Part 2: Why we can’t get enough of household food waste
Literally. Half of our food waste could be prevented.
You must be thinking: “Not another food waste reduction article…”. Truth is, the food waste conversation has just begun. So brace yourself for more articles just like this one!
We’re no expert at tackling food waste and we’re not going to tell you what to do. We hope to share insights that will inspire your next course of action. Whatever they may be.
Honestly, even we don’t really know where/how to begin reducing our food waste. In our opinion, food waste reduction is one of those ‘easier said than done’ things. What with composting, upcycling and other reduction techniques, factoring in our other everyday routines makes food waste reduction seem so elusive.
While there may be no short of food waste reduction/avoidance methods, many require some form of commitment, time and effort to sustain. For the average household of working individuals, it’s a big ask.
Known reduction/avoidance methods not a one-size-fits-all
Picture this. A five-person household attempts meal planning and prepping. On the other hand, a single-person household attempts composting. The latter is more likely to meet with success simply because of the household’s size. While the former just meets with disagreement…
For one reason or another, households may meet with constraints and/or challenges when implementing these methods. When one method does not work, it’s common and understandable to believe the same of the other options and throw in the towel. Or trash.
A decomposition method that turns food scraps into compost, which can be used as soil additives in gardens. Talk about literally giving back to the earth!
Composting seems like a great, au-naturel, way to divert food waste from waste bins and landfills but can also be tedious, even unpleasant, when not done right.
a. High commitment, uncertain returns
It would be great if we could just dump our food scraps into a composting bin and call it a day. However, getting a bin with soil is only the beginning of the process. You’re going to have to show the composting bin some real TLC.
From figuring out ideal feed for the soil to ensuring enough moisture(but not too much!), there’s a lot more science and experimentation to it than meets the eye. Worst case scenario? The compost quality isn’t satisfactory even after all that time and effort.
If you’re already struggling with managing the needs of your family member(s), composting will only further complicate the situation. Thanks, but no thanks.
b. No space and use for composting
Don’t have a garden, don’t own plants and therefore don’t feel any draw to compost? That makes two… or many of us actually.
In densely populated Singapore, space is a luxury. Composting is very much the opposite, needing space and ideally a garden or at least some potted plants that can be fed compost.
c. Infestation and odour
There are composting methods that use tiny creatures like worms and there are
composting methods that attract uninvited guests (No, I’m not referring to your in-laws) like flies, mosquitoes and even rats. There is a difference.
This is no surprise when food is essentially decomposing in the bin, the ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria that emit odours.
Meal planning and prepping
A means of combatting impulse purchases and meals that can result in food wastage, meal planning requires you knowing exactly what your meals are and sticking true to them.
a. Time-consuming and regimental
As long as the word “planning” exists, it entails sitting down and taking already-scarce time to research and plan for what’s needed. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t really sound fun nor exciting. Especially if your household comprises picky eaters or individuals of varying dietary preferences.
Sometimes, the joy of mealtime lies in its spontaneity and flexibility of when to cook or not.
b. Being too ambitious
Meal planning is said to expose households to an increased, more nutritious
variety of food that can eradicate meal monotony. Great news for young. children who expect a different answer to “What are we having?” daily!
While browsing and researching recipes, the abundance will likely overstimulate and excite. Before you know it, you’re in the kitchen wondering what came over you during meal planning.
For good measure: only 22% of Singaporeans cook at home so don’t go too hard during recipe selection.
c. Lack of foundational knowledge about ingredients
Even if you decide not to reference recipes for your meal plans, the chosen
ingredients are what make or break any meal plan.
“Are they flexible enough?”
“Can they go well with most other ingredients but still tasty and nutritional
when consumed on its own?”
Given the sheer amount of Singaporeans that cook at home, we’re unlikely to
grocery shop with this consideration in mind.
Using and repurposing offcuts/leftovers
When we cook fish, we do not use all of it. Most of the time, the fish’s head, tail and bones are left to be disposed of. That’s as much as 60% of the fish wasted!
Yes, it’s classified wasted because it can actually still be used for stocks and broths. The same concept applies to other meats, fruits and vegetables. The vast majority of us are just unaware of ways to use the less common parts of our food.
a. Prefer to do things the ‘usual’ way
We’ve always been cooking our food a certain way. Whether via recipe or from memory. If it does not call for usage of the other parts, consumers are unlikely to go the extra mile to fully utilise them too.
b. Even more steps and prep
Utilising offcuts usually require extra steps that are secondary and unrelated to the main recipe. After spending a considerable amount of time cooking in the kitchen, there’s just no added benefit of repurposing offcuts. It’s still easier to dispose of everything.
c. May still result in waste
When, and if, these secondary offcut recipes are followed through, its consumption is not guaranteed. Especially if it’s something rather specific like breadcrumbs or fruit jelly.
