Elderflower blossom

Even after 65 years, my grandmother’s words ring loudly in my ears. My grandparents were schoolteachers, so they weren’t poor. But they were thrifty. My grandmother prided herself on her lack of food waste. I am sure living through two wars contributed to that desire to avoid throwing away food. I like to think that I am quite good at producing meals from leftovers and from Nature’s larder. Wonderful dishes can come from bits and pieces from a previous mealtime, or from the hedgerows. I enjoy the challenge, but I am by no means perfect!

I believe we all need to re-learn to be thrifty, especially with our food. The global food system is broken. The number of people not having enough to eat is increasing. Our food is making us sick on a grand scale and food costs are rocketing. We are destroying our soil and using up our fresh water. The carbon pollution from that system is about 30% of our overall planetary emissions and our human population is still rising. Those emissions are making our planet very sick indeed. So if we cut down our food waste we will reduce the amount of food we need to grow, and thus the emissions.

Food waste come from all different parts of the food chain: from production and loss on the farm, to loss in transport, processing, overbuying by shops and households and poor planning and misunderstanding of food labels and safety. We also have a lot of food waste from our plates both at home and in restaurants.

Usually food waste from places like Africa are on the farm through lack of technology for storage or appropriate transport links to get the food to market. Food waste in developed countries is principally household waste. About 30% of all our food is wasted.

Disposing of our Food Waste

Landfill Site

A lanfdill site with smoke rising

What Happens to our Food Waste?

This article shows that if our food waste is not recycled then it usually just goes to landfill where it rots. It then releases a gas called methane into the atmosphere. Methane which is a Greenhouse Gas contributes much more to Climate Chaos than Carbon Dioxide. Apparently about 1.3 billion tons of food waste are sent to landfill annually. So, not only are people starving in developing countries because there is not enough food for them, but in developed countries we are contributing to our own demise by having too much. There is something very far wrong here!


Landfill sites are where waste is either dumped or buried. Apart from the gases they emit they can also be responsible for contamination of surface and deeper ground water. Clearly it is better than just openly dumping waste in the countryside. However there is so much more that we can do.

Incinerating Food Waste

Some parts of the world (including Europe) incinerate their food waste to dispose of it. As this requires more energy than it produces this is not a useful method of disposal.


According to the above article this is clearly a better and less toxic method of disposal. Much of what we waste could be recycled in various ways. Apparently only a small amount actually is recycled, in spite of the fact that it can save many resources.

Anaerobic Digestion

With this, microorganisms break down the waste food to produce methane. This is safely collected and turned into carbon-neutral biogas which can be burned to produce energy. What is left can then be used as a natural fertilizer. There are many biogas plants in Europe but obviously a lot more would be better.

Industrial Level Composting

Sites for this purpose can treat food waste on a large scale, including bioplastics and bones etc. The resulting compost can then be used by farmers and individuals. The benefits to the soil of the use of this style of fertiliser are considerable. Of course it also reduces the problems of landfill sites.

Food Waste and Making a Difference

Wouldn’t These Have Made a Wonderful Pie?

Rotting apples

There is probably not a lot we, as individuals, can do directly to help with food loss in developing countries.

However, we could, for example lobby our politicians to change the system of aid to developing countries as it is presently very unfair. Much of the aid we give to those countries is subsumed in the debts they have to pay back to more developed countries. As a result there is often little governments there can do to help their citizens improve their food production systems.

Thinking of our own backyard

There are many things that we as individuals can do to avoid food waste.

  1. Plan our menus better
  2. Buy only what we need
  3. Put less on plates
  4. Experiment with meals from leftovers
  5. Don’t buy special 2-for1 offers from the supermarkets
  6. Buy misshapen fruit and vegetables
  7. Compost our waste if we can. If not, separate it and give it to local Councils to compost.
  8. Order less in restaurants or share food.
  9. Have a look at this article from the FAO entitled “15 quick tips for reducing food waste and becoming a Food Hero”.
  10. Or this article, on 32 easy ways to reduce your food waste, is also useful.
  11. Learn about food safety and reading food labels. Food can often be kept longer than we think.

Encouraging the supermarkets

Talk to your supermarket manager about their special offers. Tell them to pay their farmers better and not to do special offers that create food waste. If you live in a country where there is no law to redistribute fresh food at the end of the day, talk to your government. (There is a French law that forbids supermarkets from wasting unsold food.)

Buying from markets

Buying food in markets is great, but make sure you use your purchases quickly. One of the downfalls I find in beautiful French markets is that the food is very fresh and not sprayed to make it last. So if I am not careful the fruit and vegetables rot quickly.

As a final point

It is also important to think about foods we buy from developing countries and how their workers are treated. Although we may not be talking about waste it is worth thinking about the lifestyles imposed on workers for particular foods.

If anybody has great recipes for leftovers I would love to see them. Thank you.

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(Elderflower Blossom for Cordial, copyright Doreen Hosking, and thanks to Collab Media and Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash for the other photos)