As Greta Thunberg leads the conversation around the climate emergency, you may be wondering ‘what can I do to help?’.
While there are many things we can do as individuals, such as switch to a green energy supplier or use our cars less, perhaps something you have not considered that can make a real difference is reducing how much food is wasted at home.
Most of us don’t think about how food is made – we don’t have to, we just go and buy it from the supermarket. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, there’s a huge and complex system designed to get it to us in great condition and it works really well.
And yet a lot of food still goes to waste.
About 60 per cent of the food we waste in the UK is still perfectly edible and this is largely due to expiry dates. It’s much safer for food manufacturers to assume that something will go wrong in the supply chain or even in our homes and so they build in a shorter date to compensate for this.
Yet, most of us will keep food better than what the food manufacturer expects and so good food ends up being wasted.
Wasting food feels wrong morally when so many people go without. All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe. And nowhere in Europe wastes as much food as the UK – an estimated 14 million tonnes of food waste each year, according to the European Commission.
The average UK family wasting £800 of food every year, little things will make the biggest difference
Bottom line – food that could be enjoyed otherwise is being wasted needlessly because we don’t know whether it’s still fresh.
In a bid to stop this I took matters into my own hands and invented a a label that tells you exactly when food really spoils.
To use it, you run your finger over it and if it’s smooth, it means that the food is fresh and it’s only spoiled when you can feel bumps.
The label contains a material that is mapped and matched to the specific food product so that it actually experiences decay at the rate as the specific food it is labelling.
It adjusts to conditions along the way, so if you’ve kept it well, it will stay smooth for longer, but if you’ve left it out a bit too long on a warm day, it will warn you when the food is no longer good to consume.
Food waste isn’t just bad for people, it’s wreaking havoc on our planet too. If food waste were a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US.
There are three main reasons for this: When we waste a sandwich, we don’t just waste the sandwich itself, but also all the resources it took to grow, harvest, transport, assemble, package, and keep refrigerated all the ingredients. When we waste food, we’re also wasting water, fuel and plastic.
Rotting food produces methane, a greenhouse gas which is 23 times more potent than CO2. The scale of the issue is enormous – about a third of the food produced never gets eaten – this is valued by the BGC as a eye-watering $1 trillion being lost annually.
After three years of lab development, we’re getting ready to launch to the public for the first time early next year, so soon you will have access to the intelligent way to know food is fresh, based on science and be empowered to use food for longer, with the peace of mind of knowing it’s still safe.
But expiry dates are just one part of the complex food waste puzzle. There are lots of simple habits to get into to reduce food waste and save money too.
With the average UK family wasting £800 of food every year, little things will make the biggest difference.
Tips like using your freezer when you buy or cook too much, or extra food you have with neighbours (there’s even apps for it).
Even make conscious choices like avoiding buffet style restaurants where it’s easy to plate up more than you can eat.
In the words of the Waste and Resources Action Programme CEO, Marcus Gover, ‘Every person in the UK can help reduce food waste’. We all just have to try.’
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