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Six ways to reduce food waste when you’re on a budget

Cutting food waste is important, but not everyone has the resources to batch cook and store meals in freezers. Here are some ways to cut your surplus food if you’re on a budget

Food waste is one of the key elements in the fight to protect the planet. Every potato, egg or loaf of bread thrown away created greenhouse gas emissions on its way to your kitchen, and will produce more as it rots in landfill.

UK households create a huge amount of food waste, far exceeding the amount produced across the catering and manufacturing industries. According to charity WRAP, 70 per cent of the UK’s surplus food is thrown out by people at home, amounting to around seven tonnes of waste.

When the first Covid-19 lockdown meant a lot more time at home and greater opportunity to plan meals day to day, four in five people were more careful about how they managed their food supplies and British households cut the volume of food they were throwing away by 34 per cent.

But as life returns to something closer to normality, food waste created by households has risen to pre-Covid levels. Zero Waste Week, running until September 10, is an opportunity to change ones approach to throwing away food.

People on low incomes are usually already adept at getting the most out of what they have. But for those looking to cut down on their food waste a little more, many of the tips and tricks out there already can be geared towards people with plenty of resources and the cash to buy in bulk.

Here are some ways to make sure you are not creating more food waste than you have to, even when on a budget.

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Don’t take a “best-before” date at face value

Many of us are guilty of looking at a best-before date on food, seeing it has passed and binning the product. But that label does not mean the food cannot be eaten safely, it just means its quality has likely reduced. It may not taste as good or look as appealing, but it’s unlikely to be unsafe to eat unless it has visibly gone off or smells bad.

These dates differ from the use-by dates, which you should adhere to, even if the food looks and smells fine. If you don’t, you risk getting food poisoning.

Be smart about how you store supplies to cut food waste

White goods such as fridges and freezers are expensive and unaffordable for some people. As many as five million UK households were living without these essential appliances last year.

But there are still ways to extend the lifespan of food. If you have direct access to outdoor space, keeping products such as milk in a cool bag outside will make them last for a few days, particularly in the colder months. If you have a freezer, but – like in many households – it’s too small to store much, you can use the same cool bag trick with blocks of ice which can help food last a little longer.

Eggs and butter can be safely stored in a cool place indoors, but avoid items like yogurt which are particularly sensitive to changing temperatures. Since it’s safer to keep vegetables for a few days, rather than meat, opting for veg-heavy meals is good for the planet and safer for you too.

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Alternatively, some products can be kept for longer if stored in a water-tight container and kept in cold water. And ultimately, keep an eye on sites such as Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace, where good-condition white goods can often be found going for cheap.

The materials you use to store food make a difference too. Salads and leaves fare better when kept in paper rather than plastic, for example.

Eggs last longer than you think 

Even if the best-before dates on your egg box have long passed, they may still be fine to eat (especially if they have been stored somewhere cool). Research by app Too Good to Go showed Brits were throwing away as many as 720 million eggs a year in 2018.

Try the egg test before you throw a box out. Put an egg in a roomy glass or bowl of water. If it sinks and stands upright on the bottom, it’s likely fine to eat. If it floats, gases have accumulated inside, and it should not be eaten.

Pick up the phone

There are a variety of apps which help both households and businesses get rid of their surplus food and make sure it goes to someone who needs it.

If you have food waste concerns, post what you have on app Olio. It will connect you to locals looking for extra food, ingredients and household products, meaning you can avoid creating food waste and help out a neighbour at the same time. This also means if you’re short for cash and need an easy way to pick up some free food, someone in your local area can likely help.

NoWaste helps you keep track of the food you have at home and manage your grocery shopping so ensure you only pick up what you’ll use. Its handy menu planner also lets you organise your kitchen to use up all the spare ingredients you have.

Don’t be put off by frozen food

The majority of the food we throw away is fresh fruit and vegetables. Buying frozen – if you have access to a freezer – means it keeps as long as you need it, is usually cheaper than fresh produce, and is just as nutritious.

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Make homemade stock or freshen up your water intake

The scraps of food we often throw away without thinking can be extremely useful when it comes to sprucing up our favourite recipes.

Quickly fry the peels, stalks and tops of vegetable scraps with some olive oil, add water and then simmer to create a taste vegetable broth.

Alternatively, use citrus fruit and apple peels and skins to make your drinking water more appealing. Berries can do the same job, even if they’re starting to look a little unappealing, and can be thrown into a healthy smoothie afterwards.

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