The urge to go waste-free – or at least significantly reduce our individual waste – has now gone mainstream. Everyone has a bamboo toothbrush or a trendy reusable water bottle, coffee shops are encouraging us to ditch paper cups, and more and more of us are saying no to plastic straws. Food waste is harder to combat though; there isn’t a handy gadget you can buy, and the food we eat is often precious, something that we don’t want to sacrifice or change. But even as students, with a lifestyle that is often far from focused on the long term, there’s still lots we can do to cut our food waste.
End of term in particular sees tonnes of unwanted food thrown into the rubbish bin, as students – especially those living in halls of residence - move out for the summer. Often universities have schemes to counter this waste, with Swansea University amongst many donating unwanted food to local charities. Student’s Unions run schemes too, such as Sussex’s Free Shop where food items – along with kitchen equipment, clothing and other donations – are redistributed during freshers week, or given to food banks and charities in the surrounding area.
‘Dumpster diving’ or ‘skipping’ – in which food is reclaimed from bins, usually at supermarkets - is also popular amongst students. A direct way to intervene in the waste produced by big businesses, the volume of food that can be found in the rubbish is remarkable. For those who might be more squeamish and prefer to avoid sticking their hands in a bin, the food sharing app Olio performs a similar function. Local people and businesses upload unwanted food to the app and users can arrange to pop round and collect if it they’re interested. Sheffield University now boasts an “offline” version of this food sharing idea, its community fridge having opened at the start of this year. A previous trial of the fridge saw 1.3 million tonnes of food exchanged – more than enough to keep even the most ravenous students happy. Even if your food waste isn’t in a state to be shared – perhaps those bananas are just a bit too black for anyone to eat them – think about signing up for a community compositing scheme, where you can take your fruit and vegetable peelings, along with other food items, to a shared compost heap. Even if your food waste can’t feed people, its probably able to feed the plants.
Reducing food waste doesn’t have to be part of a group or scheme though – there’s so much we can do just by making changes to our individual actions. It’s simple too; if there’s space between the ice creams and oven chips in your overcrowded freezer, try to package up food that’s going off and keep it there for later. Chop up vegetables before you freeze them for a quick addition to a meal, or freeze your bread to prevent throwing away a few mouldy crusts at the end of your loaf. Late night shopping can be a way to reduce waste too; if you live near a large supermarket, go just before closing and buy the food that’s about to go past its sell-by date at very, very cheap prices. Often it will still be good for a few more days and if not, you can always throw it in your freezer. Group cooking, whether with your housemates or your friends, can also help to reduce waste. It’s fun and has a lovely communal vibe, plus the more mouths that are being fed the less chance there is that any leftovers will go to waste.
It might seem that food waste is inevitable, but in no way does that have to be the case. By making changes to our personal routines and working together on community projects, students can be part of the fight back against unnecessary waste in our society. Put those potato peelings in a composter, not the bin, and start saving the world.