23 January 2016

How Food Wastage Makes It Harder To Clean Your Home (Plus Causing Other Problems)

Does this scenario sound familiar? You want to grab a few snacks – preferably healthy ones – to nibble on while you watch that TV show you’ve looked forward to all week. You head for the refrigerator, and the little light comes on and shows you that your fridge is full. You start to poke through everything and you make a horrifying discovery: most of the things in there have passed their use-by dates. Some of the fruit and vegetables are growing interesting moulds. You don’t even want to think about what that half-used can of baked beans looks like. And what is that bizarre shrivelled thing right at the back? In disgust, you chuck everything into the rubbish bin and grab some of the good food before heading back to the TV with your cheese and crackers.

Welcome to the world of food wastage.

What Is Food Wastage?

Food wastage is just what it sounds like. It’s when something that was originally grown (and then processed) for human consumption ends up in the landfill instead of in your stomach (or another human being’s stomach). On the home front, it’s what happens when you don’t actually end up eating what you bought. Maybe you left whatever it was in the fridge for too long and it started going mouldy. Perhaps you overcooked that lasagne and you had to throw the burnt result out. Perhaps you tried some new cereal but found that it tasted like straw mixed with dirt.

According to the UK organisation Love Food Hate Waste, we throw out, on average, 50% of the food we buy. This adds up to 7 million tonnes of products. It’s the equivalent of taking £60 per week (in the typical London household) and throwing it in the bin. It just doesn’t make sense, does it?

How Does Food Wastage Make My Home Dirtier?

Food Wastage in The UK
You may wonder what food waste has to do with domestic cleaning. Surely it’s more of an environmental or economic problem than a cleaning or hygiene problem. But if you stop to really think about the issue carefully, letting food go to waste is probably making your house a bit dirtier and less healthy than it would otherwise.

Here’s how food going to waste affects how clean your home is:

  • Food being left too long creates bad odours in the refrigerator. Instead of putting out little containers of baking soda to absorb smells (a very common home cleaning tip), avoid having stale food in the first place!
  • Food rubbish in the bin goes off very quickly and smells terrible. It is also more likely to leak and leave a foul-smelling residue inside rubbish bins despite what you try with plastic bags. This food residue makes for extra work as you try to wash it out as well as smelling terrible and attracting flies.
  • Wasted food in the rubbish bin also encourages pets to break into the bins, which means that you end up having to clean the resulting mess off your floor. A similar thing occurs if you put the bins out to be emptied – food rubbish is more likely to attract the neighbourhood dogs, cats and foxes, which means a big mess for you to clean up.
  • Leaving food in your cupboards or pantry for too long makes it more likely for pests to come in and raid it. These pests will bring disease into your home and they also create extra mess in the form of droppings.
  • If food that was once liquid or semi-liquid is left for too long, then it tends to crust onto containers. This is very hard to clean off!
  • As food breaks down in your fridge or pantry, it tends to smear itself all over your shelves and containers. This makes more work for you as you try to clean it up.

What Other Problems Does Food Wastage Cause Beyond Hygiene And Cleaning?

As you can imagine, wasting food is a waste of money. It’s also a waste of the dwindling resources of this planet. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to trot out the old line of “Think of all the starving children in Ethiopia/Rwanda/Syria/North Korea. They’d be grateful to have what you’ve just thrown out.” But it’s true. The planet can only produce a limited amount of food with the current resources we have (e.g. land that’s good for farming and suitable water). And if we want everybody in the world to have enough to eat, we need to make sure that we’re not buying too much and then just chucking it out.

Human Waste That Needs Cleaning Up - Food Leftovers
But don’t forget to consider the problems food waste causes on a more local scale. By putting food in the rubbish bin, you’re taking up more of your local landfill. Seven million tonnes of wasted food and drink takes up a lot of space! You’re also wasting your money and even your petrol.

Domestic food wastage is just part of the bigger problem. The food production industry – or the planet, should we say – also has to tackle food wastage by retail outlets (e.g. supermarkets), suppliers (all those wonky veggies that get rejected for sale because they don’t look up to scratch even though they’re perfectly OK), transporters (crates of fruit going off while a ship gets stuck at the docks) and growers (who often lose crops thanks to pests and bad weather). There are things you can do and organisations that you can join (such as food rescue organisations) but don’t forget to do what you can about the food in your pantry and fridge as well as looking at the bigger picture.

It’s time we thought twice about putting that shabby looking lettuce in the bin.

What Can I Do To Reduce Food Wastage?

  • Plan your meals carefully and don’t buy (or cook) more than you need.
  • Get creative with using leftovers instead of throwing them out (nearly anything can be put into a soup!).
  • Clear out your fridge more often – weekly if your current home cleaning schedule allows this. This means that you get to spot items that are getting close to their use by date before it’s too late.
  • Instead of throwing food into the rubbish bin, look at other ways of disposing of it. Perhaps you could feed it to your pets. Or start a compost bin so you can turn scraps and things you really can’t eat into fertiliser for your garden. Neither of these is ideal but it’s a lot better than sending food to the landfill. It also means you don’t have to clean your rubbish bin out more often!