Top tips for reducing your household food waste

By KentOnline reporter

First published on Houzz

Shana Levy McCracken, Houzz contributor

Nobody wants to waste food, but most of us do – in fact, quite a lot. UK households threw out £13bn worth of food in 2015 that could have been eaten, according to waste and recycling advisory organisation, Wrap.

The average person in the UK wastes around £200 a year and the average family £700 by binning good food.

If, like me, you’d like to get those numbers down, there are actually quite a few effective ways to stop wasting food.

Photo by Lewis Alderson & Co
Photo by Lewis Alderson & Co

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Plan around what you already have

Shop smart by considering what you already have before making your shopping list. Try to come up with one or two meals based around ingredients already in your cupboard. This way, you’ll use what you have well before it expires.

If you’re struggling for recipe ideas, online sites can be very helpful. Many sites let you type in a few ingredients and then they’ll come up with recipes that include them.

Photo by H is for Home
Photo by H is for Home

Specify quantities

Once you know what you still need to buy, write the items down along with specific quantities, such as ‘enough for three lunches’. It’s also helpful to think about whether you’ll be eating out during the coming week and, if so, how many times.

We’ve all planned meals only to have the ingredients go bad when we’re suddenly too busy to cook. So be realistic about your schedule for the week when planning, and cut down accordingly on the amount you buy.

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Photo by Wood-Mode Fine Custom Cabinetry
Photo by Wood-Mode Fine Custom Cabinetry

Store sensibly

After you’ve brought your groceries home, take time to store them carefully. How much are you going to eat in the next two to three days? Keep that amount in the fridge and put the rest in the freezer for later.

TOP TIP: Food is less likely to go mouldy if it’s kept dry, so rinse your fruits and vegetables only when you’re about to use them.

Photo by Jocelyn H Chilvers
Photo by Jocelyn H Chilvers

Use this fool-proof storage method

Keep your food dry by taking it out of any plastic wrapping or bags that it came in. But don’t leave it exposed in your fridge’s salad drawer, as it’s likely to dry out. Instead, wrap food such as cauliflower in a cloth towel before putting it in your salad drawer. This will prevent overdrying and keep mould at bay.

You can also use paper towels but that will only produce more waste of the landfill variety. Try this method and you’ll be amazed at how much longer food lasts.

Not enough space to grow food? Be inspired by this gardener and his pocket-sized vegetable patch

Photo by Sarah Greenman
Photo by Sarah Greenman

Shop more often

Buy produce, fish and other more perishable foods fresh and when you need them, rather than shopping less frequently and buying more than you need.

With spring and summer just around the corner, we can look forward to a variety of fresh produce at local stands and farmers’ markets, so make the most of it.

If shopping more frequently feels like too much of a burden, buy more precooked and frozen items than fresh produce.


Understand expiry dates

Do you understand those dates and phrases printed on packaged foods?

Check out this quick guide from the Food Standards Agency: the ‘use by’ date is about safety.

“Foods can be eaten (and most can be frozen) up until the use by date, but not after. You will see use by dates on food that goes off quickly, such as meat products or ready-prepared salads. For the use by to be a valid guide, you must carefully follow storage instructions.”

The ‘best before’ date is about quality and not safety: “The food will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its best. Its flavour and texture might not be as good. The best before dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods. The best before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label.”

So don’t be too quick to throw away food that’s probably still perfectly good.

For more information, take a look at the NHS guidelines on food safety.

Photo by Putney Design
Photo by Putney Design

Share your bounty

Do you have fruit trees you can’t keep up with during their peak production? Not to worry. There are harvesting services available where volunteers come and pick the fruit for you, then deliver it to local food banks. You won’t end up with a big mess on the ground, and you won’t feel like a bad apple.

TOP TIP: There are fruit surplus organisations in west London and south Manchester, for example, or search online for one that’s local to you (try typing in 'fruit tree surplus charity UK').

Photo by Amy Renea
Photo by Amy Renea

Become a compost maven

No matter how careful you are, you’ll always have a few vegetable trimmings, apple cores and eggshells left over. A great way to reduce food waste impact is to compost items instead of throwing them away.

Even organic matter breaks down very slowly in a modern landfill and does so anaerobically, meaning without oxygen. This results in a lot of methane which, say scientists, warms the earth even more than carbon dioxide. In fact, landfills are one of the main sources of this powerful greenhouse gas.

In contrast, a home composting system turns all that organic material into a rich soil amendment – a material that helps improve the permeability and water retention of soil, so your garden will thank you.

TOP TIP: If you’re new to composting, you can find lots of advice online, including this handy guide on how to create your own worm bin. You can also check out these other useful resources.

Photo by the Honest Scot
Photo by the Honest Scot

Use food waste bins

If, despite all your efforts, you still have some unwanted food and your local borough has a food waste collection service, make sure you use your council-provided caddy and not the rubbish bin. Those scraps will be turned into compost at an industrial-scale facility and be put to good use. To make it easier, consider investing in a worktop recycling bin for food scraps.

TOP TIP: If you’re not sure what can go into your food waste caddy, check with your local council, which will have a list of suitable scraps it can take.

How do you try to avoid food waste at home? Share your tips in the Comments below.

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