Welcome to the 3rd edition of the Everyday Eco series, tracking down ways to reduce our impact on the environment without breaking the bank.
This week: one of our favourite topics, food
Food is such a huge and emotive topic, but the good news is that it looks like even here there are ways that we can reduce our impact on both the planet, and our wallets.
In the UK, food waste has finally been recognised for the huge, and largely avoidable, problem that it is. Great steps forward have been taken in educating consumers in the difference between 'Best Before' dates (a guideline) and 'Use By' dates (a deadline), with a large number of supermarket chains reducing or scrapping them altogether where possible. People are moving to less meat-centric (therefore less carbon-heavy - and cheaper!) diets, planning their meals ahead of time, batch cooking, and are finding ways to use, share, save or even regrow their scraps.
As with energy, the obvious benefit of wasting less food is saving the money we would then spend on additional food purchases to replace the food we've wasted. Plus we can now help others to save by giving away food we know we'll not use in time. Even some food retailers are getting in on the act, benefitting their triple bottom line by selling cut-price bags of food that's on its way out. And the good news is that even for the scraps that do have to get thrown away, we're finding new ways to make good use of it, like this UV solar panel made from crop waste that creates clean, renewable energy.
Read on to learn more.
About our stuff
While our products are currently made from organic cotton and/or recycled polyester, we're keeping a close eye on some exciting new developments in clothing textiles made from food waste, so watch this space! Once these kinds of materials move closer to the mainstream, the costs should hopefully become viable, even for small enterprises like FLC.
Sometimes things just get forgotten about, or you end up not having time for that dish you were going to make, or it was buy one get one free and you'll never get through both, or you just have no idea what do with the rest of the kale left in that massive pack.
For me, it's often things I buy for a special occasion that never comes - that aubergine I was going to marinate, then fry in breadcrumbs, top with a fancy sauce and serve with equally fancy roast potatoes, but Tuesday just doesn't feel like the right day for it (who has time on a Tuesday?!) and Friday is takeaway day...
We're on a countdown from the moment we return with our food shop, so what can we do to lift the pressure a bit?
Some quick wins
There are hundreds of tips and tricks for reducing food waste around the home, so for our quick wins I've focused on the 3 biggest areas of waste:
Salad leaves: around 40% of bagged salad is currently thrown away. Whole heads of lettuce last weeks versus the couple of days you get from bags, so that's a good alternative. And if your leaves have lost a bit of their crispness, pop them in a bowl of cold water for a few hours and you'll see them freshen right back up. Finally, if they're beyond saving for a BLT, chuck leftover leaves into soups and stews - salad leaves used to always be cooked before we all changed to eating them raw.
Bread: around 10 million tonnes of bread are wasted every year in the UK. Avoid it going stale by popping it in the freezer until you're ready to use it, or if it's already a bit stale, toast it, or turn it into breadcrumbs, croutons, panzanella, stuffing, Queen of Puddings, bread soup, French toast (eggy bread), bread pudding, or soak it in French onion soup.
Potatoes: 1.6 billion potatoes are reportedly thrown away each year in the UK. If you realise they're going to go off, wash them, pierce them with a fork, chuck them in the microwave for a few minutes until they're soft and then you can freeze them (once they've cooled) to use later. You can also freeze pretty much every other type of cooked potato for eating at a later date - Future You will thank you! If they've started to sprout, get into gardening mode and plant them somewhere deep (if you don't have a garden I hear old wellies work well) to set yourself up with a crop for next year. If they have more than one sprout you can chop them up into individual plants, meaning even more potatoes in your crop. You can't beat digging into bare earth and revealing tasty carbs!
Some bigger wins
Over the past few years a few great initiatives have been created that help individuals and companies to reduce food waste:
Olio: a mobile app for food-sharing, connecting those with surplus food to those who need or wish to consume such food. If you're going on holiday, can't take your food with you and know it'll be off by the time you get back, this is a great way to avoid it going to waste by sharing it with your local community. In turn you can benefit from the food shared by others - and it's all free. You can also share unwanted household items.
Too Good To Go: a service with a mobile app that connects customers to restaurants and stores that have surplus unsold food. The service covers major European cities, and in October 2020, started operations in North America. Huge chains like Costa, Morrisons, WHSmith, Bayne's, Dobbies, Gregg's, M&S Simply Food, Tim Hortons and Millie's Cookies all operate in my hometown of Stirling - you just need to be ready to grab one of their 'magic bags' before they're sold out. Bags are usually around £2-3 but the contents tend to be worth up to £10, though you have no control over what's inside - it's a surprise!
Recipe boxes: this is one I've struggled with over the years as, while the careful portioning of these initiatives means there is little to no food waste once you've made your meal, the amount of packaging and the footprint to get it to you always seem like they would outweigh these benefits. That said, some of our local farms are getting in on the act, which reduces the transit miles, and some of them come with very little packaging since they're not being shipped via courier, so we're definitely headed in the right direction.
FLC at home
A few years ago I moved us to a predominantly vegetarian diet at home, which has had the triple benefit of noticeably improving my health, reducing food bills, and reducing food waste, as meat and fish tend to have a much shorter shelf life than other foods.
While it's less common now, there's still a bit of weird stigma surrounding vegetarian and vegan diets, which I presume is due to years of media telling us how manly meat is - how strong and fit it makes us. We've got absolutely nothing against meat, and will often treat ourselves to a burger, pie or steak when we're out, but having a no-meat or low-meat regular diet has huge health benefits, is more eco-friendly, and saves money, as found by an Oxford study.
So, which of the above food waste reduction tips do you already use? Do you have any others that you'd like to share? Comment below, or send us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could feature in our next issue!
Thanks for reading :)
Founder, Falling Leaf Clothing