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Embrace 'ugly' fruit and compost: cutting back on food waste

Australians discard $8bn worth of edible food each year, wasting resources and creating methane. Our new series Life Swaps looks at ways to reduce your food footprint

Binned food
Binned food ends up starved of oxygen and creates methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon pollution from car exhausts. Photograph: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Imagine filling five shopping bags with fresh fruit and veggies, paying for the lot and then dumping one entire bulging bag in the bin. Sounds crazy? That’s the reality of how much food Australians waste – up to 20% of everything we buy, according to FoodWise.

The $8bn worth of edible food we collectively turf each year isn’t just a giant waste of money; the water, energy and resources put into growing and transporting it are squandered too. The IHE Delft institute for water education for example, estimates about 1600 litres of water is needed to grow just one kilo of wheat in Australia – discard the bread that wheat turns into, and that water has been spent for nothing.

Worse yet, rotting food in landfill gives off greenhouse gases, further harming the environment. The solution? More edible food must end up in bellies rather than bins. Here’s our guide on how to help.

Stop buying so much food

We’re all guilty when it comes to the scourge of food waste. Each year, Aussie households throw away 345kg of food – almost a kilogram a day – wasting an average $1036 of food per family each year. The worst offenders are 18- to 24-year-olds, families with children, and households bringing in more than $100,000 a year. Food gets binned because we shop for things we don’t need, cook too much food, fail to use leftovers and buy takeaway even when the fridge is full.

Avoid making all that waste in the first place by bringing home only what’s needed. Keep an eye on home stocks and shop to a list. Be extra careful with bread, milk, cheese, bananas, chicken, eggs, lettuce and fresh herbs – according to FoodWise, these are some of Australia’s most wasted foods. (Accidentally over-shopped? Check out FoodWise’s ingredient guide for storage, cooking and reusing tips.)

“Reducing food waste is similar to recycling. One person doing it is not a big deal, but when millions of people do it, the results quickly add up to a very big result,” says Jon Dee, who helped establish Planet Ark and now runs the DoSomething! charity, which initiated FoodWise. “The other benefit is that when you save food you also save money. Most households could easily save many hundreds of dollars a year.”

Embrace “ugly” fruit and veggies

When Craig Reucassel last year stood atop a giant pile of freshly picked Queensland bananas – edible yet destined to rot because they didn’t meet supermarkets’ bizarre cosmetic requirements – the millions watching ABC’sWar on Wasteseries were rightly outraged. Turns out up to 40% of Australia’s edible fruit and vegetables are rejected before they even reach the shops, just because they’re a bit wonky or blemished.

Shoppers can help to halt the madness by embracing “ugly” food. Woolworths offers the cheaper “odd bunch” range, although beware produce wrapped in unsustainable plastic. Likewise, New South Wales’ Harris Farm grocery chain has “imperfect picks”, while Food Connect Brisbane offers the “unruly box”. Farmers markets are a good option, too, as they sidestep strict supermarket standards. Or buy direct from farmers themselves – Queensland’s LuvaBerry this summer sold 1kg bags of rejected raspberries for just $10 as part of its own war on waste.

Small businesses are also popping up to rescue ugly yet edible produce, such as Eat Me Chutneys in Sydney, Ugly Duck Preserves in Brisbane and north Queensland’s green banana flour, invented by a farmer tired of turfing perfectly good lady finger bananas due to stringent supermarket requirements. “Each week we had five tonnes of waste due to size, shape and oversupply,” says Krista Watkins, whose husband Robert invented the flour. “This wasted produce is still nutrient dense, it’s been grown with the same love and attention that the A-grade produce has. What we offer is a different take on an old favourite.”

Rescue food that’s on its way out

Once food has made it inside your home, don’t be so quick to send it to the bin. Use-by dates do show when food has to go, but best before dates are more of an indication; food can be eaten after this date if stored well. Make chutneys and sauces out of wilted fresh produce and get inventive with leftovers and scraps: resources such as the NSW government’s free Love Your Leftovers app, Sarah Wilson’s Simplicious cookbook and Sustainable Table’s The Clever Cook eBook can help.

Support those organisations helping businesses to reduce their food waste. Not-for-profit OzHarvest rescues more than 100 tonnes of food waste each week from 3000-plus donors, including supermarkets, hotels, airports and farmers, delivering it to charities for free. The Yume food app allows hospitality businesses to sign up and buy surplus produce from Australian producers for at least 20% below regular wholesale prices, saving on landfill.

Or go “freegan” and join the dumpster diving movement; a treasure trove of perfectly edible food is turfed into supermarket skips each week. “There is a serious thrill to lifting a lid, looking inside a bin, and realising that you’re about to bring home chocolate bars, avocados, loaves of bread fresh from that morning, and everything you’d need for a week’s worth of fruit salad – all for free,” Larissa Milo-Dale wrote on Medium last May, after dumpster diving around Australia for a year. “So much is wasted that shouldn’t be, and so many people go hungry that needn’t.”

Sustainably deal with any food that can’t be eaten

Even when produce becomes unsafe to eat, it shouldn’t go in the bin. Mixed with other junk in landfill, rotting food is starved of oxygen and so creates methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon pollution from car exhausts.

In contrast, when composted or run through a worm farm, food waste turns into vital nutrients crucial to a healthy garden. Live in a tiny apartment? NSW-made Bokashi bins require little space and use microbes to break down food waste without any smells. Even easier: some councils now allow food scraps in green waste bins. When purchasing your own home unit, go through Compost Revolution for massive discounts offered with council support. Workplace food waste is a major issue, too, but companies serviced by Sita can easily add organic waste removal to their contract, or check with councils for green waste recycling initiatives.

Eating is an inevitable part of life – wasting food doesn’t have to be.

  • Additional research and reporting by Nicole Lutze
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Summary | 6 Annotations
The IHE Delft institute for water education for example, estimates about 1600 litres of water is needed to grow just one kilo of wheat in Australia – discard the bread that wheat turns into, and that water has been spent for nothing.
2018/03/05 10:00
When Craig Reucassel last year stood atop a giant pile of freshly picked Queensland bananas – edible yet destined to rot because they didn’t meet supermarkets’ bizarre cosmetic requirement
2018/03/05 10:00
Shoppers can help to halt the madness by embracing “ugly” food. Woolworths offers the cheaper “odd bunch” range,
2018/03/05 10:01
rotting food in landfill gives off greenhouse gases, further harming the environment.
2018/03/05 10:00
Here’s our guide on how to help.
2018/03/05 10:00
Small businesses are also popping up to rescue ugly yet edible produce,
2018/03/05 10:01