It was a chilly Saturday morning when we set off to Brixton’s communal greenhouse to learn about how we can live more sustainably when it comes to Food Waste. The team from Small Change, Big Difference gave us a warm welcome as we set off to understand that it really only takes small changes and a different way of looking at food to curb our food waste in the home.
What is Small Change, Big Difference?
Small Change, Big Difference is a food waste campaign in London that is part of a project called TRiFCOL and is funded by the EU. Working with WRAP, the London Waste and Recycling Board and Groundwork London they are starting small to help everyday people realise the differences we can make toward living more sustainably.
One way they are reaching out and helping to teach people is through workshops and bite-size training sessions like the one we went to. Despite the time seeming short, we learnt so many valuable lessons.
How Big is the Food Waste Problem?
Every day we are told to recycle plastic and paper, not to use disposable cups and to think before buying plastic packaging. But how many times do we think about the food that we waste? And do we ever think about what it costs to dispose of all the food we waste every day?
We tend to think of unused food as something that can decompose, something that once thrown on the trash heap we can forget about because it’s not as visible as plastic blowing around in the wind. Unfortunately, that is not always the case as it cost cities and governments huge amounts of money and resources to dispose of our food waste.
Here are just a few, terrible, facts about food waste:
- London households throw away about 910 000 tons of food every year.
- In South Africa 10 million tons of food is wasted every year, which is way less than the UK BUT, that is of the 31 million tons produced in the country every year.
- It costs the average London family about £70 per month on food waste (to put it in perspective, this is about a week and a half’s full grocery buy for us and would be over R1200 per month in South African terms).
- Over 1/3 of ALL food produced across the world gets thrown away.
- 25% of the world’s water resources are used to produce food, which is never eaten and thrown away.
- To bring that home to South Africa, the water wasted on food never eaten could fill 600 000 Olympic pools.
- The energy wasted on food never eaten in South Africa can power Johannesburg for 16 weeks (no load shedding there).
- And finally, if food waste (and getting rid of it) was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas, after China and the US.
These facts are shocking and it’s clear that this is not a Western problem, and it’s not an African problem, although the impact of food waste is so much bigger on a country like South Africa already struggling greatly with poverty. Food waste is a human problem, but it is one we can all work together to make a difference and help alleviate the problem.
How can I Make a Difference?
If there’s one thing we learnt at the Small Changes, Big Difference workshop it is that we can all make a difference, starting in our own homes. And here’s just a few ways how…
- Freeze Your Bread: This might seem strange because we all want nice fresh bread, but by freezing a loaf of bread you extend its usage from a week to two weeks and when you want a slice, simply pop it in the toaster depending on how toasted you’d like your samie.
Top Tip: Never keep your bread in the fridge as this takes the nutrients out of the bread quicker.
- Transfer Food in Plastic Packaging into Glass Containers: Yes, we all try to buy as many unpackaged fresh produce as we can, but it’s sometimes simply not possible to find certain products unpackaged. The important part is
howeverto take these fresh veggies and fruit OUT of their plastic packaging as it sweats inside there and endup losing their quality quicker. Stock up on some Pyrex glass containers (this is a great set to invest in, lids and a couple of different sizes).
Top Tip: Place a paper towel at the bottom of your container, decant your produce into it and place another sheet of paper towel on top. You will stretch the usage by double than it would be when kept in the bag.
- Rotate Stock in Your Fridge and Cupboards: This might seem simple, but we tend to forget what’s at the back of the fridge and cupboard, especially if it’s at an awkward height or angle. Every week or so take some time and rotate your food, especially those tinned ones, to make sure the oldest ones are at the front.
- Best Before does NOT Mean No More Eating: The Best Before date on
thepackaging does mean that food can still be eaten after this date, but might not be at its best quality anymore. That’s why these are usually marked down in the shops already. The Use By date refers to the last date at which the food should be used or consumed. So even if food is past it’s Best Before date, you can still eat it.
- Restore Food to be Like New:
- Soft carrots and cucumbers can be placed in water in the fridge. They should perk right up again after a while, ready to eat.
- Stalks of green veggies (like broccoli and spring onions) can be revived by cutting the bottoms off, placing them in cold water to stand and watch them sprout out again.
- “Meal Prep”: Meal prep is sometimes seen as something that only gym bunnies or those counting calories do, but it’s a great way to make sure you don’t overbuy, never feel overwhelmed during the week coming home after a long day still having to think of food, and ultimately, to save money. It’s also a fun way to try out new recipes because you know you’ll have everything you need for it at home. Take a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning to work out your menu for the week and then buy only the products you need for that week on
the Sundayor Monday. You will thank yourself for planning ahead and see how little waste there is by the end of the week.
Top Tip: This is definitely our favourite way to save both food and money and it’s allowed us to be creative with our food and experiment. Really, it’s made cooking more fun because all the anxiety is taken out of the process.
What to do with Leftovers:
I used to hate having leftovers, until I realised how nice some foods can be the day after, sometimes even nicer than when you made it the night before. On the days you are planning to take leftovers to work, try be creative with your dinner choices. Make sure these are meals you can easily heat up, like pastas and soups, or can eat cold, like nice salads. Chose flavours that will mix well overnight and be even more favourable, like curries.
Other tips for leftovers thanks to the Small Change, Big Difference team are:
- Use leftover veggies (cooked and uncooked) in a yummy soup by simply adding stock and any other spices you like.
- Freeze leftover fruit and keep them to add to smoothies, deserts or even breakfast.
- Use an ice tray to freeze leftover stock, juice, milk, pesto, herbs and more. Keep in a freezer bag once frozen to use again.
Unfortunately, there will always be food going in the bin that we can’t stop. The off cuts, the last leftovers you simply couldn’t finish, peels, skin and bones and those pieces we really did just forget about. You don’t have to beat yourself up about these, we are only human, but there is also a way to recycle these pieces of food and try keep it from ending up on a trash heap.
A Food Caddy
The easiest way is to create a Food Caddy in your kitchen for the food waste to be recycled. In the UK it’s easy as most boroughs will come and collect the food recycling like they do with the other recycling.
You can use any container as your food caddy in your kitchen. Some tips to keep your caddy clean and non-stinky:
- Line the bottom with paper towels or old cardboard
- Use essential oils or lemon to curb the smell
Bokashi Bran is a product that can also be used to help with the fermentation process of your food in the food caddy. This is especially helpful if you live in an area where food waste recycling does not happen or where you have a garden and can reuse the compost water created (it is definitely an option for South Africans where food waste recycling is not a service offered by the normal waste removal options. Have a look here for more.). I will be doing more research into this option and am planning to write a full blog post on it where I’ll give my honest opinion on the viability of Bokashi Bran and a food caddy.
The ultimate goal is to live a completely sustainable life, but it’s not always easy. The important thing is to take small steps, think twice about what we buy and how we can stretch the usage of food and ultimately waste less food. It’s a small difference you’re making, but every small act can inspire and change the minds of others around you as well. Take the plunge and make the change to curb food waste in your home!