- 14 Feb 2019
Australians are throwing out 3.3 million tonnes of food every year, here's why and how we can help
Food waste is an issue gathering an increasingly high profile, why? Because it’s a big problem with far-reaching consequences.
Not only are Australian households throwing away a fifth of the food they buy (which works out at approximately $3.5k worth of food waste), the problem stems further with food suppliers – most notably supermarket chains – sending approximately 170k tonnes of food to landfill each year1.
As a zero waste cleaning brand we consider reducing waste from the planet our responsibility, so we've looked into what's causing this level of food waste, why it's a problem and how we can help prevent it.
How are we wasting so much food?
The sad truth is, it’s not really all that surprising food shopping leads to waste, we live fast-paced lives that leave little time (or energy) for planning and see families embracing convenience above all else. Wasting food is actually quite easy.
What is causing food waste?
Interestingly, most people don’t think they waste that much food however, most Australian households throw away one-fifth of the food they buy1.
Understanding why food waste becoming such a problem is an important first step.
Food promotions make it hard for us to buy the quantity of food we actually need. As food prices only ever seem to rise saving money on the grocery shop is important, however, buying the larger option is often cheaper, so we’re naturally inclined to buy more than we need leading to waste.
Meal planning is hard for so many reasons and finding the time is a big reason. Without a plan, a number of things can happen that lead to food waste. You start filling your basket with every single 3 for 2 offer insight, or you start buying the ingredients for a recipe when you already have half the ingredients at home.
If you had to choose between a bag of spinach leaves and a bag of spinach leaves that has “35% extra free” which would you choose? Packaging often entices us to buy more when we don't need it. Clever design even has the power to get us buying things we don’t even need, so much so that 64% of shoppers admit to buying products right off the shelf if they like the packaging2, ultimately leading to waste.
Sadly, 20-40% of perfectly delicious fresh produce doesn’t even make it to the supermarket shelves3, it’s discarded and becomes waste before we even have the opportunity to take it home and let it rott in our own vegetable drawer. Why? If produce doesn’t fit the mould when it comes to shape, colour and size most supermarkets won’t place them on the shelf.
What a lot of people don’t know is that an items sell-by-date is a guideline that relates to its peak freshness. This misunderstanding means that food is often thrown away based on this date when most food is still good long after their sell-by-date.
We’re buying larger quantities at the shops and cooking more at home, which means portion sizes are slowly getting bigger and bigger and we’re throwing more uneaten food from our plates straight into the bin.
The truth about food waste and why it's a problem
It was estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of perfectly edible food is wasted each year3, an ethical and environmental issue. How can food waste be such a big deal?
1. Wasted water
The level of waste goes far beyond the physical food that is left behind. Water is required to produce all produce (and its packaging) that lines supermarket shelves. It is said that a volume of water roughly three times the volume of Lake Geneva (the largest freshwater basin in Europe) is used just to produce food that is not eaten4.
2. Wasted resources
Water isn’t the only wasted resource, oil, diesel and fossil fuels are needed to grow, transport, store and cook foods we waste. From harvesting machinery that has to be powered, the vehicles taking the food from the farm to the warehouse to the store, the further machinery that is used to sort, clean, package, or otherwise prepare the food just so it can be bought. Much of this machinery requires massive amounts of oil, diesel, and other fuels to function5.
3. Land and deforestation
Around 1.4 billion hectares of land - roughly one-third the world’s total agricultural land area is used to grow food that becomes waste4. Around 40% of the world’s land surface is used to farm meat alone6 with cattle ranching now the biggest cause of deforestation.
4. Greenhouse gases
Each process of food production (producing, distributing, storing and cooking) releases greenhouse gases. To add to this rotting food waste releases methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2. Combined, gas emissions from food waste are higher than that of aviation, iron and steel7.
Packaging is impacting the planet in a big way, firstly it takes a lot of energy to produce and secondly most packaging ends up places it shouldn’t like stormwater drains, streams, rivers and oceans impacting wildlife. Even if packaging waste is disposed of it sits in a landfill for decades to come.
How can we reduce food-related waste?
We think it’s fair to say that no one is opposed to reducing the amount of food they waste, so how can we make a difference?
1. Plan your meals
It may seem like a time-consuming step to begin with, but creating a meal plan helps avoid additional waste in your kitchen and will save time and money at the shops.
Start by making a list of your family’s favourite recipes and then do some research into recipes you’d like to try (Pinterest is great for recipe inspiration). Try to create a diverse list with a good mix of ingredients.
Once you have your list, mix and match recipes for four consecutive weeks. Based on these recipes create your weekly shopping lists and keep the lists somewhere handy (like on your phone) for easy access.
Before you hit the shops, pull up that week’s list and check your pantry and fridge to make sure you’re not buying items you already have.
2. Stick to your shopping list
It can be so tempting to wander down every aisle of the supermarket, but by doing so you’re likely to fill your basket with things you don’t need that potentially become waste. Try stick to your list and avoid those impulse purchases.
3. Buy what you need
Picking up a bag of potatoes or carrots when you only need one of two is so easily done, but resisting the temptation to buy in bulk is a massive waste reducer – and usually a big money saver too. Plus, buying loose fruits and vegetables means you’re not bringing home unnecessary packaging – if you’ve ever purchased ENJO, our laundry bags make the perfect sustainable fruit and veggie bag.
4. Take stock of your stores often
Meal planning is great for helping reduce waste, but making the effort to use up ingredients you already have is important too, and a skill households seems to be losing.
Check your fridge and pantry regularly and create meals from the ingredients you already have, rather than buying ingredients for a whole new meal, this way you’ll spend less and waste less.
5. Store your food properly
The correct storage of your groceries is key for keeping your food fresh for longer. Remove fruits and veggies from bags, use sustainable, reusable airtight containers, and make sure your fridge is set between 3-4°C. Prolong the life of fresh herbs by wrapping them in a damp T-Towel and placing them in your fridge's vegetable drawer.
6. Remember your reusable bags
Before the plastic bag ban Australians were using over 10 million plastic bags a day1, it’s positive that things are slowly changing, but it’s our responsibility to make a real difference, so remember your reusable bags whenever you head out to the shops. Try leaving a stash in the boot of your car so you’re never caught without them.
7. Be ready for leftovers
Saving your leftovers is a very easy way to reduce waste, simply pop leftovers into reusable storage and enjoy for lunch or dinner the next day. Alternatively, freeze your leftovers to enjoy on a rainy day, simply label what the dish is and the date it goes into the freezer and reheat and enjoy within 6 months.
8. Compost scraps
It’s estimated that each year over half of household-waste is food or garden waste, meaning it could have been composted8. If only 1% of Australians composted their food scraps we could prevent 45 million kgs of CO2 being released into the atmosphere1. Setting up a home compost system requires a little research and a very small investment but you’ll have great compost for your garden while keeping these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane. Uncooked veg, fruit, salad, tea, egg shells, ground coffee are all perfect for composting.
9. Grow your own
Stop fruit, veg and herbs going limp and becoming waste by growing your own. Enjoy pesticide-free, fresh produce and discover the host of health benefits available from growing our own produce.
10. Avoid heavily packaged products + recycle
Some products need packaging, but many don’t, zero waste shopping is proving this. Where possible, shop locally, shop sustainably and avoid heavily packaged products and produce. Before you buy an item, check if and how the packaging is recycled.
Driving change is really down to us, do you have any tips for reducing food waste at home? Share them in the comments section.
Editor's note: this post was updated 14 February 2019