How to reduce food waste?

by Rada Boneva
 How to reduce food waste?

How many times have you reached towards the lid of the food waste bin to throw food scraps away? Do you often forget what you've put in the kitchen cabinets? If these sound familiar, then keep reading, this article might be the food waste reduction guide you’ve been looking for.

More than 30% of the food worldwide goes to waste. What does this mean?

16th October is World Food Day. The ways of celebrating this special occasion vary from going out for a delicious meal, cooking at home following an inspirational recipe or commemorating the day by simply being grateful for the abundance of food in our lives.

A poll from 2009 shows that food waste in the USA alone has increased with 50% since 1974.Each year 1/3 of the food produced worldwide goes to waste. The reasons for that are different but main contributors to these numbers are surprisingly the households (53%) followed by food processing – 19% and catering – 12%. Imagine if we could use this wasted food to feed the hundred million hungry people worldwide…Statistically, these 1,3 billion tons of wasted food can feed the starving…4 times.

How do things look here in Bulgaria?

Numbers from the EU parliament survey show that the average Bulgarian wastes 80 kg of food annually, this makes 554 160 tons of food waste for the Bulgarian population annually.

And while some people might think that this isn’t too bad because we’re talking about organic waste, we would like to shed some light on that matter. Yes, natural products like fruit and veggie scraps are biodegradable but they need to be discarded and let to rot in suitable conditions. And this is only 1 side of the coin, the other one is – there is so much more we can do with food scraps before discarding them. If you’d like to find out more about that, keep reading and stay tuned for our next article.

Why does food waste happen at first place?

Actually before thinking of our excess consumption we need to take a step back and think of the waste happening during harvest and food distribution on a commercial level. Some suppliers and importers deliver more than the ordered quantity and supermarkets often refuse or cannot afford to pay for the extra food they have received.

Where are we in this scenario? Sometimes we fool ourselves that a product is not good for consumption and send it on a worldwide garbage tour. Did you know that there is a difference between the “best before”and “use by/before” labels?

Best before means that the product is still edible past the marked date but it wouldn’t be in its best condition. Use by/before is used for marking food products with a short lifespan and indeed one shouldn’t consume anything past the marked date for health reasons.

Another reason for a product to be sold on a reduced price or to be removed from the supermarket shelves and discarded at a landfil is supermarket management's decision for the distribution of this product to be discontinued.

There is also a lot of food waste due to unattractive food appearance – due to either incorrect transportation or shorter product lifespan.Zerowaste supporters would advise you to give a chance to the brownish bananas and avocadoes or the bruised apples.

We’ve all heard of the saying that one shouldn’t shop on an empty stomach and without a concrete menu in mind. Sadly, the lack of appropriate planning is another reason for food waste. We often buy or cook more than we can eat.

What happens to the food we throw away?

A less known fact is that when a food or other biodegradable product goes to landfil, under the ground, deprived of oxygen, there is a chemical reaction the product of which is methane which is 20 times more harmful for the environment than CO2. Methane (CH4) is a powerful greenhouse gas and the main contributor to global warming and climate change.

It’s not complicated to connect the dots and see that wasted food also means waste of the resources used for that food’s manufacturing. Moreover, when one purchases food they don’t use and throw away, he/she is wasting money as well. As ordinary consumers, it’s hard for most of us to imagine the scale of this disaster. 37% of the land worldwide is used for growing food crops but if we increase consumption, these territories will also increase which will lead to an increase of landfill sites as well. Water is also an irreplaceable and essential resource for growing food crops and producing meat products. Meat in fact uses most water out of all food products – over 800 liters for the making of a couple hundred grams of chicken, over 3000 liters for the same amount of red meat.

Check out also How to generate less waste in the kitchen

How can we prevent food waste?

