Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Why I no longer send food waste to landfill

Yesterday I was invited by the Jonathan Vernon-Smith consumer show to join in the food waste discussion on BBC Three Counties Radio. If you're in time, you can catch it again on the listen again feature (about 2 hrs & 52 minutes in) and hear us laughing about out-of-date chocolate and taking microwave meals off to your friends if you've been invited for dinner ... all in an attempt to reduce food waste of course.

On a more serious note, food waste is a real hot topic at the moment, following research last year by WRAP, which revealed that a third of all food we buy is thrown away.

That's like buying six bags of fresh food at the supermarket and throwing two in the bin when you leave, just because you couldn't be bothered to take it home or you changed your plans just after you got past the checkout.

If someone told you they did that, you would probably think they were bonkers. Yet in the UK we throw away 6.7 million tonnes of wasted food per year and this startling figure includes 5,500 chickens that are bunged in the bin, with full packaging intact, everyday... yes you did read that right...EVERYDAY.

When you add the fact that that we don't just spend money buying all this food, we also pay more to throw it away, the picture of lunacy becomes bigger. Then there's the environmental damage, caused by rotting apples and other organic matter in landfill, creating 18 million tonnes of of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

Phew...all from thowing the odd bit of meat or banana skins in the bin!

Food waste has become a personal issue of mine, not because I have always been perfect in minimising waste, but because it used to be the main cause of having an overloaded and smelly old bin!

However over the course of slimming my bin, I have discovered a few tricks of the trade in managing to reduce my contribution to the landfill problem, so I thought it was worth revisiting the ideas.

1. Buying little and often: I am absolutely rubbish at forwarding planning and would find myself throwing things in the bin because they were out of date or had gone off, so I now buy more fresh produce and meat in smaller quantities as and when I need them, allowing me to cook as the mood takes me. This also means I can make a quick visit to the market and benefit from the best deals.

2. Buying in bulk: I'm a lady who falls by the wayside of temptation, so I buy essential toiletries and other items in bulk, reducing the need to make regular visits to the larger supermarkets. My life of buying an extra dozen things I didn't really need is now over and no longer relies on my poor willpower. I can hardly believe my visits to the supermarket were once a leisure activity...these days I always make a quick getaway.

3. Reducing portions: I've become more careful with portion sizes, only cooking what I know we will eat. We can always top up with something else if we're hungry, even if it's a slice of bread. As far as takeaways are concerned, curries are our downfall, but now we just share one dish and eat it all, rather than buying one each and wasting the leftovers.

4. Using up fresh leftovers: If I know there are going to leftovers, I put them aside and try and reuse them for another meal. For example a bolognese dish can be quickly turned into a chilli-con-carne, just by adding a few simple spices.

5. Feed the birds: With two kids, the trickiest thing for us is sometimes bread crusts. The birds now lap these up together with some other odds and ends. It is a real treat to see our new visitors in the garden and the children love spotting the different types of feathered friends.

6. Feeding the worms: Of course even with best efforts, there is always going to be some food waste and we don't have the benefit of a separate food waste collection service from our local authority. However we already had a composter which is good for uncooked fruit and vegetables and it produces just enough compost to mulch our garden every year.

We can't use the composter for cooked food waste because of the risk of vermin and with this in mind we got a couple of bokashi bins, which can be tucked away in the corner of our small kitchen. It allows us to add our plate scrapings (including meat and fish scraps), over which we sprinkle a layer of specially impregnated bran. When full, we leave it to ferment for a couple of weeks before putting it in the composter and the worms love it! It's like hosting a worm party!

We also have a wormery, which helps us cope with the odd emergency when we run out of our bokashi bran. However, it can't handle meat or fish. The children treat the wormery as pets and we do have to be careful about keeping the temperature right in winter, making sure they are cosy in their blanket. The wormery seems a popular choice for a fly gathering at the moment, but I've picked up some excellent advice from Wiggly Wigglers, which I will share very soon.

The one thing I have learned is that food waste is very personal. Some people are great at managing it without any help of garden gadgetry, others (like me) are not so great unless they can step up to a lifestyle overhaul and get the right toolkit in place.

And yes, I still have the odd mishap, as I am human after all, but the best bit is, I no longer have to bung my food waste in the landfill bin, which means it no longer gets heavy or smelly and leaves me with one less thing to worry about!

If you want to read more about how I've dealt with my own family's food waste, try the following posts: How to be a rubbish cook; Look at my lovely worms and Putting an end to food in landfill.

