Hey, Earth Day
Today is Earth Day. In case you’re not au fait with the nature (lol) of the event, it is as follows: Since 1970, Earth Day is a day in which events worldwide are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection.
And so demonstrate is what I’m going to do. Everyone has their cause, and mine is the environment. As I edge towards the 3rd decade of my life, I’m becoming more and more aware of the environmental impact that actions I, or others make. Of course there are so many aspects of environmentalism up for improvement whether that’s the carbon footprint of our clothes or water conservation but (and blame it on my parents) I’m big on food and packaging waste. (Uh oh, garbage grazer alert!) In my household as a kid, there were about 12 recycling bins for different purposes. Did I resent being told to remove chicken bones from the brown bin and put it in the grey one instead? Of course I did but I’m glad it’s helped me be more aware today.
You may well want to stop reading now for thinking this isn’t your jam, but hear me out and you might pick up some little tips on how to positively contribute towards reducing your environmental footprint no matter how eco-aware or eco-not-there you think your are. Hell, I’m so not perfect but there are some things I’m passionate about changing attitudes towards so without further ado, let’s chat…
Here are my 9 tips for reducing food waste and the packaging that comes with it.
1 – Say no to the throw!
Out of date food. You probably to sit in one of two camps on the matter; the ‘OMG you can’t eat that, it’s out of date, throw it all in the bin right now.’ Or the ‘it says it’s out of date but let’s test it and see.’ If you’re the latter, back-of-the-fridge forager, I salute you. Some think it’s about being tight, gross and old fashioned, I call it frugal and ethical.
With 4.2m tonnes of food in the UK wasted every year* at a cost of £12.5bn, food deficits across the world and the environmental and monetary cost of producing the food in the first place, you owe it to the Earth to hunker down on what you’ve got rather than rushing to Tesco to replace it. Truth is, unless you’re faced with really past-it meat or inadequately heated rice, it’s highly unlikely to cause you harm. Sure, I’ve probably cultivated a stomach of steel from all the student years of pesto fur-scraping and ‘I’ll-risk-it’ microwave jobs but I’ve come out the other end (no not like that), saved scraps from the evil bin of landfilldom and felt good about myself. * WRAP.org
- Most food is fine even if it’s starting to turn.
- You can cut off a part of a fruit that’s bit bruised and brown, chop the fluff off your cheese and freeze meat and bread that’s about to go off.
- Cooking food rather than leaving it fresh preserves it for longer so pop it in the oven even if you know you won’t eat it until tomorrow.
- If you just don’t know if something’s past it, never underestimate that nose of yours. Or in the case of milk, boil a bit in the microwave, you’ll soon know it’s off if it curdles…
Obviously, I don’t wish for you to get ill, use your intuition and if you need some swaying, this Guardian article has some great POVs from Ruby Tandoh and pals.
2 – Stop the chop
Stalks aside, the ends of fruit and veggies are fine to eat. (Even avocado stones are edible apparently).
- If you have to rid them, cut close to the stem and compost. My boyfriend is the WORST for this, lopping off half the vegetable pronouncing it inedible. NONSENSE I SAY.
- Use your thumbs to push the stalks of bell peppers into their centres for a clean cut.
- Organic carrots can also be cooked without peeling.
- Rough-cut veggies and spuds for roasting don’t need their skins shed at all. Just be sure to give them all a good scrub before cooking to cleanse off those chemicals.
3 – Bin Win
Got yourself a food waste bin yet? Your local council should be able to collect food waste for you. Sure, they’re not the nicest things to store in your kitchen but you’ve got to suck it up.
- Buy a cute, kitsch mini bin.
- Get the biodegradable liners (free from the council or pick them up at your local supermarket).
- All food waste, cooked or raw goes in.
- Throw it out in the dedicated council bin every other day.
- Done! You’ll be surprised how much food you dispose of and how much less your main bin stinks.
If you want to ramp up the Eco even further…
- Try a home compost kit for your veggie matter. Want MORE? Sometimes, you can even re-use your waste. When the juicing craze hit the ShinyThoughts kitchen, we looked for juice pulp recipe ideas to recycle the lost fibre.
4 – Portion and plan
If you do a big weekly shop but find yourself nipping to Nandos in the evenings, it might be time to change up the routine. Planning meals and shopping only for what you’ll need might sound like behaviour reserved for pensioners but it’ll save you money and prevent those moments when you realise half your fridge has turned green. (Remember, if in doubt, freeze).
I’ve lost count of times I’ve whipped up dodgy dinners using random left overs, Ready, Steady Cook style just to save the scraps. It’s not surprising that they were the butt of my housemate’s jokes. There are lots of tips and tools out there including Love Food, Hate Waste if you need somewhere to start. Essentially, planning is just about giving your food a little more respect to save it from the bin, or worse, a bad meal.
5 – The best things come in small packages
Packaging. No I’m not talking typefaces and beautiful food photography, I mean the amount of and recyclability of the devil-wrap that is packaging.
