Michelle Darmody: 10 top tips to tackle food waste with a few small steps

Household waste increased during the pandemic – so what steps can we make at home to cut back on landfill? Michelle Darmody has 10 top tips
Michelle Darmody: 10 top tips to tackle food waste with a few small steps

Salads, fruit, vegetables, particularly potatoes, as well as bread and milk are some of the most wasted items in Ireland

Food waste happens at many points: in production, at the distribution stage, in the shop or supermarket, and in the home. Legislation is needed to help prevent the first few instances but we, as householders, can make a difference within our homes. Research shows that the average house wastes a third of the food they buy. This is a huge financial cost as well as an environmental one, so being a little smarter with what we buy and how we use it can save us a lot of money and cut down on landfill.

Household food waste also shot up during the pandemic as people rushed to buy items that they did not use, and we are all eating at home much more often which, in turn, can create more waste. Salads, fruit, vegetables, particularly potatoes, as well as bread and milk are some of the most wasted items in Ireland according to Stop Food Waste. In France, the government is helping solve the food waste problem in supermarkets, and it’s become the first country to ban large retailers from throwing away edible food — instead, they must donate it to charities.

Here in Ireland, FoodCloud is doing excellent work in this area, but supermarkets opt in voluntarily. There is lots going on in this area in different parts of the world. The Danish population has reduced food waste by a huge 25% in five years. Government initiatives and awareness campaigns were launched that encouraged people to use everything in their fridge before starting a new shop and giving all perishable food to a neighbour before travelling away from home. WRAP is a not-for-profit company in Britain whose aim is to reinvent, rethink, and redefine what is possible when it comes to maximising food resources. They work with governments and businesses to find solutions such as reducing plastic packaging on food, and looking at how the food industry uses water. San Fransisco has started a scheme where residents are fined for not composting — and, on the flipside, get money off if they do not fill their black bin.

Some really innovative food entrepreneurs have set up businesses that make use of the food that we do not eat in Ireland. Cream of the Crop Artisan Gelato is one — they use excess food to make delicious ice cream. Flavours include Apple Pie, Strawberry Oat Milk, and Tahini Banana Skin. Business owner, Giselle Makinde, calls them zero waste gelatos. Chefs too are trying to help. The Chefs’ Manifesto was devised as a blueprint for chefs to help them maximise the food in their restaurant kitchens and to help them align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To celebrate the launch, chef Conor Spacey of Food Space hosted The Wasted Supper Club in GIY HQ in Waterford, creating a menu entirely with food that otherwise would have been thrown out. In the days leading up to the dinner, the chefs asked diners to drop leftovers intended for their bins to the restaurant, and they transformed these into a meal. It was eagerly attended by 50 guests, and by all accounts it was delicious.

There are a few tried and tested ways to shop smarter andoptimise food use at home:

1. Make a shopping list — this helps prevent impulse buys or, when you are hungry, throwing unnecessary extras into the basket.

2. Avoid multibuys for perishable items — don’t buy too many perishable items that are on special offer. In fact, the Government is thinking of asking shops to do away with these types of offers in an effort to cut down on food waste.

3. Buy in bulk — on the other hand, there are some items that are excellent to buy in bulk if you have the storage space. Long-life store cupboard items such as tinned tomatoes or grains are handy to help you cook up dishes with extra vegetables.

4. Work with leftovers — some tips that we can borrow from the French in relation to leftovers are; never leave your leftovers in the serving or cooking dish, place them into a fresh container and date them. Also, treat a leftover as a special event, use it to its maximum. Boiling extra potatoes and using the cold ones the next day can save time in the kitchen. Potato cakes, fried potatoes, potato wedges all take far less time when using preboiled potatoes rather than starting from scratch. Leftover milk can be soured with lemon or yoghurt and used to make soda bread. Stir-fries and soups are also good ways to use up vegetables — you can add a variety of different things to either.

5. Organise plan meals for the week ahead — this can help with shopping and make life easier during a busy week.

6. Store food correctly — a lot of fruit will benefit from being in the fridge, as it will last much longer at cooler temperatures, particularly during the warmer months. Also, keeping “first in, first out” in mind is useful. Placing newly-bought foods at the back of the cupboard or fridge can encourage the use of the older produce, which will be at your fingertips in the front of the cupboard.

7. Get to know food labelling systems — ‘best-before’ dates can be a bit misleading: The ‘best-before’ is not the date the food goes off. Rather, it indicates that the food may taste better before that date. Many foods are perfectly safe to eat after this date. A third of food waste happens because shoppers wrongly interpret labels on food. It would be great if the Government and food industry brought in a clearer system. In Britain, they launched a campaign at the beginning of this year to encourage people to ‘Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste’ — to use your senses rather than best-before dates to guide them.

8. Scrub rather than peel — certain vegetables can be scrubbed rather than peeled which will give you more veg and create less waste.

9. Learn to preserve — making jam, chutneys or pasta sauces with excess fruit or vegetables is a great way to cut down on waste. If you are more adventurous, you could also learn to pickle or ferment.

10. Use your freezer — if you do buy too much fresh produce and you have a freezer, it is the perfect way to extend the life of food. The trick is not to leave the items fester in the freezer for months and then just throw them away. In fact, in Denmark, there are initiatives encouraging people not to have UFOs — unidentified frozen objects — in their freezers, but to use and rotate food regularly.

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