Food waste – A mounting issue

 

Plastic waste has been the ‘high profile waste’ of late.  Earlier this year Theresa May outlined steps for a cleaner, greener Britain – with avoidable plastic waste to be eliminated by the end of 2042.

Lots of our UK supermarkets are getting behind her with most of the UK’s largest supermarkets signing up to support the UK Plastics Pact – an industry-wide initiative which says it aims to transform packaging and reduce avoidable plastic waste.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose are among the 42 businesses supporting the new pledge, which includes an aspiration that by 2025 all plastic packaging can be reused, recycled or composted. All good news. Watch this space.

But what about our food waste stream? It’s not something we hear much about but food waste is a very serious problem here in the UK. 

Throwing out edible food doesn’t just waste you money but when it makes its way to a landfill it rots and produces methane gas – queue climate change.  Then there’s all the water that’s used to grow the food in the first place; According to the World Resources Institute, 24% of all the water used for agriculture is lost through food waste every year.  What a waste if it’s going straight in the bin?  Don’t forget about all farmed foods that don’t actually make it onto our shelves either; There are cosmetic specifications that need to be met before you’re tempted by that shiny red apple in Tesco’s!  “The food waste scorecard – An Assessment of supermarket action to address food waste: Christina O’Sullivan” makes a really interesting read if you’d like to know more, but to summarise, pretty fruit sells better so that’s what goes on the shelves.

Whilst much of the changes to reduce our food waste needs to come from national leaders and corporates,  as consumers there is still plenty we can do at home to make a positive contribution;

 

Shop smart

We tend to buy more food than we actually need so try to avoid the bulk buys and try to finish what you have at home before taking your next trip to the shops. Always make a shopping list and stick to buying the things you actually need. Can’t remember what you’ve got in the fridge or on the shelf?  What about taking a ‘shelfie’ to remind you when you’re at the shops?! 

 

It’s all about the storage

Storing food incorrectly increases food waste through spoiling.  Most of us probably know not to keep the potatoes, garlic and onions in the fridge but did you know that tomatoes and cucumbers should never be refrigerated?  I didn’t.  Some fruit and veg also produce ethylene gas which ripens foods and can lead to spoilage.  Make sure you separate foods that produce ethylene gas from those that don’t; Bananas, Avocados, Tomatoes, Peaches, Pears, Spring onions, Kiwis, Mangoes are a few to be aware of.

 

Lower your expectations!

Don’t shun ‘ugly’ fruits! As consumers we demand flawless fruits and vegetables but in doing this we’re only giving the supermarkets an excuse to apply cosmetic specifications to farmers.  So look out for boxes of ‘wonky veg’ on sale at select supermarkets in the UK; Asda, Morrison’s and Lidl’s are leading the way here.  There are an ever increasing selection of products made from ingredients that would otherwise go to waste i.e. because they were the wrong shape, size or colour for our supermarket shelves. I recommend “Rubies in the Rubble” !

 

Plan ahead and get savvy

What are you going to cook for the week ahead and how will you use the leftovers?  Talk to your friends, family and even your greengrocer for advice on how to use leftover veg

 

Get freezing!

Batch cooking at the weekend means you’ll have a quick go-to meal stashed away in the freezer but it will also be adequately portioned so no waste!  Don’t forget you can save leftovers in the freezer too.  Freezing is also a great way to preserve food.  How about mixing left over herbs with olive oil and garlic before freezing in ice cube trays? Or are there a few strawberries left at the bottom of the punnet? Cut them in half and put them in the freezer – a perfect alternative to ice cubes with a twist of black pepper in a G&T!

 

Get familiar with expiration dates

“Best before” and “use by” dates are confusing.  Interestingly, the Food Standards Agency state that “the best before date…. Is about quality and not safety” which most people don’t realise. Tesco is the latest supermarket to scrap best before dates on nearly 70 fresh fruit and vegetable products.  You’ll no longer see date labels on their own-brand apples, potatoes, tomatoes, lemons and onions which should prevent them from being thrown away when they are still edible.

 

See, there’s plenty you can do!  Most of these tips won’t just reduce your food waste but will also help you save money and time too. 


I have a First Class Honours Degree in BSc Environmental Biogeoscience and 4 years consultancy experience with Hyder Consulting. I joined the Mattinson Partnership team in 2011 to head up our environment desk and now support our Director David with the management and growth of our recruitment teams in London and Glasgow.

I kicked off my consultancy career with 2 years on the London 2012 Olympic site working as the Enabling Works CEEQUAL assessor, before signing up for a secondment to Crossrail. I also had an EIA coordination role, coordinating technical inputs from the environmental disciplines that I now recruit for; Ecology, Air Quality, Acoustics, Archaeology and Contaminated Land. My key achievements in consultancy were winning Hyder’s Graduate of the Year award and flying to visit colleagues in Australia as part of my prize.

As an active member of the Butterfly Conservation and the South London Botanical Institute, I’m passionate about nature. I love travelling to new places and experiencing different environments and, my ultimate favourite thing is scuba diving. I completed the London Marathon in 2015 and try to keep up with the running, but that’s really so I can enjoy as many of London’s culinary delights as possible!

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