Waste Land: How to make the most of your food

More than half of all household food waste in Canada is avoidable. We need to radically change the way we value food — we'll show you how.

We’ve all endured that heart-sinking feeling as we open our Green Bin to throw away a whole pound of beef or a bag of carrots no longer in their prime. Sure, it’s a bummer – but it’s unavoidable, right?

The answer in most cases is no. More than 60 per cent of all household food waste is unnecessary and, with just a little planning, completely preventable.

We throw out more food than we realize – food that could, at one point, have been eaten. Inevitably, some food waste is unavoidable – this is the food that can’t generally be eaten, such as bones, vegetable peelings, egg shells and fruit cores. We often waste good food unnecessarily because we buy too much, cook too much, or don’t store it correctly.

This has a significant impact on our wallets – wasted food costs an average Canadian household over $1100 per year, meaning we're literally throwing our money away. Unfortunately, it's not just a needless expense – it takes a toll on our environment. Food waste incorrectly placed in the garbage takes up valuable landfill space and releases greenhouse gases when it breaks down, which contributes to climate change. When placed in the Green Bin, food waste will become compost, but this requires significant resources.

In response to this, the City of Toronto’s Long Term Waste Management Strategy prioritizes waste reduction. Reducing avoidable food waste lowers the amount of waste to be managed ensuring a sustainable use of resources for processing food waste that can't be avoided.

The City of Toronto has partnered with the National Zero Waste Council and other partners on a national effort to reduce food waste across the country. Canada’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign aims to cut household food waste in three key ways.

Keep It Fresh helps increase your food's shelf life. Fruits and vegetables are the most commonly wasted foods by Torontonians – but they shouldn’t be. If your fruits have gotten too ripe to enjoy, blend them into a delicious smoothie – the ripe fruit will make it sweeter. You can also extend the life of fruits and vegetables for eight to 12 months by putting them in the freezer. Properly storing fruits and veggies in the fridge can help them last longer. Apples, sweet potatoes and citrus fruits can all be kept in the fridge for much longer than on the counter or pantry.

Use It Up puts the emphasis on utilizing the food you buy. Decoding the dates on food labels will help you use up more of the food you buy. A best before date is the anticipated amount of time that an unopened food product will retain its freshness, taste and nutritional value, when stored under appropriate conditions. The date indicated on a label tells you when its quality is the greatest, and is not an indication of product safety. If a package has remained unopened even after the best before date, it can still be of good quality and freshness, as long as it has been stored properly. A best before date is not the same as an expiration date, which is actually only required on five different types of foods, such as meal replacements, nutritional supplements and infant formula.

Plan It Out gives tips for meal planning and shopping smart. To preserve freshness, use perishables like seafood and meat earlier in the week and save longer lasting staples like pasta, dairy and eggs for later. Some greens, like kale and chard, stay fresh longer than others. Frozen foods have nearly all of the nutrients and sometimes more than their fresh counterparts – and they don’t go bad. Let frozen vegetables fill in the gaps and buy fresh vegetables in smaller amounts so you don’t end up veggie-less at the end of the week.

Over 60% of household food waste is avoidable in Canada. Here's how to make the most of your food:

best before?

While most foods have a best before date, many are still edible after it has passed. Canned goods can be eaten one year after the best before date, and perishable goods like butter is good for two more weeks.

shop consciously

The majority of our waste comes from overbuying. It might seem convenient, but bulk buying is a big cause of food waste. Make multiple trips, map out meals, and don't shop while hungry.

revive your food

Meals and produce can almost always be salvaged. Soup too salty? Add lemon juice. Overcooked your veggies? Add cream and stock, blend et voilà – soup to the rescue!

keep it fresh

Storage is key to extending the shelf life of your food. Use tricks like keeping veggies that wilt in your crisper drawer, separating fast-ripening produce, or peeling bananas and freezing for use in smoothies.

Surplus Snacks

Think before you consider throwing away the edible food in your fridge – then get cooking with these leftover recipes.

top tip

Food scraps always go in your Green Bin. If you live in an apartment or condo building try freezing your food scraps and then disposing of them in your building's organic waste disposal. This will help to eliminate any odours.

Every single day, Canadians throw out:

  • 450,000 eggs
  • 550,000 bananas
  • 1,000,000 cups of milk
  • 2,400,000 potatoes
  • 750,000 loaves of bread

In Toronto homes alone, we create almost 100,000 tonnes of food waste per year. This equates to about 200 kg of food waste per household. Here's how you can make big difference:

- Plan your shopping to buy just what you and your household are likely to eat.

- Check best before dates on items in the fridge and see what needs to be used up before making a meal.

- Have the fundamentals – grains, spices and "hero" sauces – on hand so you can bring life to old meals.

- Think double duty; if you have too much rice or too many wraps, think about how to reuse them that week.

- Don’t throw coffee grounds out – use them for fertilizer if you have a garden.

To learn more about food waste and for more leftover recipes, click here.