Calling all eco-warriors! It’s not because you’re a student and living on a budget that you can’t do your part for the environment. In fact, in many ways, going green can be a smart economical move. There are lots of great ways that you can make a positive difference for the environment as a student - like recycling, shopping second-hand, ditching private transport for public transport or cutting down on water use. But the most impactful place to start is with food waste.
Why is food waste such a big problem?
Food waste is easily one of the top offenders for global pollution. Did you know that almost one third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted every year, which contributes to about 8% of the world’s greenhouse gases? Not to mention the natural resources that are wasted along with it. Food production calls for massive amounts of natural resources. About half of the world’s land and a staggering 70% of the world’s fresh water is used for agriculture. The production of just one kilogram of beef requires 15,400 liters of water!
Of course, not all of this happens at home. A lot of food waste happens in the production and transportation process. But where you can make a difference is in the handling and storage of food products at home. Unfortunately, students and young people aged 18-34 are the biggest offendors when it comes to food waste – most likely because they haven’t learned (or needed to learn) about the how to properly manage and store food.
Cutting down on food waste isn’t just good for the planet, but for your bottom-line too. Studies show that you can save an average of $746 per person per year by cutting down on food waste. Over the course of a 4-year education, that’s almost $3000!
So what can you do to manage food waste at home?
Here are a few ideas on how to better manage your food purchasing, storage, and consumption at home:
1. Plan your meals and shop smart
Meal planning is one of the easiest ways to manage your food consumption. Make a list of the meals you’d like to prepare for the whole week, including which nights you’ll be eating out and plan which ingredients (and which quantities) you’ll need. Have a look in your fridge or pantry to see what foods you still have and what meals you can make with your leftovers.
Once you’re out shopping, stick to the ingredients on your list and avoid impulse buys. Give ‘ugly produce’ a chance too, as fruits and vegetables with bumps or irregularities are perfectly fine to eat and are usually sold at discounted prices. And be cautious of bulk offers. While buying in bulk can be a great money-saver for non-perishable items like toilet paper and cleaning products, it’s risky when it comes to fresh produce. Be realistic: if it’s not going to get eaten before its expiration date, don’t buy it. You’ll just end up throwing it out.
2. Store food properly
Learn about how to store fresh fruit and vegetables so that they stay fresh longer. Some types of fruit give off natural gases as they ripen (especially bananas) which can cause nearby produce to spoil faster, so you may want to store them separately. Make sure your fridge is cool enough, and if you’re not sure how to store food safely, use the FoodKeeper App.
If you’ve bought too much fresh produce, you can always freeze or preserve it to extend shelf life. Lots of items store well in the freezer, including bread, sliced fruits, meats and prepared meals (they’re practical to have around when you’re too tired to cook). Just make sure to pay your freezer a visit every so often to keep track of what you have on-hand.
3. Organize your fridge and pantry
A messy fridge and pantry can cause products to get lost or pushed to the back, where they’ll rot before you have a chance to notice. Try to organize your produce using the FIFO method: ‘first in, first out’, by placing newly bought items at the back so your older produce gets used first. And make a mental note of what you have in the pantry (canned foods, cereals, pasta and rice) as those are often forgotten but will also (eventually) turn.
4. Learn how to read expiration dates
Expiration dates can be misleading and cause a lot of confusion. In fact, expiration labels contribute to almost 20% of global food waste. A whopping 84% of consumers discard food on or near the expiration date on the packaging, while in most cases it’s still perfectly fine for consumption. While ‘use by’ dates are important to follow, ‘best before’ dates usually allow for a wide margin of error – so use your common sense and your other senses to assess whether the item has actually expired. Here’s a great resource to learn how to read expiration dates.
5. Eat your leftovers
While eating the same meal two days in a row might not sound like the most exciting culinary experience, it’s a great way to save money and reduce waste. If it’s any consolation, many leftovers (like lasagna or tiramisu!) taste even better the next day. If that’s not an option, consider freezing your leftovers for a quick and easy meal when you don’t feel like cooking.
6. Get creative with scraps
Just because it’s not fit for consumption doesn’t mean it has to go in the bin. There are lots of ways that you can make use of your food scraps:
Make your own broth. Use vegetable or meat scraps (including bones) to make your own broth to be stored in the fridge or freezer. It’ll put store-bought broths to shame.
Make a soup. Limp or wilted veggies (like salad) can be revived in cold water or chopped down and processed into a soup. Spinach and leek greens are especially delicious in soups.
Never throw away bread. Stale bread is so versatile and can be turned into croutons, breadcrumbs or used for French toast or a scrumptious bread pudding.
Embrace the power of citrus. Citrus peels (like lemon and orange) are great for flavoring water, sugar or marinades and can also be added to vinegar for a natural, eco-friendly cleaning product.
Have a spa day. Browned avocados can be blended and applied to the hair for an indulgent, moisturizing hair mask, and cucumber peels are great for soothing itchy skin. Apply them directly to your skin or add them to your bathwater for an at-home spa retreat.
Grow your own produce. Lots of pits, seeds and veggie scraps (like onion, lettuce, avocado, ginger, lemongrass and potatoes) can be used to regrow new veggies.
7. Start a compost
Whatever can’t be reused can almost definitely be recycled. Most of the food waste you’re producing can be composted, which gives it a second life, and prevents it from producing methane in landfills. You don’t need a garden or lots of outdoor space to start your own compost bin. Follow this easy guide on how to compost on an apartment balcony. And if you don’t have your own compost bin (or don’t have the money or time to invest in one), save your scraps and discard them in your neighborhood compost bin.
8. Donate to food banks
Redirect non-perishable, unspoilt food to your local food bank, soup kitchen or shelter to support your community. In Switzerland, Cartons du Coeur is one of the biggest food banks with collection points set up around the country. You can also donate to Caritas, Table Suisse or Partage among others. Here’s a quick guide for what you can (and can’t) donate to food banks.
Food waste: the bottom line
When it comes to food waste, there’s really no excuse. There are so many ways that you can reduce, reuse, reprocess and recycle your food scraps to make a positive difference for the environment, as well as your local community. Though it may take a bit of planning and adjustments to the way you shop, cook and consume food, your wallet and the environment will ultimately thank you for it.