Australian households throw away an estimated 5 million tonnes of food every year, which is equivalent to $10.1 billion worth of food or 1 in 5 bags of purchased food.*
While you can use a compost bin or worm farm for some food waste, if you avoid creating it in the first place you'll save money, water, energy and fossil fuels that went into getting the food onto your plate. Consider the resources used across the whole process from growing, processing, packaging, transporting, selling, through to preparing, cooking, and storing.
By switching a few habits you can make a big reduction to both your waste, your resource use and your household budget.
*Source: RABOBank Food Waste Report, November 2019, OzHarvest Food Waste Facts, December 2019
Planning your meals helps cut down on food waste and saves you time and energy during the week. You’ll also save money by not impulse buying and have a healthier and more varied diet.
- Decide on your meals for the week.
- Write your ingredient list.
- Check your fridge, freezer and pantry against this list to make sure you only buy what you don’t have.
Keep an eye on expiry dates so you use foods before they spoil or can freeze them for future use.
Food waste is often caused by buying more than we need. To avoid overbuying:
- Write a list and stick to it. Try to avoid food shopping when hungry.
- Buy local and seasonal (it stays fresher and lasts longer).
- Buy smaller amounts more frequently.
- Think twice about buying perishable foods in bulk when they're on special.
- Buy foods last that need refrigerating and never leave chilled foods sitting in the car for long periods.
Best before vs use by dates
Understanding the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘used by’ labels is important as these are one of the largest contributors to unnecessary food waste.
- Best before: most foods have a 'best before' date. According to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, you may be able to eat foods after their best before date, but they may have lost some quality. While foods can legally be sold after their best before date, please check all food prior to consumption.
- Use by: foods must be eaten before the use by date. Foods should not be eaten after the use by date and can’t legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health risk.(e.g. dairy, meat, fish).
Read more about this on the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand website.
Cookbooks and recipes are a fantastic place to start when deciding how to use up the food in your fridge. Our libraries have a feast of cookbooks to get you started and you can also find thousands of recipes online.
Don’t be afraid to substitute an ingredient if a recipe calls for something that's difficult to find, expensive or you probably won’t use again. If you're not sure if an ingredient can be substituted, go online to search for its alternative.
By cooking with a sense of adventure and being unafraid to try new things, you can save time and money and avoid food waste
Storing your food correctly prevents it from spoiling before you use it.
Fridge - how to store food
- Don’t overcrowd your fridge. Air must be able to circulate around the food to keep it cool.
- Cover all food or store it in airtight containers.
- Wrap salads and herbs in a damp paper towel to prolong their life.
- Keep all fresh meat, fish and poultry in its store wrapping.
- Cool cooked/hot food on the bench before putting in the fridge
- Stack containers upwards rather than pushing items to the back.
- Empty and store the contents of open tins or cans in an airtight container.
- Store eggs in their original carton.
Fridge - where to store food
- Items with short expiry dates, leftovers, cooked meats, prepared salads should be stored on the top shelves.
- Eggs and dairy products should be kept on the middle shelf.
- Raw meats, fish and poultry are best stored on the bottom shelf and towards the back where it’s coldest.
- Fruit, vegetables and salad leaves should be stored in the crisper drawers.
- Condiments, sauces and drinks have a longer life so store in the door shelves.
- Freeze any raw meat that you're not going to cook in the next few days:
- fish and seafood - lasts 2 to 6 months, depending on the type of fish
- mince - lasts up to 4 months
- poultry - lasts 6 to 9 months
- red meat - lasts up to 12 months.
- Freeze food in portion sizes.
- Store food in airtight containers to prevent dehydration and freezer burn.
- Freeze any excess food, such as bread, dairy or cakes, and label and date your containers. Cut large blocks of cheese or butter into smaller blocks before freezing.
- Use clear, airtight containers or glass jars to store dry goods.
- Ensure your pantry is dry, dark and well ventilated.
- Store potatoes, onions and garlic separately and away from direct sunlight.
Storing fresh fruits and vegetables
Some fruits emit ethylene gas (ripening gas) that can cause other fruits and vegetables to spoil prematurely, so it’s best to keep them separate from other produce.
- Nectarines, peaches, pears, plums and tomatoes are strong ethylene producers and should be kept on the bench separate from other fruit.
- Avocados and bananas produce ethylene until they are ripe. Keep them on the bench while they are ripening then move them to the fridge.
- Apples, apricots, berries, figs, kiwi, grapes, rockmelon and honeydew are mild ethylene producers and can be kept in the fridge away from ethylene-sensitive vegetables.
- Most vegetables – broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, lettuce, leafy greens, herbs, peas, capsicum – are ethylene sensitive. They should be kept separate from fruit.
- Potatoes, onions, garlic and whole pumpkins should be stored in separate containers at the bottom of the pantry or somewhere out of sunlight.
Using everything - 'Compleating’
For most of us, it’s habit to peel potatoes or carrots, cut the florets off broccoli and throw away the stem or to use only the white parts of spring onions and leeks. But they’re perfectly fine to eat. To reduce waste, try to use the entire food when cooking.
- Green tops of leeks and spring onions, celery leaves, stems of broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms can be added to soups, stews and casseroles.
- Use your vegetable scraps or meat/fish bones to make stock, which can be frozen.
- Add a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt to your cleaned potato/sweet potato peelings and bake them in the oven for some crispy baked skins.
- Make smoothies or juices from soft or over-ripe fruit. This works best if the fruit is frozen first.
- Stew up excess apples, pears, rhubarb or berries as filling for a crumble or pie, or freeze them for later use.
- Freeze excess lemon or lime juice in ice block trays.
- Freeze herbs in oil in ice block trays.
- Blend stale bread to make bread crumbs or tear into chunks and bake for croutons (also freezes well).
- Use leftover rice to create fried rice, rice balls or rice pudding.
- Turn leftover mashed potato or pumpkin into dumplings by adding flour and egg.
- Keep ginger and chillies in the freezer and grate/cut what you need into your cooking.
Growing your own food gives you access to fresh food and helps prevent overbuying. Whether you have a small balcony or a sprawling backyard, there is space to grow food: herbs in boxes, fruit trees in pots or a veggie garden.
Gardening Australia also has some fantastic factsheets and instructional movies.
If you’ve grown more than you can eat, preserve and gift to friends and family or take it to a local food swap.
Recycling food waste at home
There is some food waste that can’t be avoided – banana peels, coffee grounds, etc. If you have food waste, recycle it at home using a worm farm, compost bin, Bokashi bin or give it to chooks.
You will significantly reduce what you send to landfill and put valuable nutrients into your garden.
Remember not to add citrus, chilli, onion, garlic, meat, fish, dairy or processed foods to compost bins or worm farms. And not all items are suitable for chooks too - check what to feed your backyard chooks beforehand.
- Zero waste recipes (Love food, hate waste) - Sustainability Victoria
- Love food, hate waste - Sustainability Victoria (YouTube channel)
- The Back to Earth Initiative
- Sustainable table
Read more about how you can avoid creating waste.