- Buy in bulk to reduce waste and look out for products with the least packaging possible.
- Fruit and veg is blessed with natures own wrapping, it doesn’t need to be held in a tray that’s held in a plastic bag that’s got a hard plastic toggle on it. (Don’t get me started on banana-gate).
- Just get it all loose, straight in the basket, no bag needed.
I get it, it’s Food Suppliers reducing the risk of spoiling goods in transit. But all I see when I look at double avocados-in-a-tray-in-cellophane is all that plastic I’m about to put in the bin in 10 minutes time. If, by some mind boggling reason a food stuff with more packaging is cheaper that its’ free ranging counterparts, then hell I’m going for the loose option. Sorry purse. Screw you crazy system.
6 – Hell, go totally packaging free!
When doing a little reccie of my local food outlets, one thing was clear. All the supermarkets were just as crap with their over-packaged goods. Even the bakery stands require you to take a bag with some percentage of plastic. The independent 24/7 corner shop was a breath of fresh air with its fresh produce out for the taking and brown paper bags if needed. Unconfined tomatoes, wonderful! (Though I do wonder what proportion doesn’t sell and gets the chop).
Of all the shops, I was most impressed with top-trumping, yummy-mummy-magnetising Planet Organic. (Yes I’m posh enough to have one in my town). Get this though; you bring a container, weigh it, fill it with anything from fancy pasta to prunes. Weight it again and pay the difference at the till. So SIMPLE, so 100 years ago and so needed. (It’s like they got into my head and put my thoughts into practice.) ‘It’s bloody expensive though’ I hear you cry. Correct, but that’s money we could all be spending on a crappy, nutrition-leached take away bought after 7 beers. I’m going to throw my pennies at Planet Organic just to show them I’m thankful for their genius. (Again, sorry purse.)
7 – Buy from thy neighbour
Courgettes shipped from Kenya? No thank you. We’re not all lucky enough to afford shopping at farmers markets nor access to grow our own at local allotments but we can try not to buy from far flung corners of the earth. You’ve just gotta wait for the right season until it’s produced in your own country. Just like your great grandparents did.
It’s mortifying to hear that it’s cheaper to ship something around the world by diesel ship than it is to deliver something to your home in your own county. This to me is like a vegetable knife to my heart and this is why I buy products from other continents as rarely as possible. Then there’s the human and environmental detriment of certain products grown in particular areas. Danielas article on damaging the Earth with our health food consumption makes for a sobering read.
- Amongst all of her advice, be sure not to buy those ‘essential’ avocados from Mexico.
- It turns out, quinoa, avo’s and almond milk are the biggest bullies to the Earth.
Hipster diets, you’re not so idealistic after all.
8 – Recycle, recycle, recycle
Ok so you’ve done all you can to prevent waste, truth is there will always be some. Lots, likely. Now it’s time to get to grips with recycling.
- Councils update their recyclable materials portfolio over time so it’s good to remind yourself even if you think you know what you can and can’t throw in the green bin of glory.
Great debates and rages start with a crumpled crisp packet found tossed in our Sainsburys Bag For Life. My housemate claims the packets are recyclable (they’re not). And so out I fish the debris.
- Search your local councils’ recycling code online, print it out, stick it in the kitchen and set it straight.
- CBA? Google ‘can I recycle [insert waste product here]?’ and you’ll get the answer right away.
- Don’t forget to rinse out milk bottles, tetrapaks and meat trays throughly and crush them.
- No little lids, cling film, paper towel or bits like aerosol spray heads please.
9 – Make a stand and pioneer!
I like to think I’m a fairly nice person most of the time, but boy will I get stroppy if someone forcefully tries to give me a plastic bag. It’s as if the words ‘I don’t need a bag thank you’ doesn’t compute. Ever. Why are we so programmed to serve customers plastic? Is having a spare bag on you really that hard to remember? Am I the only one with more tote bags than knickers?! (Fabric recycling is a whole new topic). Don’t be afraid to give back those unnecessary napkins/cutlery/bags you don’t need. The shop can use it for the next person.
- So take that keep cup to your coffee shop.
- Take that container to the shops
- Definitely get that doggy bag of leftovers in the restaurant (no matter what your date might think.)
- Eat out at a zero-waste restaurant Silo in Brighton
- Eat ‘waste’ at The Real Junk Food Project.
- Support food eco initiatives at places like Le Pain Quotidien.
It’s only when we, the customers demand to be served in a way that re-uses or recycles resources that we will see a change in attitudes. Oh and on a side note, if you do get force fed plastic bags, remember, you can always put them in your regular recycling!
There you are, those are my 9 mantras to help reduce your food footprint. Hopefully you’ve picked up a new tip to try. Please do pass on your own conservation ideas to others, it’s the only way we’ll help shift attitudes and see change. Got your own ideas on food waste and conservation? Comment below or tweet me! Now, how else to save the world..?