December is a peak time for food waste, mainly due to the sheer number of Australians who celebrate with big get-togethers on and around Christmas day.
With these events invariably comes food waste, whether it's because of over-catering or the impulsive (and unnecessary) purchases that come from poor planning, supermarket specials or (looking at myself here) just getting carried away with it all. And while many people are familiar with eating their Christmas ham or turkey or, hopefully, their plant-based Christmas roast for days after the 25th, it is a sign that we commonly over-cater.
This Everyday Enviro column is a PSA to be mindful of overdoing the catering and food shopping this festive season. Why? Because food waste is a big problem in Australia for the environment. Let’s look at some statistics.
According to Food Bank, on average Australians throw one-in-five shopping bags of food in the bin and a total of around 300 kilograms of edible food each year per person. This means roughly 4.9 kilograms of food waste goes to landfill each week in Australia.
This adversely affects the environment in a few ways. In landfill, food rots and that rotting generates methane. Methane on its own is pretty disastrous for the environment as it is a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, the food in landfill also produces CO2e greenhouse gas — approximately one full tonne per tonne of food. On top of that, food waste depletes precious resources — natural resources like energy and water (for context, growing one orange requires 50 litres of water), as well as resources required for manufacturing, processing, packaging and transport.
According to the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council, food waste is one of the food system's largest drivers of climate change, comparable to synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and animal production.
So now you know just how much of a problem it is, what can you do to minimise it?
It sounds basic, but meal and menu planning around your get-togethers is incredibly effective. Make sure you communicate and coordinate with your guests so that there aren’t double ups and only what is needed is bought/brought. Often it’s when everyone brings a plate that we end up with excess.
Cater simply. Don’t go crazy with lots of different meals or types of food. Fewer types of food often means less food, which means less waste.
To extend the life of food in case it doesn’t get eaten, don’t dress or sauce foods beforehand. No one really wants to eat a soggy dressed salad the next day, but they will probably eat a crisp one that wasn’t dressed.
Avoid the temptation to buy in bulk. This can be a siren song when you know you are going to be feeding larger numbers, but it often comes back to bite us with food that can’t be saved once opened ending up in the bin.
Refrigerate or freeze leftovers as soon as possible. We all know December is hot in Australia, and food left out on a hot day is also destined for the bin.
Share leftovers with friends, family, and neighbours! More mouths means more chances of excess food being consumed, plus you get to spread the love.
Use up uneaten food in any way you can — do not throw good food away — even if it means the dog eats a bit too well that day (with all due safety precautions taken, of course). We just want to keep it out of landfill.
There are many more strategies for fighting food waste, most of which are common sense. The main thing is being aware of the impact of this waste and shopping mindfully. So go forth and shop/cook/serve in moderation! Spend less of your energy on preparing a ten-course meal and more on enjoying the company of those around you this Christmas.
P.S. While you are at it, give those plastic filled, unrecyclable Christmas crackers a miss too!
Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.