Food waste

Aussie households bin close to three million tonnes of food each year.
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01 .Introduction

Food waste case study lead

Scraping plates off into the bin, tossing away that stew forgotten at the back of the fridge, binning the mouldy bread – we all do it from time to time with barely a second thought. While it may not seem like a big deal, Australians are collectively throwing out more than three million tonnes – $5.2 billion worth – of food every year. So as well as sitting in landfill producing greenhouse gases, food waste is also burning a hole in our hip pocket.

The environmental consequences are huge. Methane produced by our decomposing food has a greenhouse effect 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But Australians aren’t alone in our wastefulness. In the UK, it is estimated that one-third of all food is thrown away – if it were stopped, it would be like taking one in five cars off their roads. It’s a similar story for other developed nations.

Tips to cut down your food wastage


  • Plan your menu for the week and create a shopping list based on this menu. Food-wastage-case-study-australia-by-state-map_250pxw
  • Check the fridge and cupboard before planning your menu. You may already have some ingredients that you could use and add to.
  • Avoid two-for-one and buy-one-get-one-free specials.
  • Don’t buy in bulk unless you’re sure you’ll use it all.
  • Check best-before and use-by dates.


  • Consider serving sizes and how much your household eats when preparing meals.
  • Measure the amount of food prior to cooking to prevent making too much.
  • Use wilting vegetables in soups and casseroles rather than binning them.
  • Use overripe fruit in desserts and cakes.
  • Before going on holiday, use perishables to make soups, casseroles, curries or pasta sauce and freeze them for your return.
  • Make croutons from stale bread. Cut it into pieces and dry-roast in the oven until golden brown. Store in an airtight container and use within five days.
  • Make your own stock from leftover meat and vegetables. It can be frozen and used later.
  • Grow your own herbs on the windowsill. This will save you money and you can pick only what you need.


  • Ensure leftovers are put straight in the fridge or freezer.
  • Keep leftovers at the front of the fridge shelf so they don’t get forgotten.
  • Always read and follow the storage instructions on products you purchase. 
  • Make sure all food is sealed properly.
  • Do a regular pantry audit and use items with the shortest dates. This can inspire your menu planning for the week.
  • Know the difference between “use by” and “best before”. Use by means the item must be used by the date stamped; best before foods can be eaten after the date, but the quality may not be as good.


Composting reduces the amount of garbage that ends up in landfill, and makes great mulch for the garden. See our composting section on how to start your own.


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Food wastage is a huge problem to tackle, but by doing your bit to reduce food waste, you can make a difference. CHOICE followed two households for five days to track their waste. We offer simple solutions you can use to save the planet, as well as your wallet.

Narelle Cornelius

  • Food-case-study-Narelle-Market researcher
  • Lives with her husband Mike and children Jordan, 11, and Ruben, 8

Feeding two fussy children prevents Narelle from prioritising waste prevention. “My kids don’t like eating leftovers,” she says. “I cook too much and it sits in the fridge for up to 10 days before being thrown out.”

Another problem she has identified is school lunch boxes. The kids sometimes come home with a full box and the food has to be thrown away. On the days that she logged her waste, the children ate all their lunch. “Some weeks we waste more, either because of uneaten school lunches or because I decide to clean out the fridge.”

Food-Wastage-cost-tableOur home economist Fiona Mair says:

It’s easier to minimise waste with children than prevent it. If eating leftovers is a problem, Narelle should monitor how much her family eats and make just enough for one meal. Leftovers can be frozen and eaten by her or Mike at a later stage. Frozen leftovers make a convenient
lunch to take to work. As well as encouraging her kids to eat lunch and providing food they like, Narelle could use some insulated lunch boxes. Adding a frozen popper or freezer bricks can help salvage some of the food for the next day. Just be careful with high-risk foods such as meat and salad.

Other things Narelle can do:

  • Make sure she puts food back in the fridge and seals it completely
  • Compost fresh food scraps such as the silverbeet stems and the uneaten cauliflower

Narelle says:

I definitely could plan and monitor portion sizes. I often do reuse leftovers for my lunch, and occasionally for the kids’ lunches (such as roasts or sausages). Where possible I have my children eat leftover lunches when they get home. One of my boys, Jordan, won’t eat for one of several reasons – not having enough time, not liking it, forgetting to eat it or simply not feeling like eating whatever I’ve packed that day.
I do try to limit what I put in their lunch boxes (which are insulated) and speak to them regularly about what they like and don’t like. I also find out what their friends are eating to get new ideas. I think some children are lunch-eaters and some aren’t; I have one of each. I’ll certainly take these ideas on board.

