How to Cut Down on Your Food Waste

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Throwing away food might seem like a perfectly normal thing to do, but every piece of food produced has a carbon footprint, and contributes towards greenhouse gas emissions – we need to reduce these to slow global warming, and limit the impact of climate change to a tolerable level. At the same time, our population is growing and we are expected to hit nearly 10 billion people by 2050 [1]... which means we have a lot of mouths to feed.

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Food and the Climate

The food system incorporates anything and everything to do with the food we eat, from farm to fork. Recent research suggests that a third of all global greenhouse gas emissions arise from our current food system [2]. The majority arise from agriculture (the use of fertilisers and pesticides, livestock, crop production methods) and the conversion of forests or grasslands into farmland. Processing, transportation, and refrigeration account for the rest.

When we waste food, the resources used for food production (and associated greenhouse gas emissions) are also wasted.

What is Food Waste?

Food waste is any food suitable for human consumption that is discarded or left to spoil [3], and it occurs throughout the whole food system [4].

In low-income countries food is mostly lost in the early stages before it reaches a market or a consumer (called pre-consumer waste). This is mostly due to financial and technical limitations in growing and harvesting methods, and a lack of adequate storage, cooling facilities and transport infrastructure.

Post-consumer waste typically occurs in medium and high-income countries such as the UK and US. In this case, food waste is mainly related to consumer preference and behaviour as well as to a lack of coordination in the supply chain.

Buying contracts or differences between forecast sales and actual demand may result in crops being wasted. Food is also wasted due to quality standards, which reject imperfect food items (think wonky carrots) or food close to its best-before date expiration [5]. Consumers in these countries often have a much more relaxed attitude when it comes to what we choose to consume and what we don’t, simply because we can afford to throw food away [6]. That is why we see 60% of post-consumer food waste happening in the home, in the UK alone the average person wastes 30 kilograms of food per year [7].

The Cost of Food Waste

Not only is food waste bad for the environment, it’s also bad for our collective wallets. In the UK alone, food waste costs families, on average, £700 per year [8].

And it’s not just our wallets that feel the strain – every bit of food waste also costs the planet, as all of the water, land, energy and manual labour involved, as well as associated CO2 emissions, goes to waste too [9].

What happens once this food is thrown away? In the best case scenario, it gets sent for composting or the production of bio-gases. However, in the worst cases, it is sent to landfills where it degrades and releases methane. This is the second-most potent greenhouse gas, and is even more effective than CO2 when it comes to trapping the heat in the atmosphere.

To sum up, if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter [10]. The good news is that we can all take action, even if these actions differ between countries, organisations, individuals.

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Why Reduce Food Waste?

Reducing our global food waste has enormous benefits. If we’re able to halve the amount of food wasted, there would be enough food for approximately one billion extra people [11].

We’d significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and, instead of converting more farmland, we could restore forests and wild areas of land.Having this natural vegetation has the potential to remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere [12] and there could be opportunities to re-establish habitats for endangered species and consequently increase biodiversity [13].

So, reducing food waste is part of the solution towards being able to meet both our current and future food needs.

What are We Doing at Huel?

At Huel, we have designed our products to keep food waste to a minimum. The flexible serving sizes of most of the Huel range allows exact amounts to be portioned out, so excess food is not thrown away.

Huel’s long shelf-life (12 months) means you can enjoy a nutrient-packed meal without having to worry about whether the food has passed its use-by date. For more on what we’re doing to help reduce food waste, have a read of our guide to eating healthy (and reducing your carbon footprint).

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What Else Can You do to Cut Down on Food Waste?

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Think Ahead

Putting together a meal plan before the weekly shop will help reduce excess food being thrown away – it’s also a great way to save money and eat healthier.

Once you’ve purchased your food, take note of expiry dates so you know when certain products need to be used up, and can turn them into delicious meals before they go off.

Storage

Investing in food containers and sealable bags to store food are great to help preserve food for as long as possible.

Learning how different foods are best stored will help prevent them from spoiling faster. For example, avoid putting bananas in your fruit bowl as they give off the gas ethylene, which causes other foods to ripen quicker.

Use Your Freezer

Frozen foods have a significantly longer shelf-life than their ambient counterparts and the process has minimal impact on their nutritional value. The freezer is also great for rescuing leftovers and food that’s close to its use-by date. This will not only prevent the food from being thrown away but help you to save time and money by having a spare meal to hand.

Get Creative

Just because that punnet of strawberries you’ve got in the fridge are past their best-before date, doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be chucked out. Vegetables can be made into stocks and stews and fruits can be blended up in a smoothie.

Stale bread is perfect for making croutons or blitzed for breadcrumbs. And if you can’t think up a creative way to use up those leftovers, try combining them with other ingredients to create an entirely different meal.

Embrace Imperfect Food

Misshapen or discoloured food that is perfectly safe for consumption can be thrown away because it doesn’t meet arbitrary appearance standards. Luckily, supermarkets are now starting to sell 'wonky' food at a discounted price which means you can help prevent waste whilst saving money.

Companies such as Oddbox also rescue the food that wouldn't make it from the farm to the supermarket, and instead deliver them straight to your door.

Avoid Landfills

No matter how hard you try, there will always be some household food waste, but that doesn't mean it can’t still be put to good use. Composting scraps is beneficial for soil and prevents foods from being sent to landfills – a win-win for the environment.

Summary

One-third of all food is wasted, and if food waste were a country it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases. To sustainably feed the planet both now and in the future, we need to significantly reduce this. In the UK and other developed countries, we are responsible for most of the food that gets wasted but this means there is a lot we can do to help.

By being more conscious towards how we consume food and making simple changes every one of us can have a positive impact.

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References

  1. Searchinger T. Creating a sustainable food future. Washington, DC 20002, USA: World Resources Institute 2018.
  2. Crippa M, Solazzo, E., Guizzardi, D. et al. Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nat Food. 2021; 10.1038/s43016-021-00225-9.
  3. HLPE. Food losses and waste in the context of sustainable food systems. . A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security. Rome: 2014.
  4. Sharma P, et al. Microbial strategies for bio-transforming food waste into resources. Bioresour Technol. 2020; 299:122580.
  5. Aschemann-Witzel J, et al. Consumer-Related Food Waste: Causes and Potential for Action. Sustainability. 2015; 7(6):6457-77.
  6. FAO. Save food for a better climate. Converting the food loss and waste challenge into climate action Rome: 2017.
  7. Katie Flanagan KRaCH. Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Setting a Global Action Agenda Washington, DC 20002, USA: 2019.
  8. WRAP. Courtauld Commitment 2025 Milestone Progress Report. Oxford: 2020.
  9. FAO. Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. . Rome: 2011.
  10. al Se. Huel Sustainable Nutrition Report UK 2020.
  11. Kummu M, et al. Lost food, wasted resources: global food supply chain losses and their impacts on freshwater, cropland, and fertiliser use. Sci Total Environ. 2012; 438:477-89.
  12. al. STe. Assessing the efficiency of changes in land use for mitigating climate change. Nature. 2018; 564(7735):249-53.
  13. BT P. What Have We Learned from the Land Sparing-sharing Model? . Sustainability. 2018; 10(6): 1760.

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