jimmy Garcia, celebrity chef and sustainable food advocate, says:
‘This is a win-win all round for not only your own health, but also the environment and the local economy. By buying local, you’ll always tend to find produce is bursting with much more flavour as it’s picked at its peak. This really helps as there’s a much shorter time before it lands on your plate so you get the full sensory experience as it should be.’
Fresh vs tinned vs frozen fruit and veg – we look into the pros and cons of each to find the healthiest and most affordable options