Zoya Sheftalovich

  • Food-wastage-case-study-zoya_340wx232h-2-1CHOICE investigative journalist
  • Lives with her boyfriend Joseph

A self-confessed bargain shopper, Zoya generally shops to a list but buys in bulk to save money – even if she knows she won’t use it all. She cleans out her fridge every two to three weeks and the wastage diary reflects what she would typically throw out at this time. Food-wastage-table

“I’ve actually gotten better, if you can believe it,” she says. “I’m really concerned about wastage, so I knew I had a problem. I’ve been trying to bulk buy less and I haven’t been shopping in advance as much as I used to, as fresh food spoiled too much over a whole week. I also try to plan menus better, but that’s hard.”

Our home economist Fiona Mair says:

Zoya has already made an effort to reduce her waste, which is great, but she’s still tossing away a lot of food. She needs to plan out her meals for the week and create a shopping list based on this menu. This way she only buys what she needs. She also has a storage issue. Foods such as cheese and butter are going dry because they’re not wrapped properly and are open to oxidation. She needs to invest in some good quality plastic storage ware. Try storing cheese in cloth to stop it from going dry.

Other things Zoya can do:

  • Freeze leftovers
  • Use leftover wine in recipes such as casseroles or bolognaise or freeze in an icetray for future use in cooking
  • Freeze uneaten bread in a well-sealed bag to stop freezer burn
  • Start a compost bin for uneaten fruit and vegetables

Zoya says:

Good advice. I find it difficult to plan menus ahead of time as I tend to change my mind about what I want to eat. I know this is something I need to work on, so instead I’ve started only buying fresh ingredients for a few days in advance. I have to make more shopping trips, but at least I feel less guilty about throwing things away. I definitely have storage issues – my fridge is old and not working too well. But I’ll give the cloth for wrapping cheese a go – hopefully it will stop me from throwing things away. As for a compost bin, I don’t know how to compost but I’ll just have to learn.


CHOICE's quick guide to composting

Creating your own garden compost is a great way to recycle your organic waste and help the environment. And it’s a lot easier than you think.

By turning organic food scraps into compost you can:

  • Improve the soil quality of your garden by recycling nutrients from food scraps.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by keeping your food scraps from rotting in landfill.
  • Accelerate the breakdown of organic waste.
  • Save money on expensive fertilisers and bin liners.

A compost can be started in old garbage bins, wooden boxes, tyres or just a simple heap. Set it up in a shady area as too much sun will dry it out. For your compost to work, it needs:

  • Carbon (for heat) – You can add this through the addition of brown matter such as dried leaves, branches, woody clippings, paper and straw. Don’t overdo it though – add too much and it may take years to fully break down.
  • Nitrogen – This can be added through the addition of green matter, such as weeds you’ve pulled up, kitchen scraps and lawn clippings. As with the brown material you can have too much. A compost made of mostly green matter can quickly turn into a stinky, rotting mess.
  • Oxygen – This is needed to oxidise the carbon and accelerate decomposition. This is as easy as turning your compost with a rake or pitchfork to let air into the mix. If you don’t turn your compost it will start to produce greenhouse gases.
  • Water – your compost should be moist but not soggy for optimal decomposition. Keep your compost covered to stop it drying out. If it becomes too wet add some more dry ingredients (brown matter).
  • Soil – Adding some soil to your compost introduces microorganisms to break down your compost.

For best results from your compost make sure any matter you add is cut into small pieces so it breaks down more efficiently.

Creating your compost

  • Start with a thick layer (about 15cm) of coarse material such as twigs or mulch.
  • Next add your green ingredients such as green clippings or kitchen scraps. Adding a sprinkle of soil to your green layer will help make a richer compost and reduce odours.
  • Next add your brown ingredients such as dried leaves, straw, twigs and paper.
  • Use water to moisten each layer as you go.
  • Repeat this layering system until you reach the desired size.

What to compost

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Untreated paper
  • Dead flowers and soft stems
  • Tea leaves, tea bags and coffee grounds
  • Vacuum cleaner dust
  • Egg shells
  • Newspaper (wet)
  • Cooking oil
  • Grass cuttings and fallen leaves (in layers)
  • Sawdust from untreated timber
  • Pet hair
  • Old potting mix

What not to compost

  • Magazines (glossy or treated paper)
  • Animal fat
  • Manure or pet droppings
  • Meat and dairy products
  • Sawdust from treated timber
  • Plastics, metals and other non-biodegradable material
  • Large branches or diseased plant clippings
  • Breads or cakes (attract rodents) 

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