Four ways to reduce food waste during coronavirus lockdown

The Covid-19 outbreak has caused serious disruption to society, with the government instructing non-essential businesses to close their doors and social distancing measures being put in place to reduce the rate of transmission, with vast swathes of the population now staying at home.

One of the main instructions issued by the government has been to limit trips to the shops for food supplies as far as possible. This has led many to stock up on food so there is less need to go out to buy more. While good social distancing practice, this poses questions about food waste, and ensuring people know how to keep that food fresh for longer to avoid waste.

Waste food on plateFood waste is a serious polluter contributing to the climate crisis. It releases methane as it rots in landfill, and as uneaten food has been resourced through the global food system, it has a hefty carbon footprint attached to it as well. The UN Food and Agricultural Association reports that if food waste was a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (after China and the USA).

Currently, UK households generate 6.5 million tonnes of food waste every year of which 4.5 million (69 per cent) is edible. While collecting food waste and sending it to be composted or to anaerobic digestion is better than sending it to be incinerated or to landfill with residual waste, not all households are provided with a food waste collection service – about two thirds of UK households have access to a separate or mixed food waste collection – and even these are under threat due to coronavirus disruption.

At times like these it is more important than ever to remember that food is there to be eaten, and reducing food waste and redistributing surplus should be priorities.

Not only does reducing food waste have a positive environmental impact, it can also boost personal finances. Recent figures from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has revealed that the financial cost of household food waste in the UK each year is £14 billion each year, or £700 per household.

Given the current uncertainty brought about by the Covid-19 crisis, making food last for longer can aid social distancing by helping to reduce the need for trips to the supermarket, help household finances go that little bit further, while redistributing unwanted food can provide vital support to those who are self-isolating.

WRAP Director Peter Maddox commented: “We’re in unprecedented times. Keeping your food fresher for longer is more important now than it has ever been. Our Love Food Hate Waste website will help you and your family to stay at home as much as you can, in line with the Government’s advice, by reducing the number of times you need to go food shopping and we are continuing to help feed demand by posting new recipes, and advice every week.”

Below are some top tips on making your food last for longer and reducing your waste.

Chill out, and store safe

We have all done it – popped that hot dish in our fridge without a second thought. But this simple error alongside too much opening of the fridge door, could be raising our fridge temperatures above the 0-5°C recommended guidelines.

WRAP provides a range of advice on how to store food properly to make it last longer on its Love Food Hate Waste campaign site. Did you know potatoes should ideally be stored in a dark cupboard in a cloth bag away from strong-smelling foods like onions? Or that mayonnaise belongs in the fridge not the cupboard? WRAP’s Food Storage A-Z provides advice for a range of everyday foods to ensure they’re staying fresh for longer – and consumers are taking note, with the A-Z racking up more than 50,000 views in the past 10 days!

A spokesperson from WRAP commented: “Storing food correctly has the potential to make it last three days longer and prevents food going to waste. Many items of fruit and vegetables last considerably longer when stored in the fridge, for example. Check out the Love Food Hate Waste Food Storage A–Z for more information on how best to keep any item of food, and remember to keep your fridge at 0-5°C – you can check how to adjust your fridge thermometer using our Chill The Fridge Out tool.”

Learn your labels

A key part of cutting down on food waste is understanding the different food labels, so that you can buy what you need and not generate any unnecessary excess food waste. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recommends becoming familiar with ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ labels and for the dates to be a valid guide, following storage instructions on the packaging is essential.

If a food item has passed its ‘use by date’ you must not use, sell or donate this food, and it should be placed in your food waste recycling, where it can then be collected and used to generate energy through AD or used to make organic compost.

However, ‘best before’ dates concern food quality rather than safety. Maybe it has passed the ‘best before’ date and its colour has changed or it is not as pristine as it was when you bought it. No matter! Most foods are still safe to consume once they’ve passed their ‘best before’ date, and householders and supermarkets can even donate them if they are going to be left unsold or uneaten.

To find out more about food labels, have a look over the Food Standards Agency’s website, which gives some helpful guidelines on food labelling.

Get creative with leftovers

Up and down the country we will be spending more time in our homes in the coming weeks, which means if ever there was a time to be getting creative with household leftovers, it is now. 

The internet has been flooded with ideas on how we can get creative with our leftovers, so here are a few ideas circulating over social media that have jumped out.

Food writer Jack Monroe’s Lockdown Larder twitter campaign (#JackMonroesLockdownLarder) shares recipe ideas at 5pm daily encouraging the British public to cook from existing cupboard stocks and substitute recipe ingredients for other items to avoid unnecessary trips to the shops.

WRAP's Love Food Hate Waste blog Flung Together Food is an exciting take on what we can make from our leftovers as foodies share their recipes over Instagram.

And of course one chef who always has a trick up his sleeve for the general public is Jamie Oliver who is back again on our screens with his Channel 4 programme, ‘Jamie: Keep Cooking and Carry On’. Filmed from his isolation, he is offering handy advice on cooking with limited supplies.

Share your surplus

Since the start of the Covid-19, we have grown used to images of supermarkets shelves stripped bare, with many unable to purchase the supplies they need, whether they are people showing symptoms and having to self-isolate or frontline NHS workers returning from a long shift treating coronavirus patients.

Now is the time for communities to come together and food redistribution is a great way to share food you aren’t going to use with those that need it and to foster community resilience. Food sharing apps such as OLIO and community good causes sites like Neighbourly are hoping to facilitate food redistribution during this unsettling time.

OLIO app
OLIO, which operates in 49 countries globally and has a user base of nearly two million, is responding to the Coronavirus pandemic by organising no-contact pickups to share surplus food safely in communities.

Commenting upon how the app is responding to the outbreak, Tessa Clarke, OLIO Co-Founder and CEO Tessa Clarke said: “With schools, restaurants and cafes shut, empty shelves at local shops and no supermarket delivery slots available for weeks, families are increasingly turning to their local communities to both give, and get, support. As a result we've seen listings from households giving away spare food and other essentials jump by 20 per cent versus last week. We're also extremely busy supporting local restaurants, cafes and canteens that are closing, and are sending in our more than 7,000 Food Waste Heroes (volunteers), who are collecting their unused food and redistributing it to the local community via the app.”

Aside from the pickups, OLIO has also launched a #Cook4Kids campaign. This has brought together 16 well-known food experts to create simple home-cooked recipes, inspiring the public to cook for kids in their communities who are missing out on a school lunch due to closures. Big names such as TV Chefs James Martin and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as well as Food Editor for Vogue, Skye Gyngell, have been conjuring up these straightforward meals ranging from curries to broths and pancakes. Safety is a priority during this campaign with OLIO providing top tips on its website for safe home cooking following NHS advice. 

Creating good habits for the future

As Chancellor Rishi Sunak said last Friday, it is on all of us. Communities are coming together to support each other during what is an uncertain time. Households have their role to play in this nationwide effort. In cutting down our food waste by resourcing what we need, storing it safely and creatively using up leftovers, we can help the planet and support our whole community to access food at this challenging time, creating good habits for the future. 

Related Articles