Does every last crumb of food in your household get eaten? Do you recycle your vegetable peelings and scraps of food that the dog, or the urban foxes, won’t eat?
If the answer’s yes, good on you. If the answer’s no, which is more than likely for most of us, shame on you. Sadly, we’re a nation of wastrels when it comes to food. Around 50 percent of food thrown away each year – all 15 million tonnes of it – comes from household waste.
Contrary to popular belief, food packaging is not the big culprit some might think; a salutary lesson I’ve learnt since working alongside the packaging sector.
The industry is being urged to produce smaller, more customised packages. It might sound contrary to sustainability, suggesting more materials to produce yet a greater number of packages but, there’s a logic to it. Food in smaller packages, or snap packs, tends to get eaten and lessens waste. Packaging produced via up-to-the-minute techniques or smarter packaging can optimise the production process, so offsetting or reducing expenditure.
It’s smarter for other reasons too. By incorporating a host of technologies – from more effective barrier layers, to germicidal films, re-closable bags and freshness indicators – all of these aid in prolonging shelf-life, encouraging us to eat up and bin less. Next time you pop the bacon back in the fridge to re-use the remaining slices the next day or in a few more days, it’s another small step to reduce food waste.
Another hot topic is the ‘best before’ date. Designed as a barometer of food ‘quality’ not safety, these have to be printed on all food packages. However, often food is chucked before it goes off because many people misinterpret these as use by dates. Fans of the multi-pack take note, as these are serial (not cereal) offenders.
In fact, research estimates that we throw away more than 7 million tonnes of food and drink every year from our homes in the UK, even ‘though it is still fit for human consumption. It’s no surprise that an alleged ‘open letter’ was sent from several EU countries to the European Commission asking for kitchen cupboard foodstuffs to be exempt from best before dates. (Fingers crossed that common sense will prevail.)
So, as each of us takes steps to reduce waste, consciously or otherwise, it’ll be a collective giant step towards curbing what is now a seriously bad habit. Next time I urge someone to eat up in these calorie-conscious times, I’ll feel more justified too.