A guide on how to shop, store and dispose of food for more sustainable living in the kitchen. #expertadvice
By Sian Tyrrell
What does it mean to be sustainable? Sustainability encompasses environment, economical, and social aspects. With the main focus on everyone’s mind being the environment and climate change. Chronic overconsumption, high levels of disposable waste and reduced landfill space has left us with a problem for the planet. Food waste is a given in the kitchen, but the estimated household food waste equates to 7.1million tonnes a year. Perishable fruit, vegetables, and salad are the biggest culprits, with 60% of this being avoidable. From the kitchen, food shopping is the biggest way to be more sustainable. Be mindful of what you are buying and reducing plastic packaging can all help.
- Make a food list when shopping and buy what you need
This may sound simple enough, but making a meal plan the night before you are due to go shopping will allow you to only buy what you need. Preventing overstock and end up disposing of it when its found festering in the back of the fridge, or buying something just to have in which depletes the resources for someone else. There is a trend of overconsumption which is not only impacting the planet, but our health also.
- Buy seasonal
When buying food, have a quick check of the packaging to see where it originated. It’s best to buy fresh when it is in season. This will reduce the air miles and import effects on the climate, such as transport, storage, and refrigeration. The winter months it’s all about the root vegetables and in the summer months it’s the berries time to shine. The Vegetarian Society have a fruit and vegetable calendar to give you an idea what is in season and companies such as Riverford and Abel & Cole deliver seasonal produce to your home in recyclable packaging.
- Buy loose & support local
Many fruits and vegetables have this natural knack of growing their own packaging, with the peel of an orange or banana. It’s usually berries and salad that requires a little plastic help. Some packaging is unavoidable ensuring the items can be transported without damage. You could support local greengrocers and take your own containers if you wanted to reduce your packaging even further and help small businesses. Make sure to wash fruits and vegetables before using them, to ensure they are clean and reduce the risk of bacteria.
- Frozen and tinned are your friends too!
When you want to buy out of season, opt for frozen or tinned. This also limits waste as with frozen you cook what you need, and often frozen has higher levels of nutrients as it is packaged within minutes of picking. The longer produce waits the higher the nutrient loss. Especially volatile nutrients such as Vitamin C. Tins in multipacks can have unrecyclable packaging. Some companies have moved towards cardboard outers, however if in doubt buy separate items.
- Remember your shopping bags
Taking bags when going shopping has now become second nature, but we’ve all done the thing! Had good intentions with cloth bags and gone and left them by the front door or in the car. Then struggle to carry the food or end up buying a plastic bag, cursing our forgetfulness. But don’t worry the intentions are there and if you remember them most of the time, that’s better than using plastic bags all of the time.
- Enjoy leftovers
Batch cooking is a sustainable and cost effective way of cooking food in the kitchen, portions can be segmented and used for lunches the following day or for what I dub ‘freezer surprise’. Where once a week we have a meal out of the freezer, which means less time preparing a meal in the kitchen. Store the leftovers in reusable containers, write what it is and the date you cooked it as leftovers only have a 3 month lifespan and avoid cling film where possible to reduce plastic use. Wait until the food has cooled down before putting it into the fridge or freezer, if it is still warm it will take more energy to chill.
- Store food correctly to prolong its life
Another tip on storing fruit and vegetables is if they come wrapped in plastic, to unpackage them and place them in small baskets in your fridge. I’ve found this seems have lengthened their time and are easily accessible. Seal any open packaging or store in airtight containers and invest in cups or scoops for rice and pasta to measure the correct amount needed. However if you are like me and are rubbish at gauging pasta, make a pasta salad for lunch the next day!
- Check the dates
Use By dates are there for food safety and Best Before dates are there for food quality.
When buying fresh meat and fish, check the dates and ensure you are going to use them. If you find they are getting near their use by date pop them in the freezer and defrost them in the fridge the morning you are planning to use them. Some medical conditions where their immune system is compromised need to be stringent with best before dates, however many households can check food before using it and any fruit or vegetables that have wilted slightly, but still edible can be used in soups, stews and your making own vegetable stock.
- Invest in a food waste caddy
Local councils offer a food waste collection service, where you can use a caddy to dispose of any uneaten food. Or add peelings and plant matter to composting. Some councils then process this waste, where it’s turned into fertilizer for agriculture and the biogas is used to generate renewable energy. By separating your food waste, you are reducing the amount that ends up on landfill. With the potential of producing carbon emissions (methane) when organic matter is mixed with other rubbish. Check your local council to order one and most provide bags for inside them.
- Cleaning the dishes
A more sustainable way to washing up is to opt for a biodegradable kitchen sponge, that can be popped in the wash at the end of the week, rather than throwing away the plastic one after its use. Check the cleaning products you are using and avoid things containing polyethylene and polypropylene. These can go down the drain as microplastic where they reach the ocean, ending up back in the food chain. Companies are now offering refills for their products, reducing their disposable plastic packaging.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a few ideas I have picked up myself and from The British Dietetic Association ‘One Blue Dot’ campaign. There are apps available such as Giki or Yuka which allow you to scan products to check how ethical and sustainable they are.
Hope this helps you make your kitchen that bit more sustainable.