As consumers, everybody generates waste to some extent, and although recycling can give our waste products a new lease of life, reducing the amount of waste we produce as a whole is a significant way of reducing our carbon footprint. That’s not to say that recycling is not an effective way of solving the problem of what to do with leftover packaging, food and goods we no longer require; far from it.
If we all took steps to reduce the amount of waste we produce in the first place, this could be a particularly effective way of reducing demand for raw materials, energy that would be used manfacturing items, and transportation costs incurred delivering them. That’s before they find their way back to a plant to be recycled or dumped at a landfill site to be buried until they decompose.
There are a number of steps that are easy to implement in order to reduce the amount of waste produced by the average kitchen, and therefore reduce the environmental impact of our cooking activities.
If we choose items with less packaging in the first place, there’s less waste at the end of a week’s shopping to find a new home for. Whether it’s shopping at a local butcher or fruit shop that uses simple bags rather than plastic trays covered in polythene, therefore halving the total waste packaging, or choosing brands that use recyclable packaging over brands with excessive packaging, it can all make a difference and reduce the amount of effort required to cut your waste.
Home composting not only helps reduce the amount of waste going into your bin, but also produces high quality nutritious matter to fertilise your garden. You don’t need a huge space to have a composter and many councils also offer free or reduced cost composters, so it’s always worth checking your local council website to see what’s available in your area.
Never put meat or bones in a composter as this can attract rats, but all vegetable matter, teabags and even the dust from your vacuum cleaner can be composted. Waste meat doesn’t have to go in the bin, though, as many counties now have food collection bins with their weekly recycling collections. Making sure your waste food goes into the food recycling bin means council schemes contributes to communal composting and can even be used to generate electricity in some parts of the UK.
Chickens can be another excellent way to transform your leftover kitchen scraps, and what’s better than delicious freshly laid eggs for the family breakfast. You’d also be cutting down on waste from egg cartons, and could sell the surplus to pay for additional chicken feed when necessary. Fruit and veg scraps and even old egg shells can be fed to chickens to supplement their normal feed.
Box schemes can be exciting, reduce the need for supermarket shops and bring locally produced quality food to your door. There are many types of box schemes too, including veg boxes, meat boxes and fish boxes. They are fantastic for reducing packaging as most items just come naked in the box. Cutting food miles further reduces the impact of your food, and many companies enable you to add extras to your deliveries, ranging from pates and quiches to bottled juices and baking ingredients.
If you have to generate packaging, try and find it a new home. Eggs boxes can be passed on to people who have chickens or for chitting potatoes in if you grow your own veg. Most councils collect glass, tin cans, cardboard, paper, newspapers and plastic bottles, as well as left over food. Save biscuit tins and margerine tubs for storing things in, from homemade cakes to craft items for kids. If you make jam or preserves, save glass jars to make them in, or collect them for family and friends who do. They’re quick and easy to wash out and sterilise for re-use. If you don’t know anybody who makes jam, put them on Freecycle; there are always people looking for more jars!
Unless you’re deliberately cooking more food for lunch the next day, or meals through the week, exercise portion control so that you don’t end up throwing good food in the bin. Aim to only put as much food on the plate as people’s appetites can take and you’ll save money as well as reducing the amount of leftovers being thrown away at the end of your meals.
This is something people manage to do well at Christmas. Although we all become fed up of turkey when we’ve had our tenth meal of it’s something we could put into practice on a more regular basis.
If you cook a joint at the weekend, the leftover meat can easily be used for another meal or two, for sandwiches in kids’ lunchboxes or to take to work. As well as making the food go further, this can also save you money by making one meal into 2 or more. Alternatively, you could box up extra portions of food and freeze them for a quick and easy meal the following week.
Sometimes going shopping without a plan, especially if you’re hungry when you hit the aisles with your trolley, can result in excessive buying. If you buy too much food or are tempted with offers for multibuys, when it’s fresh food, if you don’t use it all, you’ve wasted the money you thought you were saving and filled your bin with more waste.
Shopping lists can keep you on track with the items you actually need. They can also be handy for budgets as you have more control over what you’re spending each week without unexpected items making it into your shopping basket.
Cooking new meals can be fun but having to buy specific ingredients each time can make the price mount up and lead to more waste if you don’t use any leftovers. Flexibility is not so much about cooking a range of meals but using groups of vegetables in a range of dishes. When making a stew, if you have no onions but have some leeks, use them instead – they’re both from the allium family so work in the same way. Spring onions, salad onions and red onions are all from the same family too, and varying them can be a great way to be led by your ingredients rather than your recipe. Using different meats or sauce flavours can also work in exactly the same way.
Whether you adopt all the above methods to reduce waste from your kitchen or just a few, you’ll soon see the difference in the amount you throw away, and will hopefully save money too.