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It seems like all of a sudden everyone is talking about food waste. If you need further evidence that this is an idea that has gone truly mainstream, even British Vogue runs a fortnightly column on sustainable approaches to eating! This week, School Stream has scoured the internet to collate the best tips and tricks to stop food waste in its tracks. Some may sound obvious, but we could all do with a reminder from time to time.

We’re here to support schools. Click here to see how School Stream can help your school streamline parent communication or read on for our overview of how to minimise food waste.

Food waste and sustainability: The stats

We all know the sinking feeling when we see a half-eaten lunch at the end of the school day. “What a waste” we sigh. But the picture is much bigger than this. According to the United Nations, approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year. That’s one third (!) of all food produced around the world. In Australia, this represents $8 billion worth of edible food (up to 20 per cent of our groceries) every year. Aside from the obvious financial implications, there is the environmental impact to consider: Food waste rotting in landfill is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions via methane. That’s significant. A recent article in The Washington Post recently stated: “if food waste were a country, it would come in third behind the USA and China in terms of emissions.” You can get a snapshot of more statistics like this on the Oz Harvest website.

8 Hacks to stop food waste at home, the school canteen, everywhere!

These statistics may seem daunting, but one of the exciting things about food waste is that everyone can get involved and make a difference. With just a little bit of know-how, you can reduce your food waste and save money at the same time. From correct storage methods to keep your food fresher for longer, to how to get creative with leftovers, here are some practical tips to make the most of what you’ve got in your fridge.

  • Maintain a food waste log

Keep a food waste log to keep an eye on what you’re throwing out so you can take steps to avoid doing it again in the future. Mashable suggests assigning a dollar value to each thing you throw away. Nothing motivates like saving money!

  • Bread

Oz Harvest founder Ronni Kahn says “Bread is definitely one of the most wasted foods in Australia, and it’s a global phenomenon. Statistics from the UK show 24 million slices of bread there are wasted every day”. Prolong the life of bread by using it straight from the freezer, and if fresh bread has gone a bit stale, make crunchy croutons or bread crumbs. 

  • Milk

It’s a little known fact, but it’s best to keep milk on the shelves, and not in the fridge door. If milk is nearing its use-by-date, place it in the freezer. It is easy to defrost by putting it back in the fridge and giving it a little shake.

  • Fruit and Veg

To keep your fruit and veg fresh for longer, don’t wash them until it’s time to use them. When it comes to leafy greens, Oz Harvest’s Chef for a Cause Travis Harvey advises:

“Herbs will last for weeks if you get some damp paper towelling and wrap them up before storing in a sealed container… Spinach and lettuce should always be stored in a bag or container, with any wilting leaves removed before storage.“

If you end up with greens that are well on their way to wilted, you can use them in a frittata or make a pesto-like dip to save them from the compost. Leaves of all kinds can also be popped into a kid-friendly green smoothie (as can frozen cauliflower).

  • Dry goods

Airtight containers are your friend here. These protect foods from weevils and other pantry pests, as well as maintaining the freshness of the product, meaning you’re more likely to eat it. 

  • Cheese

If you have any parmesan rind, you can add it to stocks and soups for extra flavour. In terms of storage, cheese is best stored in the fridge in an airtight container, wrapped in beeswax wrap. Incidentally, making beeswax wraps is also a fun and easy activity for older students and, with some close supervision, younger ones too. Instructions are all over the internet, and you can find a school-friendly set here. 

  • Date Labels

Scientists are still working to develop fresh food sensors which can detect if food is safe to eat. In the meantime, we need to work with the system that we have now. A ‘best before’ date is a recommendation on when to eat the food from the manufacturer. A ‘use-by-date’ refers to when it’s safest to eat the food. Check your fridge regularly and aim to use or freeze food before it gets to the use-by-date.

  • Get creative 

Leftovers contribute a lot to food waste, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use up the veggies that look less than fresh by whipping up a batch of soup.
  • Leftover roast veggies bring great flavour to soups, make delicious pizza toppings, and work brilliantly in frittata.
  • Make stock. Collect any leftover vegetable trimmings like leek, tomatoes or parsley stalks in a zip lock bag in the freezer. Keep adding to the bag until you have enough to make a batch of vegetable stock.
  • Freeze your leftovers, they are a great option when you need dinner in a pinch.

If you need any further inspiration or motivation,
‘Wasted – the story of food waste’
is an entertaining but thorough documentary hosted by Anthony Bourdain.

FEAST combines food waste education & healthy eating for children

Someone else who knows a lot about food waste is Ronni Khan, the CEO and Founder of OzHarvest. The organisation was established in 2004 and has been at the forefront of food rescue, education and innovation around food waste ever since. As part of their commitment to educating the community about health, nutrition and preventing food waste, they have recently launched FEAST, an education program for Years 5 and 6 students. The program is aligned with Australian Curriculum STEM Learning Areas and is designed to teach students about food waste and nutrition using hands-on cooking and inquiry-based learning. There is plenty of support for schools who wish to participate in the program in the form of curriculum materials, accredited training and, in many cases, funding. Visit the OzHarvest website to learn more and register your school’s interest.