The conversations surrounding climate change often make it seem like an insurmountable problem. When the polar ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising and the whole world is heating up, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that climate change is out of your control. But in reality, even the smallest of changes or the most simple of actions can make a positive difference. If you’re looking to live a more sustainable, green lifestyle in the interest of creating a better future for the planet, changing your bad food habits is a great place to start.
It is estimated that every year, Aotearoa New Zealand sends approximately 229,022 tonnes of food waste to landfill. Around half of that waste is avoidable. If we cut out this waste, it would be the equivalent of reducing CO2 emissions by 325,975 tonnes or planting 130,390 trees.
But what does “avoidable” food waste actually mean? Food waste is broken down into three categories; firstly, unavoidable waste such as banana skins or bones – this makes up 19% of all food waste. Secondly, there is food which is avoidable but is generally considered to be unavoidable, such as vegetable peels; this category makes up 20% of all food waste. The remaining 61% of the food waste is avoidable – generally this means leftover food that was not consumed, or food that was not used before it went off.
The environmental impact of this waste is significant – food waste in landfill is responsible for the production of huge levels of greenhouse gases, such as methane, through anaerobic decomposition. Furthermore, almost everything that we eat has a carbon cost before it reaches our plate. We have to consider the land, water, time and money that was used up to grow it as well as the carbon cost of farming and production, packaging and transporting. It is estimated 28% of road freight in New Zealand is for food or produce. These costs are essentially being spent for nothing when the food ends up in our rubbish bins.
Often when there are discussions about food waste, the conversation turns to things like making soups out of potato peel and starting your own worm farm. While these are awesome ways to reduce waste, they’re time consuming and to many, simply just not attractive options. Don’t worry; it’s pretty normal to not want to regularly be elbow deep in compost. While we encourage giving everything a go, it’s important to remember that reducing food waste doesn’t mean you suddenly have to increase the amount of food scraps in your life. It’s actually much more effective to take preventative measures.
A good way to start is to simply begin noticing what food you’re wasting – where are the problem areas? It’s often something like uneaten leftovers or off milk. There’s an easy solution to food waste like this – quite simply eat the food you buy. If you can’t eat it all – maybe you’re buying too much! If you didn’t eat it because the fridge is so crowded that you forgot it was there, then you’re definitely buying too much!
One way to manage this is to keep a running list of things in your fridge that need to be eaten. Grab a white board pen or a shopping list and, somewhere clearly visible from the fridge, write down whatever needs to be used, whether it’s half an onion or a third of a can of tinned tomatoes. Having this visual reminder of what needs to be used will help you to remember and incorporate these things into your cooking. It might also help you to understand just how much you’ve bought eventually gets thrown in the bin. If you often find yourself with off milk, why not write the use-by date on the outside of your fridge, too?
Think before you shop and then eat what you buy – when it comes to fighting climate change through your food choices, it really is that simple.