This is the third in a series on food waste and its environmental, social and economic impacts.
What could you do with an extra $1,100 or so every year?
If you’re like most Canadians, that’s the value of the food you’re throwing away. That amount, calculated by the National Zero Waste Council of Canada is the value of the 140 kg of food that gets wasted for the average household. However, there is something you can do to hang on to that cash and fight climate change at the same time.
Joanne Gauci is a senior advisor with the National Zero Waste Council and its Love Food Hate Waste program. The goal of the program is to change people’s behaviour and encourage reducing the amount of food that gets wasted in our homes. The idea, simply, is to make a plan and only buy what you need, store it correctly and make sure to eat everything that you buy.
“Really, from our perspective those have always been the broad areas where perhaps there are some weaknesses, and they give people a way to think about where they might have some room for improvements,” Gauci said. “Everybody’s a bit different. It depends on your weekly habits, and it starts by looking at where you might be wasting food. Watch yourself for a week and do a bit of an audit and see where your weak spots might be. For me it’s about storing foods. We buy a lot of fresh produce and if we don’t use it quickly, we have to make sure we’re storing it correctly.”
Planning your meals beforehand, storing them properly and use all of your food all lead to less food that gets wasted. A weekly meal plan done before a grocery trip ensures that all of the food that gets purchased has somewhere to go. Start by checking what you have left over and think about what meals you can make with those ingredients. From there, turn to your favourite resource for recipes and find meals that only take four or five ingredients. Use those recipes to make your grocery list, that way, you only buy the amount specified in the recipe and nothing goes to waste. It gets even better if you can use the same ingredients for multiple meals, which means less for you to buy and spread your food out to different meals.
This is especially pertinent for things like produce that can go bad quickly.
Staples like rice and flour lend themselves quite well to bulk buying if space is available, but buying milk in bulk is a great way to end up with spoiled milk.
Speaking of space, ensuring groceries are properly stored can drastically increase their shelf life, and can remind you to use them up quicker if need be.
This can be anything from making sure the egg carton is positioned so the best before date is facing out to storing fresh herbs in water to doing a “First In, First Out” audit of the fridge (make the older food easier to access so you eat that first). Love Food Hate Waste released on Monday a guide to properly storing various kinds of foods on their website, which has tips and tricks for ensuring none of your groceries go bad because of storage.
“You should be able to go into the website and look up any type of food item and get some quick tips about how to store than and make sure it stays fresher for longer,” Gauci said.
Finally, ensuring everything gets used up goes a long way towards reducing food waste.
Take some time to notice how much food you’re throwing away every day, whether that’s scraping your plate at the end of a meal, eating half of your take out and tossing the rest, or realizing too late that your loaf of bread has gotten a bit fuzzy.
If you find yourself scraping your plate into the trash after dinner, try eating from a smaller plate.
You can always go back for seconds. Instead of scraping food into the trash, use it as leftovers and either make something new out of it (yesterday’s steak can easily turn into steak and eggs the next day) or use it for your lunch.
For eating out, if you realize you’re eating half your takeout burger and fries, maybe leave the fries next time and eat the whole burger.
Keeping track of what you’re eating can also lead to more informed decisions next time you get groceries, including only buying one loaf of bread instead of two. It’s easy to nip out and grab a loaf of bread if you run out.
“It’s really surprising when you really slow down and take stock of your weekly habits and patterns. Like any behaviour change, it kind of takes time to do things differently. We always say ‘Start by making one change.’ Look at where your weak spots might be,” Gauci said.
“You might like to buy lots of different ingredients and try new recipes, but come Thursday you’re too busy and it doesn’t amount to what you’d hoped.
“You might have kids and be a busy family and out in the evenings, so dinner doesn’t get made.
“It’s about looking at where your patterns are and just trying to make one small change and build from there, and look for inspiration.
“People get quite excited about talking about the food that they make in their home. It means a lot to us, probably more so now than it has in the past,” she added. “I certainly encourage sharing and talking about it with those around you and in your network.”
Gauci said that she and her team have seen that people are ready and willing to take these measures.
During the pandemic, people have been rethinking how they interact with food and the team has seen that food waste has gone down, according to a study published in September.
“What we found last year, and it was really good to get a sense of how things had changed at that time, is that patterns have been changing in the home,” she said.
“People were thinking about food more so than they had and were really trying to do a concerted effort.”
While she does want to go back and do another study, Gauci said that being more mindful when it comes to their food waste has the potential to have a big impact when it comes to climate change, personal finances and food security across the country.
“The best option is to try and prevent that waste in the first place. It’s quite compelling when you look at the climate, the environmental and economic reasons for doing that as well. So if you’re kind of looking to see what you can do to help the environment, one of the simplest ways and most impactful ways of moving forward is looking to reduce your own food waste,” she said.
“It would make a huge impact, and it’s within our control…
“If we all did just a little bit differently in the kitchen, it seems simplistic, but it really is true that we could have quite a significant impact in Canada as a whole, just in terms of the numbers of that edible food waste.”