10 ways to reduce food waste | the ReFab Diaries

Guest post: Josh Hill

'Tis the season for indulgence and overconsumption! As we head into the holidays, I'm always distracted by how much waste we produce... from the millions of pumpkins that are carved and then thrown out, to the gift packaging and the Christmas trees.

food waste

And that was pre-Covid. Thanks to the pandemic, our reliance on single-use plastic has gone through the roof; think disposable masks, gloves, takeout containers and the uptick in using "disposable" everything at outdoor gatherings to reduce the possibility of viral spread.

So let's focus on reducing waste where we can. So much food that we purchase ends up getting dumped for various reasons. Thanks to Josh Hill, I'm happy to be able to share some great advice on reducing food waste! And not just for the holidays :)

How big of a problem is food waste? Big. It's estimated that as much as one third of all food being produced goes to waste. This is compounded by the wasted resources and labour that go into producing and shipping this food.

Then you’ve got the ethical side. Unbelievably, we still live in world where 11% of the global population is malnourished. All of whom could be fed by a fraction of the food that's wasted in the US, UK and Europe.

Food waste also has a direct impact on you and your bank account, with the average UK household spending £700/year on wasted food. The number jumps to $2,275 in the USA!

So if you’re still reading, you’re convinced that something needs to change. But what can you do to have a meaningful impact on food waste at home?

Ideas for tackling food waste at home fall into three categories:

  • Tackling food waste at the shops

  • Extending the lifespan of your food

  • Putting “scraps” and waste to use

Let’s start by exploring the first point, tackling food waste as you shop.

Reducing food waste whilst shopping

There’s no better way to reduce your food waste than at the source: while you shop. Clearly if you choose the right items and the right quantity of food whilst shopping there should be minimal waste.

Easier said than done though, so let’s check out a few tips to keep in your food waste fighting arsenal.

Tip 1: buy reduced

Marked down and reduced food is destined for the bin unless you come in and rescue it. By doing this not only will you be saving unnecessary food waste but you’ll be saving some money too! Just after 5pm is the best time to shop for reductions—this is when discounts will hit up to 75% off.

Tip 2: go freegan

Freeganism is synonymous with “dumpster diving”—the act of hopping into bins and tips to retrieve food that’s been tossed out by supermarkets. Whilst it’s not without criticism surrounding hygiene and legality, the movement has highlighted the surprising—and alarming—quantity of quality food that is thrown away by supermarkets.

Whilst we can’t advocate dumpster diving, other forms of freeganism such as using food sharing apps like Olio, Food Rescue US, and La Piat are a great way to save food from landfill.

Tip 3: write a list

Writing a shopping list is a simple, powerful tool for reducing food waste. But getting the most out of your list requires a bit of foresight and planning. 

Follow this handy guide to writing a shopping list that will make a real difference:

  • Keep your list handy throughout the week so you can add to it as you run out of staples

  • Plan your meals for the week so you only buy what you really need

  • Try and plan a bit of “crossover” between meals that will allow you to use up items bought in bulk like mushrooms, tomatoes, salad leaves etc

  • Make sure you include a good mix of fresh foods and foods that tend to last

  • Take a picture or note down what’s in your fridge before you go so you don’t buy duplicate items

ugly vegetables

Tip 4: shop wonky

Did you know 50 million tonnes of perfectly good produce is thrown away every year in Europe for simply being the wrong shape and size?!

To combat this crazy food waste, choose wonky, imperfect fruit and vegetables when available at stores. This will send the clear message to supermarkets that consumers aren’t concerned with the shape/size of fruits and veges.

Extending the lifespan of food

Just because you’ve made all that upfront effort in doing a mindful food shop doesn’t mean it won’t all end up in the bin. Avoiding food waste at home requires some cunning and strategy; follow our top tips below.

Tip 5: get friendly with your fridge and freezer

100,000s tonnes of food are thrown away before their best before date from being stored incorrectly. That’s why it's important to get to know your fridge and freezer and the best way to store foods to minimize your food wastage.

Top tips for your fridge:

  • Make sure your fridge temperature is set correctly (4 degrees celsius - 39F - work best)

  • The top shelf is warmest and bottom coolest, so keep condiments and dairy on the top shelf and raw meat and fish on the bottom.

Top tips for your freezer:
  • Keep both your fridge and freezer full to keep them operating most efficiently. An empty fridge will fill with warm air every time you open it

  • Have your freezer temperature set as low as possible to extend your food's life as long as possible

  • Become a pro at prepping and freezing meals ahead of time

Image credit: Annie Spratt

Tip 6: perfect your portion sizes

We get it, eyeballing the correct portion size can be tough. The amount of rice cooked always seems too much and cooking the whole bag of pasta seems like a good idea at the time.

That’s why it's a good idea to actually weigh or measure out your portion sizes. Or use handy portion sizing tools to make sure you’re not cooking too much. And if you do, save those leftovers! See below.

Tip 7: learn to love your leftovers

If you’re out dining and don’t finish your meal, you know the drill: your ask for your leftovers to be packed up so you can bring them home. For those of us not dining out much these days, the same thing should be happening to uneaten food that's picked up or delivered.

Leftovers from meals you cook yourself should be treated in the same way. Package up anything you don’t eat and refrigerate/freeze it to be eaten at a later date. If that sounds boring, consider creative ways to repurpose your leftovers so you aren't eating the same meal three times.

Tip 8: practice pickling and preserving

Pickling and preserving is an age old practice that’s existed since long before refrigeration existed to extend the lifespan of foods.

Top tips for perfecting your pickling:

  • Make sure your jars are properly sterilized before using them to pickle
  • Use proper glass/ceramic jars for your pickling—plastic/metal won’t work
  • Keep pickles away from sunlight and at a constant temperature to make sure they last (the fridge works best)

Putting scraps and waste to use

Inevitably some waste is going to be generated, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. Waste from food prep and cooking can be put to use, and we’ll show you exactly how.

Tip 9: regrow fruits and vegetables

If you want your own homegrown organic fruits and vegetables on hand, hold on to your off-cuts, scraps and seeds and have a go at regrowing some fruits and vegetables.

Whilst some fruits and vegetables are easier to regrow from scraps than others, you can have a go at growing all manner of produce at home with a few basics.

If you want to get started putting your green fingers to use check out this guide on growing fruits and vegetables from scraps at home.


Tip 10: get comfortable with composting

What do you do with food waste you can’t regrow, pickle or freeze. Well, the last resort for food waste is to compost.

Composting is great as it still puts waste to use which keeps it out of landfill and the resulting compost will be fantastic for all those home grown veges.

There are two popular types of composting performed at home: worm composting and bokashi which each have their own positives and negatives. Just be sure to do some research before composting to pick the right system for you and avoid some common errors. If you live in an apartment in a metro area, look into a weekly composting service.

In this post we showed you 10 tips to help you start reducing your food waste today. They cover key areas of food waste:

  • Tackling food waste at the shops

  • Extending the lifespan of your food

  • Putting “scraps” and waste to use

Which of these methods are you already using and which are you going to try next? Comment below to let us know.

Bio: Josh Hill is a scientist heading up COVID testing labs in the UK and zero-waste brand owner with Soseas.

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