Need to know
- Reducing your food waste could save your household up to $3800 a year
- Don't go to the supermarket when you're hungry – you'll be more likely to buy food you don't need and won't eat
- For health reasons, never eat food past its use-by date, even if it looks and smells OK
We've all been guilty of it – lobbing that leftover piece of lasagne or chucking that festy bit of cheese you never got round to eating (there's 'blue' and then there's 'bleurgh!').
Food waste mostly happens when we buy too much food, cook too much or don't store things properly. And it's a massive problem in Australia – according to Love Food, Hate Waste, more than $10 billion worth of good food is wasted each year in NSW alone.
But it's not just your garbage bin or wallet that takes a hit. Food waste also takes a toll on the environment. As it decomposes in landfill, it releases methane – a greenhouse gas, and big contributor to climate change.
"What we eat, and how we purchase and waste it, has a significant impact on the climate," says Annika Stott, sustainability strategist at OzHarvest.
"While there's no silver bullet to tackle this global problem, there are many things we can be doing and it starts with getting into good habits."
1. Make a list
All good things start with a plan. By working out what's on the family menu for the week ahead, you'll be less likely to buy things you don't need (and won't use).
"Take stock of food in your pantry and fridge before planning your meals for the week and use those items first as your inspiration," says Fiona Mair, CHOICE's home economist.
And don't forget to consult your family calendar so you can plan accordingly – the nights you're eating out, who's home, and so on.
2. Get inspiration for your ingredients
Not sure how to use up that lonely zucchini? Many recipe websites let you search their databases by ingredient if you need a spark of culinary inspiration.
Stick to your list so you won't buy more than you need.
3. Stick to your shopping list
When it comes to food waste, a few simple shifts in your shopping mindset can work wonders. For a start, stick to your list so you won't get tempted by deals that encourage you to buy more than you need. Or, if you can't resist a promotion, perhaps see if a friend or neighbour wants to go halves.
4. Learn the lingo
Read food labels while out shopping to make sure you'll use ingredients in time. 'Best before' dates tell you when foods will start to lose quality, whereas 'Use by' dates tell you when something must be eaten by.
5. Shop smaller and more often
Buying all your fresh produce once a week means you run the risk of things going off before it's time to enjoy them. Making a mid-week supermarket pitstop to stock up on fresh fruit and vegies can help cut down on waste.
6. Store food better
Did you know a head of lettuce can take up to 25 years to decompose in landfill? Storing your food correctly can help increase shelf life and prevent waste. Try investing in quality, reusable and sealable storage containers to keep food fresh, or experimenting with popular storage hacks.
Our top tips? Don't keep your bread in the fridge as it will get stale sooner (although you can always toast it or make bread crumbs). Tomatoes don't belong in the fridge either – the chill will affect their flavour. Keep them at room temperature instead.
7. Make friends with your freezer
Your freezer is one of the best – and easiest – ways to preserve food (it can help to keep a list of what's in there).
"Ripe bananas can be peeled, cut in half and placed in a freezer container," says Fiona. "They're great blended into smoothies – and there's no need to add ice."
It's also worth portioning up meat and fish before you freeze them, so you don't have to defrost them in bulk and risk wasting any down the line.
Utilise your freezer to preserve food.
8. Stretch your ingredients
With a little extra love and time, you can get the most out of many of your favourite foods. For example, rather than throwing away potato peelings, you could make them into chips. That roast chicken carcass? Turn it into liquid gold (aka homemade stock) and freeze it ready for the next time you make soup or gravy.
9. Learn about portion sizes
Being aware of healthy portion sizes can help you shop and cook more efficiently. Try using an online calculator to nail the perfect amount for your household and avoid cooking more than you need.
10. Keep tabs on your fridge
Pencil in regular catch-ups with the contents of your fridge to make sure there's nothing lurking in its depths that a) you could use or b) that's kicking off a foetid funk.
"Choose a day in the week where you use up leftover fruits and vegetables," advises Fiona. "I choose Sundays, just before a big shop, and usually make a soup or a stew with canned beans and vegetables that are looking a little weary."
Portion up your leftovers to eat the next day – or to pop in the freezer for a later date.
Love your leftovers
11. Use up your leftovers
Portions to spare? Enjoy leftovers for lunch the next day – it will save waste AND your wallet! Alternatively, freeze portions of larger dishes such as lasagne for another time (or lunch).
12. Try a different approach
Don't be afraid to get creative with any leftovers.
"Ready-rolled pastry in the freezer is such a handy food to have when it comes to leftovers," says Fiona. "You can make savoury pies filled with leftover stews, bolognese and casseroles, or use overripe fruits for making fruit pies."
You could also fry any leftover vegies from your Sunday roast to make 'bubble and squeak', or whizz up any soft-leaf herbs with nuts, lemon, olive oil and garlic to make pesto.
13. Embrace composting
"Landfills are incredibly inefficient and we must get organic matter out of our red bins," says Annika. One solution? Composting.
Two popular options are the bokashi system, which involves microorganisms fermenting your waste into a liquid compost (perfect fodder for your houseplants), and worm composting. You can buy easy-to-use starter kits for both at your local hardware store.
"Some local councils offer advice and assistance, or even discounted compost bins and worm farm products," adds Fiona.
14. Food waste collection
Some food items will inevitably end up in your bin. But the good news is that you can still dispose of it in better ways. A growing number of councils are providing kerbside collection services for food waste, so see what's available in your area.