The figures are disturbing!

  • Up to a third of the food produced in the world is wasted
  • Food waste has 10 times the environmental impact of packaging (Source – International Packaging Institute study 2005)
  • Half of the food thrown away in the US could feed the 1 billion malnourished people in the world. (Source – Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal by Tristan Stuart, 2009)
  • Every New Zealander throws away approximately 400kgs of food waste each year (Statistics NZ) and the majority of this ends up in landfill.

This is a huge topic with so many contributing factors.  Dr Miranda Mirosa from Otago University says, “As the impacts of climate change, peak oil and food insecurity start to hit home ’food waste’ looks set to become one of the major environmental and social justice issues of our time.  As agricultural-based, export-orientated countries that rely heavily on a ‘clean, green’ image, New Zealand has every reason to be at the forefront of efforts to reduce food losses and waste throughout our food supply chains.  Despite this, we have been considerably slower than many countries to move on this issue.”

When we started looking into this issue and talking to people about food waste in their homes the majority of people said they composted, had a worm farm, chickens or the like.  We like to think the average Nourish reader is pretty enlightened so this didn’t surprise us.  But according to a 2011 Ministry of Environment study our readers are pretty representative of the norm with 63% of New Zealand households composting and 10% having a worm farm.

Diverting food waste from landfills is very important and is something environmental agencies, councils and governments around the world recognise.  Like many resources, landfills space is limited and it seems senseless to fill them with biodegradable waste.  Also, food waste produces methane, a gas believed to contribute to the greenhouse effect, so stopping this should be a priority.*

In 1998 Kaikoura District Council adopted a zero waste to landfill policy and stopped kerbside rubbish collection forcing residents  to take their rubbish to the landfill.  Free recycling, including food waste collections were started and currently the town is diverting 72% of their waste from landfills.

In Putaruru the council and Earthcare, have been trialling a dedicated free food waste recycling service.  The initial results from this have been very positive and it is hoped that it can be rolled out in more areas soon.

But looking at where the food we throw away goes is just one part of the problem.  Throwing food away wastes all the energy and resources it took to produce, distribute, store and cook it.  So although we may do our best to divert food waste from the landfill can we minimise the actual waste?

With the help of some Nourish readers we undertook an experiment to see what strategies worked to reduce the amount of food we throw away

Our modern industrialised food supply chain means there are many opportunities where food can be wasted even before you and I buy it.  A UN report on The Global Food Losses and Food Waste (2011) states: “The causes of food losses and waste in medium/high-income countries mainly relate to consumer behaviour as well as to a lack of coordination between different actors in the supply chain. Farmer-buyer sales agreements may contribute to quantities of farm crops being wasted. Food can be wasted due to quality standards, which reject food items not perfect in shape or appearance. At the consumer level, insufficient purchase planning and expiring ‘best-before-dates’ also cause large amounts of waste, in combination with the careless attitude of those consumers who can afford to waste food.”

So although we can play our part in what food we waste at home what can we do about influenceing what happens before the food gets to our table?

Buying local and direct from the producer can cut out steps in the food chain where food can be wasted.  Buying local is an important part of the philosophy at Zinc in Queenwood, Hamilton but their efforts to reduce food waste don’t stop there.  Owner Hayley Scott says minimising food waste is an important factor in making a hospitality business like theirs profitable.  What food waste they do generate is feed to their pigs.

Having a hand in raising some of the animals that eventually end up on their menu means the team are acutely aware of not wasting an ounce so Zinc are big proponents of nose to tail eating.  Eating or utilising every part of the animal means none of it is wasted.  Bones are made into stock and then delicious sauces and with the skills of the talented team in the kitchen even offal can be made palateable for those who wouldn’t normally try it.

* Methane is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Our Experiment

Our volunteers all weighed and measured all their food waste over a 2 week period.  In the first week they did what they normally would; in the second they adopted some ideas or suggestions on how to reduce waste.

It was clear from our volunteers’ pre experiment questionnaire this was a group of people who were already concerned with food waste.  Every one of our volunteers rated their efforts to reduce food waste, before our trial, as “good”.  Armed with some more ideas on what they could do and having to record every scrap of food that was thrown away meant that across the board every one of our volunteers managed to do a better job in their second week.

Melissa Spargo found planning the family’s meals especially helpful, “better meal planning would definitely reduce the waste.”  Sue Wright was keen to know how her household compared to others.  Sue says she is lucky to have plenty of freezer space and uses this for leftovers.  Janey Edwards, who it seemed was already highly organised in the kitchen when it came to planning and freezing meals, was impressed with the Be Fresh sachet we gave her to try.

Some tips

  • Your freezer is your friend!  Food can be frozen any time before the ‘use by’ date on the label. Freeze cream for use in soups, pies and risottos, freeze egg white, bread, vegies…..
  • Make the most of your potato peels. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, chilli or whatever flavour takes your fancy and pop them in the oven. Free crisps the kids will love!
  • Plan your meals ahead of time and shop to this plan.
  • Make meals of leftovers. Fried rice and frittatas are a great way to use up leftover, rice and vegetables.
  • Check the seals on your fridge and make sure the temp is between 1-5 degreeC
  • Although fruit in a fruit bowl might look good it will last up to 2 weeks longer in the fridge (not bananas though) and even longer with a Be Fresh sachet.
  • Make vegetable stock using onion, carrot peels, limp celery etc or for chicken stock add your roast chicken carcass. Homemade stocks make great soups, risottos and sauces.

Recipes for using up left overs

Spaghetti Frittata   – A great way to use up left over cooked pasta

Risotto Cakes – turn last nights risotto into a great lunch or new dinner

Using up egg whites

  • Merringue
  • Pavlova
  • Souffle
  • Friands
  • Macarons

Using up egg yolks

  • Aioli or mayonaise
  • lemon curd
  • hollandaise sauce
  • custard
  • creme brulee
  • ice cream



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