We’re going away for a few days, so I’ve been clearing out the fridge making sure that nothing goes to waste. The majority of the food I am taking with me, some I am eating as I write in a rather bizarre lunch of left overs, some will keep for the 4 days we’re gone, and one packet of figs I have put in the compost bin. The rest of the bread I have just fed to the chickens (and whippets – ruddy thieves), so all in all I’m thinking good job done. But it got me thinking, and I want to quote some key points raised by Lorrayne Ventour in a report on waste in the UK. Yes, we’ve heard it all before, but have we really, really listened?
- UK households waste 6.7 million tonnes of food every year, around one third of the 21.7 million tonnes we purchase. Most of this food waste is currently collected by local authorities (5.9 million tonnes or 88%). Some of this will be recycled but most is still going to landfill where it is liable to create methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The remaining 800,000 tonnes is composted by people at home, fed to animals or tipped down the sink.
- Most of the food we throw away (4.1 million tonnes or 61%) is avoidable and could have been eaten if it had been managed better. Truly unavoidable food waste, like vegetable peelings, meat carcasses and teabags, accounts for 1.3 million tonnes a year or 19% of the total, with the remainder being ‘possibly avoidable’ food waste – items such as bread crusts that some people choose not to eat and potato skins which can be eaten when food is prepared in certain ways but not in others.
- The type of avoidable food we waste in the largest quantity is potato; 359,000 tonnes of potato goes uneaten every year, including 177,400 tonnes of potatoes thrown away whole and untouched (49%). Other commonly wasted types of food are slices of bread (328,000 tonnes a year), apples (190,000 tonnes including 178,800 tonnes thrown away whole and untouched), and meat and fish meals (161,000 tonnes).
- The food that is bought and then thrown away uneaten in the greatest proportion is salad; in the UK 45% by weight of all purchased salad is thrown away (60% by cost). Other foods that are wasted in high proportions include bakery items (31% of that purchased is thrown away) and fruit (26% of that purchased is thrown away).
- Nearly half (46%) of the avoidable food we throw away is in a fresh, raw or minimally processed state, with an additional 27% thrown away having been cooked or prepared in some way and 20% ready to consume when purchased. Starchy foods are most commonly thrown away after being prepared, with 45,000 tonnes of rice, 33,000 tonnes of pasta and 105,000 tonnes of potato thrown away each year, suggesting people prepare too much.
- Over one quarter of the avoidable food thrown away each year (nearly 1.2 million tonnes) is thrown away still in its packaging, either opened or unopened.
- Nearly 1 million tonnes of food is thrown away whole or unopened; this is nearly one quarter of all avoidable food waste. Foods most commonly thrown away whole are individual items of fruit; 2.9 billion items are thrown away every year. Vegetables and bakery items are also routinely thrown away whole and untouched; 1.9 billion whole vegetables are thrown away each year and 1.2 million bakery items.
Pretty startling statistics, and I for one am guilty as charged on a number of counts.
We grow our own sheep here in Hampshire, and I can honestly say it’s the best lamb, hogget and mutton I have ever eaten. Our breed – Jacob x Shetland – means it’s quite fatty. I’m not a food fuss pot, and like Mrs Spratt, I love my fat, and so will always eat it. But, and this is the point, I have watched these sheep from birth to maturity, and I know what it is to kill an animal and then eat it. I choose to eat meat, and with that comes a responsibility to, and a respect for the animal that we (or any other person) has killed. That respect means that I cannot waste or throw away an ounce. I owe it to Flossie or Molly to make sure they didn’t die just to go in the bin.
My mother was a ration book kid, so we could leave anything on our plate but NEVER leave the meat. I use every bit of our sheep – boil up all the bones for stock, feed the worst of the fat to the birds, and feed the dogs on the offal (not a fan), and never, ever throw any of the meat away. This is out of respect for an animal that died so I could eat it. Maybe I’m nuts, but my conscience is clear. Woe betide the person who comes for dinner here and leaves any of our sheep on their plate uneaten!
A few winters ago, our freezers packed up when they were stuffed with pheasant and cheap post-christmas smoked salmon, so we had an emergency dinner party to eat everything. 27 people turned up with 24 hours notice, and we had a great feast of anything and everything that had defrosted, simply because I couldn’t bin it.
And so I come to Abel & Cole, one of this countries fab organic home delivery outfits. Their depot is up the road from us here, and they have an arrangement with a friend and local farmer that he takes all their waste, every day, as pig waste. It is goods that are passed their sell by date, or excess stock, and none of it can be sold for human consumption, but can be sent on as pig feed. John has a large heard of (very) free-range Kune Kune cross pigs, and boy do they eat well! The last time we went to see them they were having Vichysoise, a tractor load of lettuce and strawberry salad and fennel. They will literally eat anything, and live of a diet of organic fruit and veg, pesto, fruit juice, milk and any other titbit to hand.
Other farmers nearby installed an aneorobic digester to provide heat and power for the farm and for commercial use as they tripled their dairy herd, and it has been a great success. The cattle poo is a marvel, but other vegetable waste can be added.
So, given that most of our supermarkets have nothing like the recycling attitude of Abel & Cole, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every new supermarket constructed in the UK HAD to have it’s own aneorobic digester for their food waste, if they have no other means of disposing of it. Slap some solar panels on the roof, and they could probably be entirely energy efficient. Pipe dream? I don’t think so.
So, what can we as individuals do to stop this appalling waste.
Firstly, plan your meals. Sounds really boring, but most of this waste is simply because we over-cater for our needs. By working out what meals you need to cater for before you buy, you will also save yourself money too.
When you’ve finished that chicken joint, boil up the carcass for stock or soup. You will be amazed how much meat there is still there, and hey presto, you have another meal.
We are lucky to have space here, so not only do we have 3 large composting bins, we also have 2 muck heaps. So every bit of plant waste, animal poo, and straw gets recycled and spread on the fields and the flower beds. But you can do this on any scale.
Wash your fruit and veg well before your eat it or cook it, so there is no need to peel it. Most of the nutrients lie just under the skin anyhow, so keeping skins on is always the best thing to do…
Get yourself a little composter. No matter how big or small your space, a plastic box in the kitchen can be filled with peelings and tea bags, put in a larger compost big outside, and hey presto, you will have your own compost to fill new window boxes to topping up your rose garden.
If you have the space, get a pig. A friend of mine say they would sooner eat their own dog than eat their pig, but having a piggy pet is not only fun but also very efficient. They will eat everything – except for pig products – and really are very intelligent beings. If you can’t face eating your own, do a swap with another pig owner.
Finally, educate your kids. Years ago we had the plight of the starving of Ethiopia in front of us through the media every day for months, and it hit home for a whole generation as to how very lucky we are to have not only plenty of food, but food choice and variety. Make sure your kids know where their food comes from; the time it takes to grow a plant from seed, or a lamb from tup. Give them a chance to grown their own veg – you can grow tomatoes on a sunny window ledge anywhere – and let them, through doing this themselves, realise how devasting it is to lose a crop, but how gratifying it is to get a good one!
We have a collective responsibility to stop this terrible waste of food – let’s turn it around and start planning our meals, lessening our waste, and doing a little bit of farming ourselves, even if it’s just cress in a pot!
Joanna Jensen, Childs Farm