Plastic, food waste and cucumbers

There is quite a backlash about plastic at the moment, particularly in the media.  Most of it relating to food as this is probably the most visible and to many people (myself included) the most pointless use of single use plastic.  As I have mentioned before, the response of the supermarkets in the main has been to pledge to make their packaging recyclable and any reductions mentioned are usually about weight – which means they will make the packaging thinner, not change it altogether.  It might even mean substituting plastic for other packaging such as glass.

However, I have recently heard several people complain that the general consensus of opinion is that all plastics are bad, whereas this, they say, is clearly not so.  Plastic wrapped cucumbers are the proof, if any were needed, that plastic packaging reduces food waste (but then so does other types of packaging).  And, with around 100kg of food wasted per person in the EU, we certainly need to reduce such waste.  But, just because the shelf life of a half cucumber is extended by about a week, this doesn’t mean that it the answer.  Back in the 1930s only a few percent of food was wasted.  Since the 1950s plastic packaging use has increased and now about 33% of our food ends up uneaten.  In fact, a recent report (1) has indicated that in some cases such as trimmed green beans, there is more food waste because the beans don’t naturally conform to the size requirements imposed by a plastic tray.  More is cut off in production than would be if the beans were taken home in their natural state and prepared when required.  Equally, food in packaging is of a fixed amount – if you are a household of one or two, then the chances are you will struggle to get through a whole bag before it goes off, increasing the likelihood of waste.

In Defra statistics from a couple of years ago the main reason cited for food wasted at home (where the majority of food waste apparently occurs) is, for fruit and veg because they were not used in time.  (I think that a lot of this will be salads, but perhaps that’s because I don’t like lettuce, refuse to pay £1 for a bag of leaves that are simple to grow at home, don’t like the massive amount of packaging for just a small amount of nutrition or the idea of the chlorine added to keep them ‘fresh’ and they are prone to give you food poisoning.)  But, for home made meals, and for meat, the biggest reason is that too much was cooked.  Generosity or eyes bigger than tummies?

Tesco announced this month that they are going to remove the best before date from some of their fruit and veg in a bid to reduce food waste.  However, these still remain sweating in their packaging, whereas the loose apples and potatoes et al don’t have any best before dates.   It would be easier if they just got rid of all the packaging – but if they did that then there would be extra costs for someone on the checkout to weigh the food – or am I just being cynical?   Perhaps supermarkets could start to co-operate and only provide some fruit and veg without the packaging option.  After all, a few years ago you couldn’t buy apples in packs of six, so I am sure we can get used to putting them in a paper bag ourselves if that was the only choice.


Would you separate your food waste?

A number of local councils have apparently been trialling separate food waste collections and these are being heralded as a success.  

According to the BBC’s website the 19 councils had around a 70% uptake of the scheme which diverted over 4000 tonnes of food waste from landfill (although they don’t say where to).

I recently filled in a questionnaire on the local council’s website which included a question about food waste collection.  I have mixed feelings about this, I already have a wormery which takes care of my food waste, so do not want another bin for this.  The council used to take some food waste (vegetable peelings and teabags in the main) in the compost bins, but they stopped this shortly after bringing in the bins for the compostable waste.  More than anything though, we have dramatically reduced our food waste by only buying what we are likely to eat (and have therefore reduced our weekly bills by about one third over the last 5 years) so don’t have much waste.  

Maybe, by seeing how much food they are wasting, then some people will reduce the amount they throw away.  According to WRAP 6.7 million tonnes, or, more topically at the moment, £10 billion of food are thrown away in the UK each year.  However, if people’s wallets are not reducing this food wastage, I am not sure that being confronted by the waste will have the desired effect.  What do you think?

More Rubbish News

There were more headline making facts coming from WRAP’s look at the rubbish we (that is a collective we as a nation, I am not accusing anyone, or admitting to any guilt myself) are throwing away.  A summary presented on the BBC news website includes the claim that we are throwing away 1.3 million unopened pots of yoghurt and yoghurt drink a day, which adds up to 484 million pots a year. Whilst I do admit that I have, on occasion, thrown away the occasional pot that has past its sell by date, this statistic means that each household throws away 22 pots a year, 2 a month. Not that many really, but who is throwing mine away? (I have now started buying the bigger pots and use the pot and its plastic lid as containers for soup and stock for the freezer and as miniature propagators for seeds.) This equates to nearly 10% of all yoghurt bought in the UK being thrown away without being opened.
WRAP commissioned a company to search through the rubbish of over 2000 households over a 5 week period and sort it into food and non-food and then record details of what was thrown away. This is part of the same work that discovered that we throw away 4 million apples a year (see my earlier post Interesting Articles). For those who think this is a problem with today’s throwaway generation, there was apparently no age differential between those who threw a lot of food away and those who were less wasteful. So, yes, you’ve guessed it, when you are in the supermarket, think about when you are going to eat those items that are making their way into your basket.