Australians often don’t think twice when they throw food in the bin.
But OzHarvest founder and CEO Ronni Kahn says we should think more about what we are doing – and how to stop.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: How to cut your food wastage.
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“We all think (food waste) is everybody else’s fault – it’s the supermarkets, it’s here, it’s there, it’s industry,” she said.
“But every time you point one finger, three fingers point back at us.”
Individuals and households waste food for a number of reasons, such as buying or cooking too much, “perceived spoilage”, or misinterpreting best before dates on products.
Research shows how damaging such waste is, while experts say there are ways to break bad habits, save money and, most importantly, save the planet.
One in five grocery bags worth is thrown away
Founded in 2004, OzHarvest has grown from a single food rescue van to a national organisation which is determined to halve food wastage by 2030.
“Food wastage is a massive issue in Australia,” Kahn said. “It happens across the whole supply chain – from farm to fork.”
Kahn said Australians waste about 7.6 million tonnes of food each year – one third of which comes from private homes.
A Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL) study found that Australian households on average throw out up to $2,500 worth of groceries per year.
This means that for every household shop, Kahn said, the equivalent of one in five bags of groceries is thrown away.
“If you consider the cost of living right now and how expensive it’s become, and how fruit and veg are so valuable, throwing it away is like throwing away money,” she said.
While the cost is concerning enough, experts say food waste is one of the leading contributors to climate change.
The 2021 UNEP Food Waste Index Report shows throwing away food creates 10 per cent of global greenhouse gases.
That is more than the aviation sector, which contributes 2 per cent, Kahn said.
“When we think of climate change, we think of solar panels and we think of electric cars, but rarely do we think about the impact of the food we eat – or, actually, the food we don’t eat,” Kahn said.
“For many, climate change is such an overwhelming challenge that they don’t believe they can make a difference.”
According to Project Drawdown, reducing food waste at home is the most effective way to take action against climate change. And the research also highlights how much Australians can save from reducing food waste.
Kahn said “convenience habits” are the biggest blocks to individuals and households taking action to stop food waste.
“Food is available to us so readily,” Kahn said. “We need to value food more.”
And we can do this through a four word mantra: Look. Buy. Store. Cook. Here are the simple steps.
Step one: Look
Before heading to the supermarket, OzHarvest suggests looking at what is on your shelves, checking expiry dates, meal planning and writing a shopping list.
Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health Associate Professor Roni Neff said our fridge and pantry should be the first port of call before heading to the shop.
“If you have food that’s good, you should find a way to eat it first,” Neff said.
But there is a common misconception around best before and use by dates on food packages which results in perfectly good food going to waste. In fact, 70 per cent of wasted food in Australia is edible.
Food Standards Australia explains the difference: Food products with a best before date that has passed can still be sold and consumed, whereas a use by date refers to when something cannot be consumed for food safety reasons.
Distinguishing between the two labels can make a world of difference, Neff said.
Step two: Buy
Once you’re at the shop, it’s important to stick to the list and buy only what you need.
Neff said we must resist supermarket sales, such as 2-for-1 specials, if we don’t need it.
“Sales convince us to buy more than we need,” Neff said.
“It’s not a savings if we’re going to toss it.”
Fresh produce displays at supermarkets are also very inspiring for people wanting to live healthier, but Neff said we must be “brutally honest” with ourselves and “what we’re actually going to eat”.
“One of the challenges is that we want to be healthier, and we are most visionary about that when we’re in the grocery store and see all that produce,” Neff said.
But wasted food doesn’t help anyone’s health, she said.
Step three: Store
A US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine 2020 report found the most common reason individuals and households waste food is spoilage, or “perceived spoilage”.
OzHarvest says simply storing food properly will help it last longer.
This involves packing food in airtight containers, not overstocking your fridge to allow for proper cold air circulation, and labelling and dating food.
OzHarvest is leading the way in a world-first food labelling system, following an OzHarvest and Monash University study which investigated what individual and household habits matter and make a difference in reducing food waste.
The results found a simple answer: Use it up.
“It literally means using up our leftovers,” Kahn said. “We know this gets results.”
OzHarvest designed a Use It Up tape of stick-on labels with words and phrases such as “Use Me,” “Eat Me” or “Pick Me”. People can use the tape to label containers, fridge shelves or pantry products as a visual reminder to eat leftovers and other items before they spoil.
About 20,000 households have tried this tape, and Kahn said it has yielded extraordinary results.
“It is showing us that, at home, we can save waste because it is a reminder,” she said.
“That is literally going to save our planet.”
Step four: Cook
Now it’s time to cook. OzHarvest suggested ways to cook with leftover food and ingredients with ‘Use It Up Recipes on its website, to encourage individuals and households to get creative with their cooking.
Kahn said these strategies make reducing food waste “exciting” and “attractive” for individuals and households, which will eventually change bad habits.
“It’s very easy for us to point fingers at somebody else,” she said.
“We don’t have to leave it to somebody else. We can become climate activists in our own homes.”
– With CNN
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