We need to talk about food waste

Roughly one-third of the food we produce annually is never eaten.

Just let that sink in for a second.

As a society, we have become so disconnected from our food system that we have forgotten all of the resources that went into making it, at every stage, and getting it onto our plates that we have just stopped valuing it.

We use land and water to produce crops. They are transported to factories where they are processed. Then transported from there to be packaged. Finally, packaged items are transported to store. And then we end up throwing a third of it away. 

When you consider that between April 2018 and March 2019 a record 1.6m food bank parcels given to people in the UK (Trussell Trust), it’s obscene. 

Some more facts to shock and disgust you (if I have to be depressed about the state of the world, I’m taking you down with me!):

  • If wasted food were a country, it would be the third-largest producer of carbon dioxide.
  • Food waste generates about 3.3 BILLION tons of carbon dioxide.
  • The annual value of food wasted globally is $1 trillion, and it weighs 1.3 billion tonnes.
  • 25% of the world’s fresh water supply is used to grow food that is never eaten.
  • All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.
  • An area larger than China is used to grow food that is never eaten.
  • The average UK family is wasting nearly £60 a month by throwing away almost a whole meal a day – that’s £720 a year!

So where does it all go? 

Well, most of it just ends up in our regular bins and then in landfill. 

What happens to food waste in landfill? 

“Food waste is mostly organic material, composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen along with small amounts of some other elements. In a landfill, this organic material is buried and when this happens, microorganisms begin to break it down in a process known as ‘anaerobic digestion’. This is digestion in the absence of oxygen. The microorganisms derive energy from this to support their life cycle however as a by-product of this process, greenhouse gases (methane, carbon dioxide) are produced. If these gases are not captured they are released into the atmosphere. (https://disruptiveenvironmentalist.com/what-happens-to-food-waste-in-landfills-the-full-environmental-impact/)

The gas produced is 21 times worse than carbon dioxide!

It’s well and truly time to stop this madness so……what can you do?

The good news is that now you are aware of this problem, there are actually lots of things that you can do to reduce food waste.

My Top Tips

  1. Eat at home more – the restaurant business is a MASSIVE generator of wasted food. When you do eat out, only order what you can eat. If the portion is too big, take your leftovers home (and eat them!). 
  2. Grow your own food – this is not an option for everyone as it requires some space and time but if you do have a garden, home grown veggies taste incredible and work out so much cheaper than store bought. After seeing the effort that goes into producing just a handful of tomatoes or strawberries, you will have a newfound respect for food! Even if you don’t have a lot of space for vegetables, pretty much anyone can pot some herbs in your garden/balcony/kitchen so you have lovely fresh herbs to hand and you don’t need to go to the supermarket. Start with your favourite one and see how you get on.
  3. Store your food properly – a big part of why we throw food away is because we don’t store it properly and it spoils before it’s time. My favourite place for storage tips and kitchen “hacks” is Pinterest. There are so many amazing ideas there.
  4. Avoid a “big shop” if you tend to have a very busy schedule – did you know that bagged salad is one of the most thrown out items in British households? When I first heard that I wasn’t surprised at all and have thrown away many a sad bag of soggy leaves. I never know if I will have to work late, transport will be a disaster or last minute drinks with colleagues will come up so I only buy what I am going to cook in the next day or two to avoid forgetting what’s there and having to throw it out. 
  5. Use your freezer – If your fruit or vegetables are on the verge of going off, freeze them. Kale and spinach are great to have on hand for smoothies or curries for some extra nutrients. Frozen bananas make delicious vegan “nice cream“.
  6. “Rescue” food before it’s thrown away: there are lots of innovative programmes popping up in an attempt to collect and redistribute food that might otherwise go to waste.
    1. Olio – OLIO connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. This could be food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare home-grown vegetables, bread from your baker, or the groceries in your fridge when you go away. For your convenience, OLIO can also be used for non-food household items too.
    2. Karma – Karma is a Swedish startup founded in Stockholm, November 2016. The app connects surplus food from restaurants, cafes and grocery stores to consumers for a lower price. As a result, users eat great food for less and businesses receive an additional revenue stream — all while reducing food waste.
    3. Approved food – specialise in surplus and short-dated stock, food that is either near or just passed its ‘best before’ date – allowing us to pass on huge savings to our customers.
    4. Oddbox – “20-40% of produce in the UK is wasted before it even leaves the farms meaning a lot of unnecessary waste for the planet, a raw-deal for producers and a whole wonky world of missed opportunities for people like us to eat. Determined to battle food waste and give ugly, wonky veg a better, more beautiful future, they visited farms, talked to producers and came up with the idea for Oddbox. “
  7. Reduce your waste by using everything up: Read “More Plants, Less Waste” by Max La Manna for tips on using up everything amazing recipes and ideas for using up everything so there is less to throw away/compost in the first place
  8. Compost – Not every borough in London has a composting programme (10 boroughs don’t collect, 16 don’t collect from flats). If you don’t have composting in your area this is what you can do email your MP and the local council and request it. The more people who ask, the more pressure they will be under to provide it. Council tax is ridiculously high and this is exactly the kind of issue that councils were set up to tackly. To find out how to compost at home follow Amelia Barnes (@ameliakbarnes) on Instagram who has tons of information in her story highlights and on her website.
  9. Clean your recycling – Wash your plastic, cans etc before throwing them in the recycling bin to ensure no rotting food waste is left and causing gas to release as it decomposes.

