Turn waste into money

Photo: istockphoto.com/esp_imaging
Find out ways to cut down on food waste and put cash in your pocket

Mike Brigham is an environmentalist and he’s bothered by waste in all its forms– especially when perfectly edible food gets tossed away. “Every time we have a certain friend to dinner, she takes a full plate of food but eats less than half of it,” he says. “It upsets me because of the waste it represents.”

It’s the dirty little secret many of us harbour: the amount of food we scoop from our fridges or scrape off our plates uneaten, only to wind up in compost or garbage bins. It’s a waste calculated in environmental costs, from resources to grow, transport, process and store the food.

But it hits consumer’s pocketbooks, too. A recent Statistics Canada report showed a drop in the overall rate of inflation, but a significant rise in food costs: 7.3 percent over the previous year. Fresh vegetables led the way, rising a whopping 26.9 percent; bakery and cereal products were up by 12.4 percent. So every morsel wasted is costing more than ever.

There are no studies on how much edible food Canadians throw away. However, some cities do track the overall amount of organic waste ending up in curbside composting programs. “Our stats show that a single family disposes of approximately 275 kilograms of food waste per year,” says Geoff Rathbone, general manager of Toronto’s solid waste management department.

The city hasn’t measured how that breaks down between potentially edible and inedible food, such things as melon rinds and apple cores. Rathbone says that while it’s obvious a good deal of green bin waste is intact or in unopened packages, they don’t have actual figures for edible food waste.

Love food, hate waste

However, that’s just what the Waste and Resources Action Programme  (WRAP) in the U.K. set out to study. And what they discovered about British food waste was an eye-opener. By analyzing the waste of 2,138 households, WRAP found that Brits throw away approximately one-third of the food they buy every year. Of that one-third, the researchers estimated more than half could have been eaten.

In terms of dollars and cents, a family could save almost $1000 annually in food costs if waste was eliminated, according to WRAP. Toward this end, it launched the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign, which provides British consumers with tips on how to cut down on food waste, including recipes, storage advice and basic food education. Chefs and restaurants are joining the campaign, and resources have been developed for community groups to start awareness projects.

Cook soup, and other advice

Closer to home, community organizations such as FoodShare are helping to spread the word on eating well and economically, while supporting environmentally sound agriculture. By learning some food basics, says FoodShare kitchen manager Alvin Rebick, you can eat well, save money and cut waste. Here are some of Rebick’s food basics:

  • Be careful when you shop to avoid over-buying. Be realistic about what you will actually cook and eat in the days ahead.m
  • Learn to cook foods that use up what Rebick calls “the bits” languishing in your refrigerator. His two best words of advice: “Cook soup.”
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with food by tossing in nuts, spices, seeds or some of that aging cheese approaching its best-before date. These can liven up a recipe or leftovers, turning what might have been waste into a tempting meal.
  • Wash and store your food properly to avoid spoilage. Rebick says the best kitchen gadget to help use up wilted fruits and veggies is a hand blender. “You throw the bits into a soup pot or stew to cook, then whiz some of it up and no one even knows what’s in it, it tastes so good.”

Wayne Roberts, head of Toronto’s Food Policy Council and a noted food author, advocates a systemic approach to eliminating food waste, such as redesigning cities and turning local convenience stores, often selling cigarettes and junk food, into mom-and-pop grocery stores. That way, he says, “people could walk or bike to the store and buy just what they need for that day and the next. They would get exercise, eat more fresh food, throw away less, save money—and both people and the planet would be healthier.”

For more advice on cutting food waste, visit Love Food Hate Waste  on the net.