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When it comes to trying to live more sustainably, we’ve certainly been trying to up our game. But our efforts seem to be falling short when it comes to food waste.
In fact, new research has revealed families may be wasting more than twice as much food as previously thought.
According to Dutch researchers, common estimates for global food waste are currently too low.
While the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), estimated food waste to be 214 Kcal/day per capita in 2015, the team from Wageningen University actually estimated food waste to be 527 Kcal/day per capita for the same year.
The study, published in the journal PLOS One, is the first to investigate if and how consumer affluence may affect food waste.
Using a human metabolism model and data from FAO, the World Bank, and the World Health Organisation (WHO), the research team quantified the relationship between food waste and consumer affluence.
Their findings revealed that without waste, we could feed five people instead of four.
The study found food waste goes up with the increase of money in our pockets, possibly reaching more than twice the levels we thought previously.
Commenting on the findings study leader Dr Monika van den Bos Verma said: “Novel research using energy requirement and consumer affluence data shows that consumers waste more than twice as much food as is commonly believed.
“It provides a new globally comparable base against which one can measure progress on the international food waste target, and suggests a threshold level of consumer affluence around which to launch intervention policies to prevent food waste from becoming a big problem.”
While the study has limitations in that the work relies on the accuracy of FAO's data, which may not always be complete and there are other consumer attributes that may affect food wastage beyond affluence, Dr Verma believes the findings could be used to better understand and assess food waste and help measure progress in terms of reducing it.
The research was echoed in a further, less scientific, study by Elmlea which found that nearly three quarters of UK households are regularly throwing out food each week, with a staggering 40% of their food shop on average destined for the bin.
The poll, of 1,500 adults, also revealed 74% of respondents said they are “left baffled” when it comes to knowing what to do with leftovers and ingredients approaching their use by date.
And with recent research revealing 7.3 million tonnes of food and drink being binned every year in the UK, it’s clear something needs to be done.
So how do we reduce our food waste?
Most people tend to buy more food than they need and while buying in bulk is often convenient, it can lead to more food being wasted. “Instead of doing the weekly shop, more frequent trips mid-week to buy just what you need might help reduce impulse-buying,” suggests Kevin Quigley, commercial director at waste recycling and sustainability firm, Warrens Group.
Learn to preserve foods
Sure your grandma used to pickle everything but the age-old practice can actually make food last longer. “Pickling carrots, cauliflower and cucumber is a great way of preserving foods and the kids will really enjoy helping you to do it,” says Quigley.
Read more: How to be a sustainable parent
Don’t throw, regrow
Before you bin those extra bits of spring onions and leeks Emilie Vanpoperinghe, co-founder of Oddbox has a suggestion for helping to grow your own whilst also fighting food waste. “Next time you cook with them, hold onto approximately the last half inch of the bulb and roots and add them to a glass with enough water to submerge the roots, but leave the stem uncovered,” she says.
“Leave this on a sunny windowsill, topping up with water as needed, and changing the water entirely at least once a week. You'll be surprised by how quickly a whole new onion sprouts.”
Up your storage game
Not storing your food correctly can lead to more food being wasted. “Separating foods that produce more ethylene gas from those that don’t is a great way to reduce food spoilage,” explains Quigley. “Ethylene promotes ripening in foods such as bananas, avocados and tomatoes.”
Use leftovers to up your beauty game
Got an avocado that’s past its prime languishing in your fridge? Why not turn it into a funky face mask? “As well as being a great healthy snack, avocados are packed with antioxidants and can help your skin to fight sun damage and wrinkles,” explains Quigley.
He suggests combining overripe avocado with honey for a combo that can be used on hair or face. “You could also apply excess cucumber slices to your eyes to reduce puffiness,” he adds.
Sip a scrap smoothie
Ok so the name's not that appealing but smoothies aren't just a super quick and tasty way to get your 5 a day, they're also a great way to consume all the bits of fruit we might otherwise throw away, says Vanpoperinghe. “A whole strawberry, stem and all? In it goes. Apple avec core? Pop it in. So, if you love a smoothie to go each morning, make it a scrap smoothie. The best kind!”
Get meal planning
While 85% of all food waste happens in the home, more often than not this simply a result of bad timing. “Allow yourself time to plan your meals for the week and stock your fridge up accordingly to prevent any food going off and of course to avoid reaching for takeaways,” suggests Emma Ross from AO Life.
Putting food in your regular waste bin sends it to the landfill. “Not only does this cause harmful gases like methane to escape into the atmosphere, you're also missing an amazing opportunity to create your own natural fertiliser to feed to your house plants or use in a garden,” says Ross.
Learn the storage code
Not knowing how or where to store certain foods can actually have a really big impact on food waste. “It's important to really understand how best to store foods,” explains Ross. She says all fruit, except bananas and pineapple – belongs in the fridge (despite how pretty it looks in a giant fruit bowl.) “Keep potatoes and onions separately to keep them fresh for longer and keep bread and potatoes out of the fridge, in a dark place,” she adds.
Don’t be afraid to disregard food labels
There is a difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’. “The former refers to quality, whilst the latter is regarding safety,” explains Ross. “Food can be eaten until the ‘use by’ date but not after.
“Don't get too hung up on 'best before' dates – remember, it's still 'good' after that date and crucially, the food will be totally safe to eat,” she adds.
Additional reporting SWNS