Cost of living: 5 tips for how to reduce food waste - and why it could save you money amid UK inflation crisis
Food prices have been a major driver of the cost of living crisis, with even supermarket value ranges getting more expensive
The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) has recorded average year-on-year price rises for everyday goods and services of 9.1% as a result of the war in Ukraine, as well as Covid and Brexit-related supply chain issues.
But what you might not realise is that cutting your food waste can also be an effective way to save money.
So, why is this the case - and how can you reduce how much food you’re throwing away?
What are the UK’s food waste facts?
According to waste prevention charity Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme), UK households waste about 16% of the food they purchase.
In 2018, the most recent year for which we have statistics, this food waste amounted to 6.6 million tonnes - 70% (4.5 million tonnes) of which was still edible.
Wrap estimates this was the equivalent of eight meals a week for the average UK household.
To get an additional sense of the scale of the problem, this tonnage of food waste would fill eight Wembley Stadiums or 3,600 Olympic-sized swimming pools
When taken product by product, this was the level of wastage recorded every single day in 2018:
- 20 million slices of bread
- 4.4 million potatoes
- 3.1 million glasses’ worth of milk
- 2.7 million carrots
- 2.2. million slices’ worth of ham
A recent YouGov survey commissioned by the supermarket Tesco suggests this level of waste is likely to not have changed dramatically in 2022.
The poll of more than 2,000 people found 77% were throwing away unopened or unused food, with 37% doing this on at least a monthly basis.
Why does reducing food waste save money?
Reducing the amount of food waste you produce can save you money because it means you’re eating more of what you’ve bought, thus making it more cost effective.
It also means you’re saving money on your future grocery shopping because you will need to buy less.
And if you can identify particular products or items you waste the most, you could also reduce the size of your shopping list.
Analysis by Wrap’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign has found the typical UK family with children could save £730 a year (over £60 a month) by not throwing away edible food.
Savings for an average individual add up to £210 a year, or £18 a month.
How can I reduce food waste?
NationalWorld has gone to Wrap’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign to get tips on how to slash the amount of food waste you produce.
They have provided us with these five hacks:
- Plan your shopping
By putting together a meal plan and then forming a shopping list from it, you can cut out any unnecessary food and drink purchases.
It will also allow you to know how much to buy, cutting the risk of you purchasing more than you need.
Love Food Hate Waste recommends getting in foods that can be put into several different dishes, like vegetables, mince, cans of tomatoes or salads.
That way, if you eat through your planned meals and have ingredients left, you can easily put a new dish together.
- Understand best before and use by dates
While on your food shop, Love Food Hate Waste says you should seek out the longest use by dates.
There can sometimes be confusion between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates.
Use by dates tend to be applied to fresh foods and mark the deadline after which a product is no longer safe to consume.
Even if the food or drink item looks or smells ok after this date, bacteria which could cause food poisoning may well have developed inside the product.
And given these sorts of products - like meat, fish and dairy - tend to be the most expensive things in our shopping baskets, being on top of use by dates can save you a lot of money.
Best before dates give an indication of how long the product is at its peak quality for.
Food and drink can often be consumed after this date without any safety concerns.
But because of the confusion, some supermarkets - like Morrisons - have begun to remove this kind of labelling on some products to stop consumers throwing away food unnecessarily.
Instead, they urge consumers to look at, sample or smell the product before throwing it away.
Some foods, like dried pasta, can be safe to eat for up to three years after their best before date.
So understanding what the label means is vital to avoiding food waste.
Another thing to look for when shopping is labelling which says you can freeze the product you’re after.
That way, you can extend the life of any fresh food you don’t manage to get through.
- Get reacquainted with your freezer
Freezing items can greatly extend their shelf life.
You can freeze all kinds of food and drink right up until their use by dates.
But you might be surprised by what food and drink items can be frozen.
For example, eggs, rice and grated cheese can all be frozen, so long as you defrost them carefully.
Bread and milk can have their lives extended by being put in the freezer, while leftover fruit can be chopped up, frozen and then put into smoothies at a later date.
- Store your food correctly
Usually, it’s pretty clear which foods need to be put in the fridge or left outside of it.
But some products which you might think are ok to leave in the fruit bowl, like apples, can have their shelf life extended greatly by being put in the fridge.
Meanwhile, some ingredients, like garlic, should be left in moderately warm, humid conditions rather than fridges or cold, dark places.
Research by Wrap has also found that 70% of Brits have their fridges set at temperatures that are too warm to effectively prolong the shelf life of food.
So, ensure your fridge is set to between 0 degrees and five degrees celsius.
- Get creative with your leftovers
If you get foods which can be used across different recipes, you’ll probably be able to cobble together a dish from any odds and ends you have left over from other meals.
Stews, chillis and other one-pot meals can often be rustled up using staple ingredients, like mince, onions, peppers and chopped tomatoes.
The Love Food Hate Waste website has examples of dishes you can put together if you have leftovers but are unsure about what to do with them.