I was recently filmed for the news on our National TV station RTE. The segment was about the use of brown bins (compost bins) in Ireland, which apparently is on the decline. The piece equated food waste with brown bin usage but i made the point (which was edited out) that if someone is doing an excellent job of reducing their food waste they may not even need a brown bin!
Unfortunately in Ireland the focus on food waste appears to be primarily aimed at the individual and efforts to reduce food waste by retailers simply pushes the problem back on them. A perfect example is pre-packed apples. Some major supermarket chains only sell pre-packaged apples because it’s quicker to scan at the tills and the packaging protects the fruit, extending their life and therefore reducing food waste for the retailer. Others may sell apples loose but typically they’re not included in promotions so people often buy packs of apples even if they know realistically only half of them will get eaten. This means that in order to maintain profit the problem of food waste get pushed onto the individual who ends up having to deal with the unwanted food at their end. Ironically the plastic packaging used by retailers to avoid wasting a compostable product creates an even worse waste problem!
It’s true that our waste management system does encourage us to reduce waste, but only to a point. Waste management companies need to make a profit and their prices are structured to ensure that. In our experience once you drop below a certain level of waste production the cost of waste services in most areas simply doesn’t offer value for money. I know some Zero Wasters in Ireland have been able to reduce their waste so much that they’ve been able to cancel their bin collection service. Kudos to them but i don’t think we’ll ever be able to get to this point. We’re still a meat-eating household and cooked food, meat and dairy just isn’t suitable for our garden composter. I’ve looked into Bokashi bins and it appears that even after its done it’s work you still have bones, etc to deal with. So we’re stuck with our brown bin and because we get charged per lift and by weight we only put it out when it’s full, which takes a long time because all of our vegetable peelings, garden waste, paper and cardboard goes into our garden composter. I know some bin collection providers only charge by weight but in our area those that do, have a higher standing charge to offset any potential loss in profit. It’s simple maths; at current waste fees, waste management companies need us to produce a minimum amount of waste for them to be profitable. If we reduce less than that minimum level they’ll have to increase fees to maintain the same profit margin. It seems clear to me that as society creates less and less waste we’re going to have to shift the incentives for waste management companies or their objectives are going to be at odds with ours!
On a more practical level here are some things we’ve done as a family to reduce our food waste at home;
- buy unpackaged fruit and veg – it means you buy only what you need
- limit the food miles of the fruit and veg you buy – it’s fresher and so lasts in your fridge / fruit bowl longer.
- buy fruit and veg that’s in season, it’ll last longer.
- take fruit and veg out of any plastic packaging before storing
- don’t wash fruit and veg until just before you need it – it speeds up decomposition
- use frozen veg to supplement your fresh veg supply – it also helps cope with erratic schedules.
- keep fruit and veg apart – it makes it last longer
- keep bananas away from other fruit – it gives off ethanol which speeds up decomposition
- keep potatoes in a dark, dry place – we put them in a paper bag.
- freeze fresh herbs and use as required
- store cheese in the fridge wrapped in kitchen paper in an airtight container – change the kitchen paper every week.
- store mushrooms in the fridge in a ceramic / glass bowl and cover with a tea-towel
- only store condiments on the door fridge – this is warmest part of the fridge
- don’t overstock your fridge – it makes it impossible to find things
- limit snacking so that people are hungry at dinner time
- control portions at meal times to limit waste
- freeze left overs
- keep bread and lunch meat frozen and assemble frozen for lunches. They’ll both defrost slowly over the day keeping the sandwich fresh. It also means that the bread and lunch meat is kept in suspended animation until it’s required.
- streamline recipes, i.e. plan meals that use the same veg so that you have a couple of opportunities to use it all up.
- get into the habit of using up leftover ingredients – I search for recipe by ingredients on bbc.co.uk/food
- make soup with veg that’s past it’s best
- make smoothies with fruit that’s past it’s best.