What are the ways to prevent food waste?

What are the ways to prevent food waste
Photo: Photography Firm, Bigstock

Each year, Australians and New Zealanders throw out around 4.12 million tonnes of food. But, our larger population means we create the bulk of this rubbish—New Zealand tosses just over 122,500 tonnes of our collective food waste.

Regardless of how these stats break down, food waste is a global issue. It wastes natural resources, contributes to climate change and eats away at our paychecks.

Why is food waste a problem?

Throwing out food wastes more than just the products themselves—it wastes natural resources and money, too.

Water is used to make all types of food, from fruits and vegetables to bread and cheese. The amount of water needed to produce our food may even shock you: A loaf of bread requires some 1,125 litres. Five thousand litres is needed for 1kg of cheese. And it takes a whopping 15,500 litres of water to grow just 1kg of beef! Every time we throw out uneaten food, we’re wasting huge quantities of fresh water.

Food production also requires large amounts of oil. It’s used in everything from farming and factory production to transporting these goods to grocery stores (not to mention the petrol needed to get us to and from the shops). Globally, around 300 million barrels of oil are used each year to grow and make food that is eventually tossed out.

For Aussies, food waste can potentially impact our budgets in a big way. The average Australian household spends $1,036 every year on food that is thrown away. For many families, that could be enough to feed their family for a month, cover utility bills, cover part of a monthly mortgage payment or help boost their savings account.

Food waste is also contributing to climate change. Much of the food that is tossed winds up in landfills, where it rots and releases methane gas—a toxic pollutant. Methane is also created through livestock farming and vehicle exhaust. This means that each time we throw out unused meat, we’re contributing to the creation of methane gas three times.

7 Ways to prevent food waste

So how can everyday Aussies prevent food waste? Just a few changes to our routines could help make a bit impact. Below are some practical ways to stop wasting food.

  1. Plan a weekly menu
    Avoiding food waste could be as simple as not buying extra food to begin with. Planning your menu may help you buy only what you will eat each week.
  2. Do a stock take before shopping
    How often do you buy something at the grocery, only to realise you already had that item at home? Before heading to the shops, do a stock take of your fridge and pantry. If you do accidentally double-buy food, move the older items to the front and use them first.
  3. Shop locally
    Help cut down on greenhouse gases by purchasing foods produced as close to home as possible—this food doesn’t have to travel as far to get to your table. It’s also a great way to support local farmers, dairies and artisans.
  4. Don’t over-serve food
    Large portion sizes often lead to wasted food. Put less food on your family member’s plates, and let them get seconds if they choose. You could also try using smaller plates, which could help you eat less in general.
  5. Eat leftovers
    Your family may save the leftovers from home cooked and takeaway meals, but do you actual eat them? Pack leftovers as lunches the next day or use them in dinners throughout the week. Extra sweet treats, like cookies or cake, can be shared with friends or coworkers.
  6. Understand expiration dates
    Confusion over expiration dates can lead shoppers to toss perfectly good food. Generally, “sell by” and “best by” labels are suggestions. A quick smell or taste test can help you decide if something is OK to serve. “Use by” dates should be taken more seriously, especially for refrigerated items.
  7. Start a compost heap
    Even with the steps above, you may still have some kitchen waste that can’t be eaten. Rather than throwing it away, start composting it. Compost can enrich the soil in your garden and help your plants grow.

You can help prevent food waste

Small changes to how we shop, eat and throw away our unused food could help Australia and New Zealand combat our food waste problem. Consider how a few practical steps might help in your household or workplace. The potential money savings could help you stretch your budget, while helping the environment along the way.