How to reduce food waste

A few simple changes can easily cut down on food waste and save you money

How to reduce food waste

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Food waste is a major problem in Ireland, with the EPA estimating it costs the average Irish household around €700 a year.

It has a significant environmental impact, too, by unnecessarily increasing pressure on food producers and waste disposers.

Wastage can be a hard thing to avoid - businesses often want to sell you more food than you need, and it can even be cheaper to buy extra. But reducing waste can be a surprisingly easy thing to achieve with a little bit of effort - and it will almost certainly save you money.

Here are some of the ways to go about it.

Smart shopping

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Sometimes the easiest way to avoid wasting food is simply not buying food you might end up wasting.

Resist the temptation of supermarket special offers or multi-deals. Don't buy 'large' packages when the 'small' size will do.

Make a list of the meals you plan to cook for the week before you hit the shops. Make sure to stick your budget.

Know where the 'essentials' are in your local supermarket, and don't get tempted by the 'extras' you'll inevitably encounter as you navigate the aisles.

Above all, stick to what you need. You could well find your shopping bill decreasing alongside the amount of food you waste.

Effective storage

When you arrive home with your food, you can easily help preserve it for longer through smart storage.

Many other products detail ideal storage conditions on the packaging itself, so follow the instructions. Use the likes of ziplock bags to store food once its open.

Bread is an example of a product that often goes to waste when it doesn't necessarily need to. Bread bins, for example, can speed-up the growth of mould on many modern sliced pans and other bread products. Bread can be frozen - a simple tip which can be incredibly handy if you never get through a loaf before it goes stale (just make sure to slice it first).

Fruit and vegetables are another type of food that can last longer with a little bit of care. The likes of bananas and tomatoes, for example, emit high levels of a ripening agent which can spoil other fruit & veg. 

'Best before' dates don't always mean the food is 'gone off' as soon as the date passes. Often you'll know whether a food is still good simply by looking or smelling it - this can be particularly obvious with things like fruit.

Keep safe and don't take risks with suspect food, but there's no need to throw out food that is clearly still edible either.

The EPA's 'Stop Food Waste' website has many more tips on storing food. 

Cook efficiently

When preparing the food itself, there are plenty of ways to cut down waste.

Plan in advance: if you're cooking or preparing food, think about whether you can get a few extra meals out of the ingredients. A good, big pot of food can easily keep several people fed for two or three days.

Don't make more than you need, of course, but if you have enough for more don't just dump the leftover ingredients. Consider what else you could do with them - no better opportunity to experiment with some different recipes than when you have the ingredients anyway.

Be imaginative: sometimes 'ripe' fruit can be used for tasty smoothies, for example, while soft tomatoes can make delicious sauce.

Serve reasonable sized portions. If you're serving someone - or indeed yourself! - who tends to leave food behind, make sure they don't get too much in the first place.

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Start composting

Many waste providers now offer compost bins as part of their standard services, alongside the traditional waste and recycle bins. It can, however, take a little bit of effort to get into the habit of composting.

Thankfully, there's plenty of ways to help you along the way. You can grab biodegradable and compostable bags in most supermarkets, which are handy to have beside wherever you prepare or dispose of food. Alternatively, you can just use old newspapers as a way to wrap up waste while sealing in the smell.

It goes without saying that you can also take advantage of composting for gardening. Here's some tips on getting started.