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Minimise food waste
In Australia we waste up to 30% of the food we purchase. In 2013 it was estimated that food waste cost Australian households more than $8 billion each year and generated 361 kilograms of food waste annually per person at a cost of over $1,000. The environmental cost is also significant and includes greenhouse gas emissions. An estimated 6.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was released into the environment as a result of sending organic waste to landfill in 2011.
Every time we throw food into the bin we're wasting money and also discarding the vast amounts of resources, energy and water that it took to produce, process, store, refrigerate, transport and cook our food. So it makes perfect sense to become waste-wise in the kitchen and rethink the way we shop.
- Save money
- Reduce energy, water and resource use
At a glance
- Savings 3
- Ease 3
- Impact 3
Much of the food wastage in our kitchens comes from simply buying too much or inadequate planning. To reduce the amount you throw away:
- Carefully check what's in your fridge before shopping and plan your next meals around what needs to be eaten. Put things in the freezer if you aren't able to eat them soon.
- Before shopping, think about what you'll eat for the next few days and make a list of what's needed—this'll help you minimise food waste and save you money.
- Remember to take your reusable shopping bags.
- Buy in quantities that you'll use.
- Keep a store of long-life basics in your cupboard—like pasta, rice, tinned fish, beans and vegetables. This makes it easy to prepare a quick meal when you add a few fresh ingredients.
- Check use-by dates to make sure you'll eat the product before it goes out of date. Try to include local or organic food in your shopping. This helps reduce emissions from transport as well as the use of chemicals and fertilisers.
- When purchasing fish, choose species which are not overfished or threatened. Ask your seafood retailer for advice.
- Try to select food with minimal packaging to reduce waste to landfill.
Different foods have different storage needs. Correct food storage has a huge impact on the freshness and shelf-life of food.
Keep your food fresh and avoid wasting energy by having your fridge set at the right temperature—between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius for the fridge and between minus 15 and minus 18 degrees Celsius for the freezer. Use a fridge thermometer to check.
Keep a range of air-tight plastic containers for storing various foods once they have been opened or cooked. Keep old margarine and takeaway food containers including their lids for this purpose.
Air-tight jars (like jam jars) are great for storing dry ingredients like flour or rice or leftover liquids.
Here are some tips for storing food:
- Most vegetables keep best in the refrigerator—in the vegetable drawer if you have one. Once cut, vegetables are safest stored in the fridge.
- Remove vegetables, herbs and mushrooms from plastic bags as they will 'sweat' and spoil.
- Store potatoes, onions and other root vegetables in a cool dry place. If potatoes turn green, don't eat them—put them in your compost or worm farm.
- Refrigerate raw meat immediately after purchase until cooked. Keep meat in a sealed container so it doesn't contaminate other food. Store it in the coldest part of your fridge (usually at the rear).
- Store opened pasta, rice and cereals and other dry ingredients in air-tight containers.
For lots more tips on how to choose and store different foods visit the Food Safety Information Council website.
Use your freezer to store food that would otherwise go off.
- Freeze leftovers for a later lunch or single meal. Do not reheat more than once.
- If cooking a curry or stew, cook extra and store some in the freezer for an easy meal later on. Remember to thaw items in your fridge overnight rather than in the microwave.
- If you're unlikely to use a whole loaf of bread before it goes stale, cut it up into portions and store it in the freezer.
- Lots of fruits and vegetables are suitable to freeze. You can blend frozen strawberries or raspberries into a smoothie or use it as a topping. Freeze bananas (without the skin) that are getting very ripe, these are great for baking or eating.
- You can freeze some cheeses like parmesan or gruyere.
- Freeze liquids like stock and even wine in small containers or in an ice cube tray and use as needed in cooking.
Get inventive with leftovers and put even small leftovers in the fridge or freezer for a handy lunch or snack. There are plenty of websites with new and traditional recipes that make use of leftovers to provide nutritious and delicious meals.
- Keep leftovers for lunches or snacks, or as part of another meal.
- If you can't use leftovers straight away, freeze them for later. Don't reheat leftover food more than once.
- Be creative and invent your own recipes from what's in the fridge. You can search for recipes online by key ingredients.
- Keep scraps for pets. Make sure the food is suitable—for example, onions are toxic to dogs.
- Chickens will eat a variety of kitchen scraps. They'll also provide fresh eggs, pest control and garden services.
The majority of packaging that comes with your food can be avoided or recycled. Here are some ways you can reduce or re-use packaging:
- Take your own bags when you go shopping.
- Refuse excess packaging. Look for products with no or less outer materials.
- Avoid pre-packaged fruit and vegetables where possible.
- Recycle packaging where you can and re-use containers. Plastic take-away containers from restaurants can be used for storage or as a lunch box, and margarine containers are great for paint holders if you're renovating.
- Pass on egg containers to friends or colleagues who keep chickens. The cardboard can also be ripped up and used in your compost.
Plastics, tins, paper and cardboard and drink containers can all go in your home recycle bin. Check our recycling guide and make sure you know what your local council does and does not collect. Bottles can be recycled and don't forget the corks from your wine bottles. Cork is a valuable natural resource. Find out where you can recycle cork stoppers from wine bottles through Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou.
Turn food scraps into compost for your garden to reduce waste and return nutrients to your soil.
You can compost most types of food waste including:
- uncooked vegetables and scraps
- tea bags
- crushed egg shells
- coffee grounds
- non-food materials such as plants and flowers, grass clippings, leaves and shredded paper, cardboard or pet and human hair.
It is not recommended that you put the following items in your compost as they do not break down quickly and can attract animals or vermin:
- dairy products
- meat or fish
- lemon or orange peels.
Keep a small container for food scraps handy in your kitchen and empty it regularly into your compost bin.
Cut up large pieces of food scraps as they will break down more quickly.
You can also recycle food waste by turning it into rich fertiliser through a worm farm. Worm liquid and castings are excellent for pot plants.
You can have a worm farm even if you live in an apartment and don't have much space. There are clever worm farm kits that fit under your sink or on your verandah so they're convenient, space-efficient and clean.
While worms aren't fussy eaters, you shouldn't feed them:
- dairy produce like butter or cheese
- meat or fish
- fat or bones
- onions or garlic.
Growing fruit and vegetables is a great way of reducing some of the harmful gases produced by processing and transporting food. Not only is growing your own food rewarding—it tastes better too.
Even if you don't have a garden, it's easy to grow a few fresh herbs or salad greens in a pot on your verandah or kitchen so they're always on hand. Instead of buying costly bunches of herbs at the supermarket that you may not use, you can snip off just a few leaves as you need them. The flavour of fresh herbs will give your meals a lift.
Consider using organic principles for the food you grow.
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Composting kitchen scraps is good for gardens and avoids organic waste going to landfill.
A worm farm turns organic waste into nutrient-rich fertiliser for your plants and soils.
Chickens eat scraps, provide eggs and help reduce kitchen and food waste.