For examples of how other consumers are also making the change have a peek Mrs Green's gorgeous site
where she's got some excellent tips. Specific details from other Bokashi users, including some other composting techniques, can be found at The Big Sofa, Faites Simple and Simon Sherlock's site.

More background detail about food waste in general can be found at WRAP's research site as well as their Love Food Hate Waste website.

In the meantime, I've got to get my skates on...because this morning I am off to explain all this to a group of primary school children.... yep... 60 of them... now that seems more scary than the first day I came face-to-face with a bagfull of worms, or indeed the WRAP event last week!

60 kids, eh?!


There's a big risk they could eat me for breakfast. So if you don't hear from me soon, send in a rescue party!

ADDENDUM: - If you would like to hear a great "all things considered" review of Bokashi bins, then tune in to Emma's podcast at the Alternative Kitchen Garden. Thanks Emma, aka Fluffius Muppetus for sharing the link.


Anonymous said...

Gooood morning! Thanks for a great post. I love your take on it, as I think planning is the key, but you've pointed out that not everybody thinks and acts in the same way. that gives great perspective - thank you!

good luck with the children today; I know they will love you, because you're so lovable.

Mrs g x

Unknown said...

I talked about Bokashi in the latest episode of the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show: And I did worm composting last year:

Well done with your food waste reduction!

Sue said...

My parent are the worst offenders when it comes to throwing food. I just can't understand them sometimes, maybe it is just harder for the older generation. My Mum blames it all on the war!
My Mum buys so much food - for a rainy day, just in case she doesn't have what she fancies, just in case there is a shortage, just in case I need it (or my sister) (There are about 20 shops closer to me than Mums house), just in case .....
She tells me it's what was drummed into her as a child, because of rationing, you mention on that it takes 30 days to change a habit, well, I think it's more than 50+yrs in their case!
So, if we can teach our children ... good luck with the children today, they are the ones that are really important with green issues, they need to be educated in the ways of recycling, composting, and being environmentally aware, so they can encourage their parents, and even at a young age make decisions on what they buy at the sweet or toy shop, for instance. At my youngest school they have a bin in the playground for fruit waste, which is composted.
Hopefully when they grow up they will not have to change their habits!

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Mrs G - oh if only you knew how bad at planning I actually am. These days our meals are based on what my hormones want to eat and whether they clash with Mr A's work plans...and what's left in the fridge. :-D

Hi Muppet - hello and hope you're well...I can't wait to listen to your show so thanks for your link. I've listened to some of your Emma and Pete shows and I love them. Thanks for the support :-D

Hi Sue - how I love your story about your mum. It's easy to assume that the older generation are better at this than the younger generations. However WRAP's food waste research has shown that the older generation do very much the same thing, buy too much and then throw it away. I suppose the reaction to rationing goes one way or the either get the frugality or the excess "just in case" scenario. That's great news about your son's school by the way. In fact this morning went very well and I'm also off into my son's class tomorrow...looks like I've found a new hobby ;-D

Karin said...

Interesting about your parents, Sue. My own have responded to the legacy of rationing and being brought up by frugal parents, by promoting the idea of 'waste not, want not'. My mum has perhaps been helped to do this by making regular shopping trips so she didn't buy too much at once. In fact as she had to carry it all home herself until my dad retired she couldn't buy too much at once.

She's always insisted on using up left-overs, too.

Also my dad has always managed to grow a high proportion of the veg they eat (and we did as kids), often with added protein (i.e. aphids and the occasional slug).

They tend to ignore sell-by dates and use their eyes and noses etc to decide if something must be thrown away.

I'm not sure I would go quite so far as my mum does, but I'm beginning to appreciate some of what she does more than I used to.

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Karin - it sounds as though your Mum has got it sorted. It all reminds me of when I used to visit my grandmother in the 70s, with a huge kitchen garden and lots of home cooking with nothing going to waste. Wonderful memories that I will treasure forever. ;-D

Anonymous said...

My parents do that thing where they largely ignore sell by dates too, and judge throwing food away by the look and smell - funny, they've never been ill as a result and they have extremely litte food waste! My Mum teaches food technology and although its not a big part of the curriculum, she works hard to educate the kids about food waste, reusing leftovers, being creative with store cupboard essentials and understanding where our food comes from......we need to get their interest and enthusiasm very early if they are going to perpetuate the culture we believe in.....

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Baba - I couldn't agree more with your mum. Children are like sponges, just soak it all up. I gave a lesson in little J's class yesterday. The kids went home and told their mums and dads about their special guest and singing Jack Johnson's Three Rs. :-D

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