Everyday, easier ways to reduce household food waste
As the pressure on reducing food waste mounts, we did the dirty work and have populated a list of what appears to be more manageable, everyday ways of reducing food waste.
Ranked from easiest to most tedious in our humble opinion. You don’t have to take our word for it.
1. Keep track of your inventory
Food waste is a byproduct of our purchase and consumption choices. If we know exactly what we have and are mindful to use all of it, the food waste issue can be nipped in the bud. How do we waste when there’s nothing to waste?
a. Take a ‘shelfie’ of your inventory
Instead of taking a selfie at the grocery store for social media, take a shelfie of your inventory before heading grocery shopping. It’s a quick and easy way to know exactly what you have! What’s more, you can refer to it from literally anywhere.
ps. don’t forget to delete the old images!
b. Leave a list on your refrigerator
Not a fan of photos? A simple list on your refrigerator will do. You don’t even need to look in the refrigerator to know what you have!
In fact, certain smart refrigerators are equipped with cameras that allow you to view its content in real-time.
c. Labeling for clarity
If you’ve ever gotten frustrated by the varying placements of date labels on different products, you’re not alone. It’s even worse when the date is on the external packaging but not the individual item. Our solution? Get your own labels.
Purchasing labels not only standardise the placement of date labels, you can note down specific things about the item or even colour code and categorise the items. It’s like a planner, but for your refrigerator!
2. Organise your refrigerator
A refrigerator is like a home. Just for food. Wouldn’t it be much easier to come home, after a long day, to a well-organised one where you can easily find what you need?
Everything in your refrigerator may seem important since you purchased them. Which is true. Buy only what you need.
However, organising your refrigerator according to categories and food groups not only makes things easier to find, but ensures they are placed in the most ideal part of the refrigerator.
While these are merely best practices, it is entirely up to you to find an organisation style that works best for you and your groceries. And pesky family members, perhaps?
b. Dedicate a day for clearing out the refrigator
We’re all guilty of abruptly ditching our plans to cook. Or leaving leftover food in the refrigerator. Or forgetting to use that broccoli in the recipe you attempted earlier in the week.
As the weekend approaches and things start to slow down, take some time for a ‘Fridge-raid’. Not only are there plenty of recipes out there, it’ll help you clear and prepare your fridge for another week of grocery runs. At the same time, use this opportunity to clean your refrigerator of any spills, grime and dirt.
3. Know your date labels
Date labels appear to be rather straightforward- simply consume the food item by the stated date. However, with varying ways of displaying these dates, they can become ambiguous and confusing for consumers.
Did you know? “Food is past its expiry date” is one of the leading reasons behind household food waste in Singapore.
But how much of the food is actually expired? Are we just mindlessly disposing of our food the moment it has exceeded its expiry date?
a. Match your lifestyle to your dates
For those who cook often, purchasing fresh food items are less likely to be an issue. However, if you’re just like me and rarely cook, purchasing ‘use by’ labeled food might be unideal. Instead, opt for ‘best before’ food items with a longer shelf life.
Knowing your own routine can help you exercise more discretion when purchasing groceries.
b. Practice FIFO(First in, first out)
Whether you decide to buy ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ labeled items, utilise them in a chronological order. It’s out with the old and in with the new!
Not only are you ensuring everything purchased is consumed, you’ll have less trash clearing to do.
4. Freeze what you don’t need
If you find yourself constantly struggling to consume your food items by its stated date, freezing them might just be your next best solution.
Most food items can enjoy an extended shelf life of 6 months to even a year when freezed properly.
5. Good things must share!
Partake in the ‘kampung spirit’ by passing down your surplus food items to your neighbour, friend or family member. No one to pass it down to? Or not on good terms with your neighbour?
a. Store it in a community fridge
A common sight at Singapore HDB void decks, free-for-all community fridges let you pass down your surplus food items to someone who may need it more. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find something nice too!
b. Donate and/or redistribute your food
From community apps to organisations that carry out food rescues, there are several ways you can redistribute your food that would otherwise be binned.
If all else fails,
6. Join a meal subscription service
Thanks for reading our article but you don’t have to worry about any of the above if you join a meal subscription service. Customised to meet your nutritional needs and goals, all you need to do is eat!
Finding what works for you
It’s true, food waste reduction isn’t easy. Which is why it’s a problem in the first place. However, it does not have to be difficult either. No one household is the same and we just have to find what makes food waste reduction the easiest. Just like our list, you’ll probably have your preferred methods.
Whether it’s composting, meal planning or both, methods that feel natural to us are more likely to become long-term practices. And only with long-term practices will we be able to achieve long-term results.