Reducing your waste line

June 21, 2009

foodwasteAustralians, I am told, throw away three million tonnes of food each year, averaging 145kg of discarded food for every man, woman and child.

And Sydneysiders are apparently the worst offenders – half of our weekly domestic garbage is food. While so many people in the world have no food at all, we throw half of ours away. Obscene. And not just because of the sheer wastefulness of it, but the environmental impact – disastrous levels of methane, a damaging greenhouse gas, arise from all this organic matter going into landfill.

I must admit I’ve been less watchful of this than I should be, and have used the fact that we have a worm farm rather too nonchalantly when it comes to disposal of unused food.

Senor, on the other hand, has always been a vigilante in this area, using my regular Monday evening absence from home to act as a kind of weekly fridge bottom-feeder, eating leftovers and concocting some often rather unusual dinners for one (corn cobs and curry sauce with a mayonnaise & raspberry coulis chaser? Mmm-mm! Just another instance of the usefulness of his iron-clad stomach).

But I hereby declare a personal war on food waste. Last night, having spied a very weary eggplant in the bottom of the crisper, I rang the Empress for a tip or two, then made baba ganoush for the first time ever.  It was easy, pretty quick, and extremely good. And a perfectly usable whole eggplant was saved from the worms.

For other fridge scraps, I invoke the memory of my Aunty Pat, who stayed with me for a month or so many years ago. I worked near home, and would pop home for lunch. Every day there was some incredibly delicious soup she’d made from what I had seen as highly dubious scraps and nubs of past-it veg in the crisper. Occasionally it didn’t do to think of what some of that veg had looked like, but the soup was always amazing.

So, how do you reduce food waste?

There are a few websites devoted to this issue, containing lots of tips and tricks for preventing waste, but I have to say that anyone with half a brain could figure out a good proportion of them (‘freeze leftovers and reheat later’ and ‘keep vegetables in bags to keep fresh longer’ – ingenious!) And the Australian one is rather depressingly skewed towards the use of Tupperware, its major sponsor (no mention of the greenhouse gases produced by manufacture of plastic, of course). And lots of reader tips involve that apparently very popular practice of popping leftovers of all kinds into ice cube trays [“too much bouillabaisse? just pop excess into an ice cube tray for use as needed“], which I have always found amusing. How many ice cube trays does a person have??

The main advice, of course, is not to buy too much perishable food in the first place – sounds crazy, but apparently it works! And secondly, don’t cook too much food.

At the very least, get yourself a worm farm, if not a proper compost bin, so that unusable food scraps don’t go into landfill. We have a spanking new worm farm with two thousand head of worm, ready to chomp. We had to set our old worms free when the building work began, so are hoping our new batch are as ravenous as the old ones. All the advice is that worms won’t eat onions & garlic, but our old lot chowed down on them with relish, so fingers crossed that the newbies are similarly omnivorous.

Anyhoo, check out these sites; some of the readers’ tips are not bad, and quite a few are good for a laugh. However, I reckon we could get a much more interesting list going here.

1. Using up carrots: My first contribution will be ol’ Guillaume’s carrot puree, used to thicken his BB – I made too much, but have used it twice since, in thickening a chicken cacciatore and a lamb and pea mixture for a pie. Wherever a recipe calls for thickening with flour, chuck in your puree. You could even pop it into an ice cube tray to create easy-to-use individual portions!

2. Grow your own herbs: which means only using what you need. I’m forever throwing out half-bunches of parsley or thyme (I know, I should be freezing them into damn ice-cubes – but growing them is more pleasurable and aesthetically pleasing to boot).

Okay, now your turn. What do you do to reduce food waste?


  1. Our workplace has just bought a bokashi bin for all our lunch and snack scraps. It is a great way to reduce the crap we produce at work and we get to share the bokashi goodness around by taking it in turns to bring it home each week and put in our gardens. We are only a few weeks into the process, but so far it has been a great success. Check them out for yourselves – http://www.bokashi.com.au/

  2. The chooks would have me lunched if I didn’t give them my table scraps. we share – me, the chooks and the bloody green grubs that get to the broccoli before I can pick them off.

    • Senor has been desperate for a chook in our inner city courtyard for ages. I tell him it will rip up the garden and be cruel to the chook. Worms are a compromise.

  3. My heart sinks to say it but menu planning may be key to not buying too much or too widely – deciding in advance what will be cooked each day/week before you go shopping.
    Herbs can last well in fridge when dampened, put on paper towel in plastic bag which is spun so as to trap some air in.
    I use the worm alibi too, but Bokashi bins look great. The worms, who cannot speak for themselves, want to ask Alice whether the special Bokashi powder you need to layer waste with costs a bomb. expensively

  4. Hi jbail. As work pays for it I have no idea of real costs, but believe it is on the dear side. I think we go through a bag every 1.5 – 2 weeks, but it is working hard on about 15 people’s scraps(somewhat larger than the average household).

  5. turning waste into eggs is a brilliant feeling, especially tucking into a duck egg pasta. I wish i could find a local fruit shop that’d give their scraps but a few people have chooks down here

  6. Wish the snails living around here would let me grow basil. That would help a lot.
    I am very fond of the kind of soups Auntie Pat made, I must say. And my menu planning is pretty wicked. However it would be good to eat all the fruit every week, instead of intending to.

  7. Half or quarter bunches of leftover herbs can be thrown into a food processor – together with the usual ingredients like garlic and lemon and pine nuts – to make a bastardised pesto. The results are always delicious as a dip or a quick base for a pasta sauce. I’ve found it doesn’t really matter what combination you use.

    Also, assuming you’re just out at your local noodle house, and the following is not going to make your dining companion die of mortification (like, say, at GM’s Bennelong), if they’ve given you a laksa that would feed four people and you can barely get through half, just ask for the rest as takeaway. Most of these businesses survive on takeaway orders and they won’t bat an eyelid. Better still, if you work from home as I do, you then eat a lunch that’s a lot more exciting than usual the following day. Really my point here is perhaps think about what you eat and how you order outside your home too – this has become increasingly urgent in Sydney since serving sizes went rogue.

  8. G.B.’s.

  9. I always get Asian food as takeaway if we don’t eat it – specially our fave Ploy Thai in Petersham (PT I miss you! will be back soon!). Even a couple of spoonsful of delicious stirfy makes a great lunch on a bit of rice, and Asian restaurateurs are always more than happy to do this I’ve found. Waste not …mmm.

  10. A great post! I’ve found having a compost bin over the past 6 months has done wonders for recycling food – although I think, like you, I can grow too reliant on this. We are currently in a veggie/fruit co-op and the sad thing is that all too regularly a lot of it goes to waste because we can’t use it quickly enough. Some strategies I’ve been using include giving it away to neighbours, using it in cakes (eg. pumpkin or pears in cakes), turning wilting veggies into curries or soups or pesto… I’m still planning to get around to freezing lemon juice in ice cube trays, but haven’t managed it yet!

  11. […] the fridge door on Saturday I was accused by three shrinkwrapped corn cobs bought two weeks ago. Food waster! Abandoner! they cried, in their tiny little corny […]

  12. howtoshucaknoyster.com, how do you do it?

  13. howtoshucxkanoyster.com, how do you do it?


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