How much food do you throw out each day? Several studies have concluded that the largest amount of food waste occurs in households1. Data shows that in the U.K., households generate up to 7.1 million tonnes of wasted food per year5. In the U.S., a single individual could generate up to 219 pounds of wasted food each year4. This 30 day zero food waste challenge targets how we consume food at home, with the aim of helping us improve our food habits.
Food waste is a major contributor to some of the environmental issues we face today. One of them is world hunger, especially in sub-Saharan African regions where food waste starts from the harvest process. In fact, up to 37% of food can be lost post-harvest.
Another is climate change. If we combined the food wasted every year into a single country, it would be the third-largest producer of greenhouse gasses3 (which contribute to climate change), right behind China and the U.S. Some examples of these gases are methane gas and CO2 which can linger in our atmosphere for thousands of years.
Related: For more information and background on food waste check out our list of food waste facts and statistics,
Clearly, there are many reasons why we need to think about reducing food waste. Now that we understand the benefits for the environment of zero household food waste, we may want to take responsibility for how our personal food habits contribute. The zero-waste food challenge is one of the many ways to do this in a fun way.
Anyone can join this challenge at any time. It encourages you to go for a period of time without wasting any food (or as little food as possible, usually beyond the point of consumption). Your zero food waste challenge can last for as long as you can manage, the longer the better.
In this article, I’ve suggested 7 days of preparation all planned out for you which you’ll only need to do once. Following the first week, I’ve outlined tips and ideas to action towards zero food waste for the rest of the 21 days in the month. Of course, we’d encourage you to keep going for at least 21 days.
The end goal of the zero food waste challenge is to prove to yourself that avoiding food waste is possible, and you can live a waste-free life.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with the desire, then one small step in the right direction.”-
We should always prepare for the most important challenges. I don’t expect you to completely stop wasting food immediately after you read this article. What we ask is that you follow the steps outlined below in preparing for the challenge. Over the next 7 days, complete these tasks to ensure that you are truly ready to go food waste-free. You can complete more than one task in a day. It all depends on your preferences. When you start the challenge, most tasks will come easily because your kitchen has been prepped for zero waste.
We all have our different reasons for choosing to go food waste-free. For some, it could be to save money. Others may have identified a problem in their food habits, and want to correct them. Another reason is to curb one’s contribution to environmental change from throwing out food. Kathryn of Going Zero Waste couldn’t shake the thought that 1 in 9 people go to bed hungry while she has enough to throw out. Your reasons could be one or more of the above. Whatever they are, make sure that you see them as achievable goals. They could provide you with the needed motivation whenever you feel tempted to slack.
The World Resource Institute did something similar to reduce food waste in their office. They launched an “investigation”, and discovered that their food waste hotspots were:
With an honest understanding of where most of their food waste came from, they were able to target this problem and reduce food waste by more than 75% in one year.
You can get the same results in your home, but you have to be honest with yourself. Identify the top meals or food items you eventually waste and make a decision to either eat them first or avoid buying them at all.
There are several methods of food preservation such as canning, drying, freezing, fermenting, preserving in salt, sugar, and alcohol, and so on. These are helpful in preserving leftovers or groceries which will not be consumed immediately. Do your research and watch as many preservation tutorials as possible. When you find the methods that work best for you, invest in reusable containers to store your preserves.
Some food will eventually go bad, regardless of your efforts. Sadly, not everything can be saved. With a home compost, you can reduce the greenhouse gasses emitted from your rotting food, and cut down on the size of materials you contribute to landfills. If you have a home garden, a compost could also be an excellent source of nutrition for your plants.
It’s easy to look at a refrigerator full of food and still think you have nothing to eat. A meal plan will remind you of all the meals you can make with what you have. When you follow your meal plan, it also reminds you to use up all your ingredients, because you’re no longer making just those two or three comfort meals. You can then use your meal plan to further map out your 30 day zero food waste challenge.
It is advisable to go shopping with a complete list of the things you need. Not only will it save you time, but it will also prevent extra spending on things you do not need. Following your list will also help to prevent food waste. For example, if bananas are on a bulk sale, but are not on your shopping list, then you should not buy them. If you do, you will not be saving money, but buying fruit you don't plan to eat and may eventually waste.
