Five ways to cut food waste and save money

Five ways to cut food waste and save money

One third of all food produced annually – some 1.3bn tonnes – is wasted, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), costing the Earth in energy, land and water and creating 3.3bn tonnes of carbon emissions. As the global population swells to 9bn by 2050, improving the way we use energy and natural resources by cutting waste will be vital to producing enough food to go round.

In the UK, for example, householders discard nearly 4.2m tonnes of good food and drink each year, with fresh vegetables and salad topping the list (19%), followed by drinks (17%) and bakery products (11%). Preventing this waste would save 17m tonnes of emissions, the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the roads. And what’s more, avoidable food waste is costing UK householders £12.5bn annually, estimates WRAP.

“The two biggest reasons why people waste food are not using it in time and cooking and serving too much,” explains Emma Marsh, Head of WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign. “Beyond that, busy lifestyles, catering for fussy-eaters, misunderstanding date labels and lacking confidence in the kitchen can all influence how different households interact with food.”

But little by little, things are changing. Some 75% of shoppers are keen to reduce food waste to save money, according to WRAP, and consumers have already saved £13bn since the Love Food Hate Waste campaign began in 2007, helping to cut UK food waste levels by 21%.

By making five simple changes, the average family could save £700 a year. Here’s how:

  1. Plan ahead

“Plan in a way that works for your household,” says Emma. “Check cupboards and freezers regularly and keep a note of what you need. You could even take a photo of the contents of your fridge and have a quick look when you’re out shopping!

“Making and sticking to lists is all important, as is co-ordinating with partners and house-mates to avoid duplication. It’s a good idea to factor in at least two nights a week from the freezer in case your plans change at the last minute.

“And to make life easier, the Love Food Hate Waste app can help you plan meals, virtually ‘map’ your kitchen, make lists and calculate portions on the go.”

  1. Check date labels

“Understanding what’s meant by different date labels can prove confusing,” explains Emma. “The most important date to look for is the ‘Use by’ date. This is the only one linked to food safety. ‘Best before’ just indicates peak freshness or quality – food is still fine to eat after it has passed its ‘Best before’ date.

“We’re working with food retailers to simplify labelling for consumers. For example, UK retailers no longer add ‘Sell by’ dates to packaging, and we’re working towards removing ‘Display until’ dates too.

“Retailers are also starting to amend labels to make it clearer that food can be frozen right up to the ‘Use by’ date and will still be good to eat.”

  1. Keep food fresh for longer

“There’s a lot of innovation going on in packaging technologies, so leaving fresh produce in its original packaging is often best,” says Emma. “Storing fresh fruit and vegetables in the fridge in lightly tied bags keeps the moisture in and helps them stay fresh and crunchy for longer. Try storing lettuce in a Tupperware box with a piece of kitchen roll and you’ll soon see the difference it makes.

“Meat, fish and cheese can also be stored in the fridge using Tupperware or re-sealable bags, and clips are great for fastening bags of cereal. Divide up and freeze any big packs of meat and fish or loaves of bread. You can even freeze an opened bag of crisps!”

  1. Serve the right portion size

“Getting your portion sizes right means knowing exactly what your family likes,” explains Emma. “Be realistic and measure exactly how much you need of staples like rice and pasta. Try measuring out your rice and pouring it into your favourite mug, then use the same mug every time to keep the quantity consistent.

“Use tools like the Love Food Hate Waste portion calculator to work out how much of different food types you need to feed your household, invest in equipment like spaghetti measurers and check packaging to see what’s recommended. Tesco is adding our tips and advice to its fresh produce to help people make the most of it.”

  1. Get creative with leftovers and forgotten foods

“If you cook too much food, there are plenty of fun ways to use the leftovers in delicious new dishes,” says Emma. “Keep your cupboards well stocked with canned, dried and frozen goods to complement leftovers, and check out the ideas people share with us via social media.

“Serve from a central bowl and freeze any leftovers or take them to work the next day. If you buy too much, cook a big batch of food and store the portions in the freezer, being sure to label each bag so you know what it is later!

“Keep an eye out for fruit and vegetables going soft or wrinkly at the back of the fridge. Carrots that appear to be on their last legs can often be brought back to life by simply topping, tailing and then soaking them in cold water.”

Inspiring change

“Inspiring friends and family to change their habits means sharing your enthusiasm in a way that taps into their motivations to waste less food,” concludes Emma. “What’s important is helping people to recognise the value in making it ‘the norm’ to waste less. Ultimately, by keeping food fresher for longer and making the most of leftovers, we can all save money and protect the planet too.”

This article was originally published on the Guardian Sustainable Business site.