Enough with the negative facts. There is a number of things we can do to manage our kitchens better:

  • Go food shopping only when you’re prepared: Take a piece of paper or you can use the notes on your phone and make a list of the products you need based on your weekly menu plan.If one sticks to their menu, he/she can escape the supermarkets’discount traps. It’s even easier if you do your food shopping online, just make sure that you instruct the store not to use plastic bags for the deliveries, the good old cardboard boxes are ideal. We also encourage supporting small, local producers. Check when is the farmers’market in your city (for Sofia – every Saturday at the Roman wall (Rimskata stena) in Lozenets and recently at the Women’s market (Zhenskia pazar); every Wednesday – Ivan Vazov bazaar, in front of the building of the Ministry of Agriculture. You can also check the local farms around, for the Plovdiv region we can recommend Pura Vida Farm & Fidanoto, for Sofia – Sofina. The farmers’markets are also places where you can get your food shopping done package-free, using your own jars & containers because farmers tend to care more about the environment, encouraging zerowaste shopping. Moreover, by purchasing your food directly from farmers, you’re saving not only the food packaging waste but also resources and CO2 emissions which happen during mass deliveries from the producers to big supermarket chains.

  • Give a free reign to your creativity. You’ve planned to make some chicken with a little cabbage on the side? Think of how to use the remaining cabbage, you can make a salade or coleslaw for example. You’ve purchased some celery for a soup? Use its’sticks to make a healthy juice or a smoothie. Store your veggie peels in jars and once they accumulate turn them into veggie broth. If you’ve boiled too many of them, you can freeze them into ice cubs and use them later. The combination of old coffee grounds and sugar makes an ideal body scrub.

  • Grow your own herbs and veggies. Not everyone lives in a house with a garden but you can still grow quite a few things on your balcony. These include spicy pepers, cherry tomatoes, green onions, strawberries, fresh herbs and green spices such as parsley, dill, mint, basil. All they need is sunshine, water and a lot of love : ) Growing your own veggies is also a great way to include your child into the process of taking care of your own veggie garden. Good news is that spices grow even during the winter months, you can pick some leaves, dry them or freeze them.

  • Share. If you’ve cooked too much food for lunch, share it with your colleagues/classmates. Take last night’s dinner leftovers for lunch on the next day, put them in a reusable food container or wrap them in a beeswax wrap. If you’re tired of having the same food again and again, look around for some stray animals that you can offer it to.

  • Donate. Check out how local food banks work (In Bulgaria we have several initiatives such as “Donate food, donate love”organised by the students of the maths and science high school in Sofia and “Food not bombs”). There are plenty of these worldwide that serve as positive examples and intermidiaries between restaurants, stores and people in need. These include Plan Zheroes in Borough Market, London; Rescuing Leftover Cuisine in New York with branches in San Francisco, Miami and Los Angeles. Copenhagen also has its jewel – WeFood – a supermarket selling rescued food. Similar initiatives also happen in small neighbourhood stores here in Bulgaria as well, look for the small wooden crates next to the tills.

  • For more information about how food waste is handled in Sofia – click here.  

  • Compost. For the moment food waste is collected together with the general waste in most Bulgarian cities. We listed quite a few reasons above about why this practice isn’t the best and one solution to this problem that we can recommend is composting. “Compost” isn’t a dirty word and we can see more and more people opting for it. By composting you get nutrition for your garden soil and for your plants. The healthy properties of the compost pile are a result of natural biochemical processes which lead to the decomposting of the plant-based mass – grass, leaves, branches, fruit and veggie peels, coffee grounds, tea herbs and more. We love the composting guide of City Experimentarium and you can find several shared composters in Sofia – near the restaurant  Blagichka Zero Wastein Students’ Town (Stydentski grad), Knyazhevo and on the street of Fridtjof Nansen.If you compost at home but don’t have a place where to put your compost after your bin is full, check out the residential area, there might be some space for a shared neighbourhood composter.

So many options and opportunities, right? 

To wrap it all up, purchase only food that you like & need and make sure that you’ve consumed what you bought. Find your place in the food chain and we hope that with today’s article we’ve planted the seed of knowledge and next time you reach towards the food bin, you’ll think twice before tossing something in.

What’s more?

In the next article we’ll share easy to implement tips & tricks on plastic-free food storage and keeping your food fresh for longer.

P.S. We’d like to thank our friend Rada Boneva for this article and pictures, check out her inspirational & educational blog HERE


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