With all the prep steps taken care of, you should be ready to start your 21 days of the zero food waste challenge. Here are some important pointers to keep you on the right track.
This might seem obvious, but remember to eat your food. Learn to enjoy homemade meals. When you’re eating, avoid distractions to ensure that you finish your food while it’s still enjoyable.
Both at home and at your favorite restaurant, know the perfect serving size that is just enough for you. A great deal of research has suggested that we eat too large portions in our modern times of so much choice. Smaller portions are better for you and can help increase your energy2. They can also help us reduce food waste. Unsure what a recommended portion size looks like? Take a look at the British Nutrition Foundation handy guide.
Don’t forget to preserve excess food by freezing them. When you realize that you may not eat a certain food anymore, freeze it as quickly as possible. You want your leftovers to stay as enjoyable as possible for later so they aren’t wasted. There are plenty of other preserving options available too, canning, bottling, and so on. Try some new techniques if you have time.
Restaurants are usually open to packing up leftover food for their customers. Ask for a paper-to-go plate if you realize that you may not be able to finish your meal. Do try and avoid more plastic if possible. In fact, if you regularly find yourself with restaurant leftovers spare why not pack a reusable container just in case and take it along with you.
Leftovers may not be so appealing when you have the option of fresh food. However, there’s so much you can do with that stem of Brocolli or slightly stale bread. Making soups and stews from slightly tired vegetables is a quick and easy option. They taste great, are healthy, and also freeze really well for later. Stale bread can make great crunchy toppings for bakes or pasta. With fruit, you can juice, stew, or even try making jam.
To help ensure your leftovers do get used pick a day or two in the week and designate them “leftover days.” One these days make either lunch, dinner, or both, from the leftovers in your refrigerator. Be creative, there are so many delicious and easy ways to use your leftovers.
Instead of tossing out leftover fruit, keep a bag in your freezer for them. Clean and chop your uneaten fruit, and throw them into the bag once you get tired of eating them. This bag will always be a good source for smoothie ingredients whenever you need one. Even better on hot days, they act like ice cubes making deliciously cool smoothies.
Many people value the convenience of pre-packed salads. However, they can be one of the worst food waste offenders. The UK government’s food waste body, WRAP, released a study in 2017 stating that 40% of pre-packed salad leaves end up in the bin.
It’s easy to see why. Those leaves perish quickly, and salads are often a side dish. Further, supermarkets remain guilty of offering large bags for less or two for one deals. Planning on a salad for dinner or lunch? Buy whole lettuces and raw ingredients and only what you need. Other types of salad such as coleslaw and bean salad can last longer too and are just as delicious.
There’s no doubt that food waste is a significant global issue. Beyond doing your individual bit you can also help spread the word. There’s a lot you can do to help raise awareness of food waste. Encouraging and inspiring other people to also take the 30 days zero food waste challenge can only help! Here are some simple ideas to weave into your plan:
We expect that this may happen. Don’t give up on the challenge yet. If you’ve missed one day, just make sure that it doesn’t turn into two. Figure out what made you lose momentum, and try to avoid a recurrence. Have a re-read of your plan and objectives and remind yourself of the benefits. Overall remind yourself how well you’ve done so far and come back tomorrow motivated to keep reducing your food waste.
Ready to start the 30 days zero food waste challenge? You can find more inspiration by searching on social media using these hashtags: #zerofoodwaste, #zerofoodwastage, #zerofoodwastechallenge. Feel free to share your own journey and inspire someone else. You can share pictures of your meals, your thoughts, challenges, and the final post of triumph on day 30!
|Karin Schanes, Karin Dobernig, Burcu Gözet, Food waste matters - A systematic review of household food waste practices and their policy implications, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 182, 2018, Pages 978-991, ISSN 0959-6526, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.02.030.|
|Barbara J Rolls, Erin L Morris, Liane S Roe, Portion size of food affects energy intake in normal-weight and overweight men and women, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 76, Issue 6, December 2002, Pages 1207–1213, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/76.6.1207|
|Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources - Summary report. FAO. (Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations)|
|United States 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal. EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency)|
|Food Surplus and Waste in the UK – Key Facts. WRAP (UK)|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.