Read: More Plants, Less Waste by Max Lamanna

Follow: @maxlamanna, @ameliakbarnes, @zerowastecook

The Power of the Holiday ‘reset button’

It’s amazing how much of a reset you get when you take a vacation and really switch off from work. No matter how much you love your job, it’s so important to just take time out, fully.

I work for a charity and so I do have a very fulfilling job. I know I am creating good in the world, I am good at my job and there are lots of opportunities for me to grow and progress. It’s also a very full-on job and I often work much longer hours than contracted in order to make sure everything that needs to be done is done. But I will never be a workaholic.

I will never prioritise my job over my relationships, my health or my wellbeing.

And I will definitely never check my work emails from the beach! I guess for some people, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice but for me, no matter how fulfilling the work is, travelling and spending time with people I love is so much more fulfilling. I want to be present. I want to soak up every second, every smell, every sight on my trips. I will not be on my deathbed wishing I had worked less and enjoyed my life more.

And it’s not just me, this research piece, The Impact of Vacation and Job Stress on Burnout and Absenteeism, shows that a vacation decreases perceived job stress and burnout. 

City life can be overwhelming!

The chaos of London can start to wear me down and if I don’t take time away, I feel depleted easily and often. Thankfully, after two weeks in Canada, I am now returning to my job and my life feeling much more balanced and resilient, and so much more determined to live my life according to my values.

What makes you happy?

It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do but take some time out from your routine to do the things that rejuvenate you. You can’t pour from an empty cup and time off is your opportunity to fill up that cup!

When thinking about what’s important for me and my mental health, I know my main priorities are

  • time with friends and family
  • time by myself
  • time being active
  • time in nature.

I make sure to do all of those things when I am on holiday and I come back feeling amazing!

Time to reflect

I take any opportunity I can to reflect on how I am feeling and what’s going on in my life. Vacations are a perfect time to do this. On past trips, I’ve come home and made some big changes in my life but this year, I’ve come back from both of my longer trips feeling great about the life I’ve got in London.

The biggest thing I am taking from my most recent break, is that I need need to focus more on the goals I already have and try not to let myself get distracted.

Use your vacation time to take stock of your current situation and think about how you want the next couple of months to go. Is there something that isn’t going well for you? Once you are recharged, is there some action you can take to improve that?

Time off boosts your productivity when you return

As well as feeling more positive about life in general, taking time off work actually makes you more productive when you return. Having less time at your desk forces you to be more efficient with that time and just get things done!

I hope you are enjoying summer and making time to do the things you love.