Avoiding food waste
Do you know how much food you throw away?
Australians throw away an estimated $5.2 billion worth of food every year, or one in five bags of the food they purchase. When food waste breaks down in landfill it produces the harmful greenhouse gas, methane. This gas is approximately 23 times more potent than the carbon dioxide that comes out of your car exhaust.
You can use a compost bin or worm farm for the food waste you do produce so it reduces the amount we send to landfill. It also recycles important nutrients back into your garden.
However, what is even better than recycling your food waste is to avoid creating it in the first place. Food waste avoidance saves the water, energy and non-renewable resources that went into getting that food from the farm to your plate.
Ways to avoid food waste
Avoiding food waste means only buying what you can use, being creative with what you have in cupboards and getting your storage right to get the most out of your food.
There are lots of easy ways to cut down on food waste, below are some suggestions you could try.
At the shops
- Make a meal plan for the week and only buy the ingredients you need. You can download a meal planner.
- Use a shopping list and only buy the things you have written down (check your fridge and cupboards before you head out for what you need).
- Try to buy smaller amounts more frequently.
- Only bulk buy food that you can use up before it expires.
- Buy produce that is in-season and locally grown, that way it will be fresher and last longer once you get it home.
Storing food in the fridge
- Use clear, airtight containers to store leftovers in the fridge.
- Keep all ready-to-eat foods visible and in your line of sight in your fridge.
- Stack containers upwards rather than pushing items to the back of the fridge.
- Don't over-pack your fridge as this makes your fridge work harder and it's easier to lose track of what's in there.
- Store your ethylene producing fruit and vegetables away from ethylene sensitive produce. You can download a food storage chart (PDF 802Kb) or food storage charge (DOC 121Kb) to find out how or see below for a list.
- Store your soft cheese wrapped in waxed paper and your hard cheese in tight plastic wrap.
- Store your bread in the fridge to increase its shelf life.
- Store your eggs in the fridge for up to a month.
Storing food in the freezer
- A freezer temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius will almost completely stop the deterioration of food.
- Freeze any excess food such as cooked leftovers, bread, cakes, cheese, butter, pasta sauce and stock.
- Freeze foods in the amounts you plan to defrost and serve them in.
- Store in airtight containers or thick freezer bags to prevent dehydration and freezer burn.
- Write the date on the foods you put in the freezer and consume within 3 months.
- If you are freezing leftovers cool them in the fridge before you put them in the freezer.
- Never eat foods which have defrosted and refrozen in your freezer.
- Visit the Still Tasty website for comprehensive information on how long to freeze a wide variety of foods.
Storing food in the pantry
- Use clear, airtight containers to store dry goods in the pantry.
- Ensure your pantry is dry, dark and well ventilated.
- Store potatoes and onions separately at room temperature away from direct sunlight.
- Avoid storing opened dry goods in their original packaging if they are susceptible to weevils.
- Visit the Wholegrains Council website for advice on the best methods and how long to store your grains.
- Consume foods before their "use-by" date has passed. A "best before" date is just an indication of when a food is at its best and can still be consumed after this date.
- Move items closest to their use-by date to the front of the shelf so that they will get used first.
Meal planning and cooking
- Cook only what you need by getting your serving sizes right. If you're not sure of quantities use a serving size calculator.
- Try to use up the ingredients you already have before buying more food. Visit the Recipe Finder or Love Food Hate Waste for recipes based on the ingredients you want to use up.
- Try to use the whole item. For example celery leaves can be added to soups or stews, broccoli stems can be chopped up and added to a stir fry, soup or casserole, mushroom stems can chopped up and used in soups, casseroles or as a filling for stuffed mushrooms.
- Use your vegetable scraps to make stock. Save your vegetable peelings in a container in the fridge or freezer. Once you have enough put them in a pot with enough water to cover them and bring to a rolling boil. Simmer for one hour then strain off the scraps.
Giving food a second life
- Make smoothies or juices from soft or over-ripe fruit.
- Stew up excess apples, pears, rhubarb or berries as filling for a crumble or pie or freeze for later use.
- Freeze excess lemon or lime juice in ice block trays for later use in cooking or for a refreshing drink.
- Use up over-ripe bananas by making banana bread, or freeze them for use in smoothies.
- Freeze excess milk for later use, or use it up by making a creamy pasta sauce.
- Grate and freeze excess cheese to use later in cooking.
- Blend stale bread to make bread crumbs.
- Turn last night's leftover pasta into a pasta bake by adding pasta sauce and cheese.
- Use leftover rice to create fried rice, rice balls or rice pudding.
- Turn leftover mashed potato or pumpkin into dumplings by adding flour and egg.
- Use vegetables that are starting to wilt in a soup, casserole or veggie pastie.
- Use chicken or fish bones to make stock.
- Use up tuna in a pasta bake.
- Add bacon to an omelette, frittata or a creamy pasta bake.
Ethylene producing and ethylene sensitive produce
Fruit and vegetables naturally emit a gas called ethylene as they ripen, some emit it in greater quantities. When ethylene producing foods are stored with ethylene sensitive foods the gas will speed up the ripening process (or deterioration) of the other produce. To reduce spoilage store ethylene producing foods separately to ethylene sensitive produce.
- Bananas (when ripe)
- Kiwifruit (when ripe)
- Bananas (when unripe)
- Kiwifruit (when unripe)
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
Resources to help you avoid food waste
For more information on how to avoid food waste through better shopping, storage and cooking practices take a look at the following websites:
The A to Z Guide to Waste and Recycling contains many tips for what to with food and other waste and recycling.
I Love Leftovers
The Victorian Government's Love Food Hate Waste campaign assists households to cut down the amount of food they waste. I Love Leftovers is a new promotion of the campaign which provides helpful and practical tools and ideas to make food waste avoidance easy.
Go to Love Food Hate Waste for recipe cards and videos for inspiring ideas on using up leftover food and meals. You will also find tips and tools for better meal planning, shopping and storage.
Zero Waste Challenge
Council has taken action previously to address the issue of food waste with its program 'Zero Waste for a Week Challenge'. The program was run each year in November during 2010 to 2013 and encouraged residents to reduce waste by attempting to avoid using their rubbish bin for one week.
That initiative focused on shifting behaviour towards the avoidance of waste, before attempting to recycle, reuse or simply dispose of it. For more information on the program and on reducing waste, see Zero Waste Challenge.