Waste not, want not...

A buffet of food - how much will go to waste?

A buffet of food - how much will go to waste? - Credit: Archant

It’s hard to believe, but did you know that half of ALL food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes? We are worse than the supermarkets. On average, each home in the UK wastes nearly £500 food each year, and homes with children around £700 each year.

It’s not a very glamorous subject but when you think about it, the situation is total madness. We spend a lot of money on food, then waste about a fifth each week, then pay for it to be taken away again in our council tax. Our grandparents’ generation was far less wasteful, so what are we doing wrong?

As part of Sustainable St Albans week I promised to take the Food Waste Challenge with my family and see what we really throw away. I also roped in some other ‘typical’ local residents, including busy London commuters.

So me first. We are a family of four with two children (10 and 14). We both work at home and in London and days are very varied. Our primary age daughter has school lunches and the teen takes lunch or eats at school.

We like to cook and I thought we were pretty good at not wasting food, but we did: half a pack of smoked mackerel, half a box of mushrooms, chard leaves, ginger-flavoured yoghurt (bought by mistake and no-one liked it).

We cooked too many veggies for Sunday lunch so some broccoli was thrown away too. We filled the small green caddy twice this week with cauliflower leaves, tea bags, apple cores, orange peels etc so that will go to food waste rather than landfill.

Apparently families often throw away bread and milk (too much in the cereal bowl) but we were OK on that this week as we like the crusts! I think the theme there is buying food that only one or two of us like so it doesn’t get eaten in time. I’m going to find out if I can freeze smoked fish to avoid that in the future.

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Ali and Ed are a professional couple living in the city centre, with Ed leaving home at 5am most mornings to work in Canary Wharf and Ali runs a catering company.

They have chickens so lots of their veggie waste goes to them. Ali found that doing the challenge made her more aware of what they waste and what they do with recycling. They were not using their old caddy as it took up space in their small kitchen and was quite grotty.

Ali bought a new one that is easier to clean, which has made food recycling more appealing. They noticed that they usually throw away green peppers; they buy larger packs that are good value but don’t have a use for the green one (I can relate to that).

Ali realised that they sometimes make too much food, eg. more risotto than they need, as she measures by eye. Ali used to menu plan when working more predictable hours, so has decided to try that again.

Adam and Debbie both work full-time and have a very busy social life, eating out often. Adam told me that the main thing they wasted this week was fruit; they buy bunches of bananas and bags of satsumas and don’t get through them.

He said that satsumas are sold in bags that are too big for a couple; you can’t buy them individually. I thought that was an interesting observation - with fewer greengrocers and farm shops around it isn’t as convenient to buy smaller amounts of fruit especially when you work in London.

Adam attended a work event where lunch was provided and noticed a lot of food waste there. He explained that there was food for all dietary requirements so there was far more food than actually needed. I have seen this a lot too at work events and parties with buffets.

The question is whether it matters? If we can afford to buy food and not eat it, where is the harm? Quite aside from any moral argument, there is a big environmental argument; we could reduce the amount of planes and lorries transporting fruit around the world for a start.

Fewer animals would be farmed and killed. There would be far less landfill (in St Albans about 40 per cent of food still goes into landfill).

For more info on how we can save food and why it will benefit us all, go to lovefoodhatewaste.com.