We can’t live without it, yet every year millions of Scots manage to waste tonnes of it.
Food and drink are, of course, vital for our very existence. But whether it’s down to lack of planning, buying more than we need or not having the stomach for mealtime leftovers, every year Scottish households allow 630,000 tonnes of precious food and drink to go to waste.
Around half is ditched without any attempt being made to eat it.
It tots up to a massive £1bn annual food waste bill for the nation – that’s £470 a year for the average household – and makes up a third of all household waste in Scotland.
Not only that, food dumped in landfill means the energy used to produce it and transport it has gone to waste too, while the methane gas it produces harms the environment.
To help stop the rot, a major new Scottish Government campaign is underway, aimed at encouraging us all to rethink what we use, how we use it and what we throw away – including tonnes of food and drink.
A series of videos fronted by comic Phil Kay point out how ‘Stupidly Simple’ it is to make tiny changes, such as shopping smarter and using what we can, which together can make a big impact towards reaching Scotland’s ambitious greenhouse gas targets.
So what small steps can we make to help stop the food rot?
According to Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, prevention is far better than trying to find a cure for dealing with tonnes of rotting food.
“Wasting food is money down the drain for Scotland’s householders and businesses, and sending it to landfill is bad for the environment,” he says.
“Preventing food waste, which we promote through the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, is the best option – for household budgets, and the environment.”
A fifth of all food we buy is wasted: vegetables, milk, home-made meals, fizzy drinks, fruit juices and smoothies, poultry, pork and cakes, top the list.
Every day we throw away around 5.8m potatoes, 2.5m slices of bread, 300,000 slices of cheese and 1.9m slices of ham.
According to Zero Waste Scotland the waste could be prevented by shopping smarter, sticking to a shopping list, planning our meals to avoid temptation in the supermarket aisles, freezing what we don’t use and using up our leftovers.
Adds Mr Gullard: “We’re seeing great strides in food waste prevention through the Love Food Hate Waste campaign and in household food waste recycling through council collections (now available to over 1.3m households).
“Businesses are also tackling this problem. With all sectors pulling together in Scotland, we can cut the amount of food needlessly sent to landfill.”
Food waste that can’t be consumed, such as banana skins, egg shells and bones, still has a use, either on the compost heap at home or in the food waste bin to become liquid fertiliser.
Eventually Edinburgh and Midlothian food waste will go to a new anaerobic digestion facility near Forth Kinnaird in Edinburgh, capable of converting 30,000 tonnes of food waste per year into electricity.
While householders can do their bit, organisations like UK-wide FareShare and the Edinburgh Cyrenians Trust have food waste programmes aimed at redistributing tonnes of excess food and drink to those in need.
The Cyrenians’ Good Food programme takes surplus quality food from producers and retailers and gives it to 60 agencies who work with homeless and socially excluded people. The project prevents nine tonnes of food going to landfill every week.
The charity also runs food education sessions which provide advice on menu planning, food budgeting and turning leftovers into new meals.
But preventing waste is just one element of the war on waste. Another is the distance food travels from farm to plate – in some cases, half way around the world.
Websites like eattheseasons.co.uk point out that by eating seasonally and checking our food’s origins we can not only help the environment but support local producers.
And we could always grow our own. The Federation of City Farms and Gardens (www.farmgarden.org.uk) puts would-be gardeners in touch with 46 community gardens around Scotland, while Edinburgh Garden Partners (www.edinburghgardenpartners.org.uk) matches people who want to grow fruit and vegetables with others who have gardens but can’t cope with the work involved in keeping them.
Inspired by green city Freiburg
Zak Hanif, 46, lives in a two bedroom rented flat in the Colonies, Stockbridge. He is co-owner of Anfora Wine Bar in Giles Street, Edinburgh.
With a new restaurant business to look after and his own home to run, Zak has to make more effort than most when it comes to hitting ‘green’ targets.
Indeed, juggling food waste, recycling commitments and keeping an eye on energy use both at home and at work, he concedes, can be a struggle: “It’s one thing to watch the food waste in your own home, another to stay on top of what’s happening in the restaurant kitchen.”
But having seen how seamlessly one city has managed to encourage its citizens to embrace a much more environmentally aware lifestyle, Zak has been inspired to do his bit – and more.
“I used to go out with a German girl who lived in Freiburg, which was meant to be the greenest city in the world.
“She had all these bins under the kitchen sink for bottles, plastic and waste. It took a while for me to get used to, but for people there it was already a way of life.
“It was a bit of a culture shock because at that time every bit of waste here just went in the one bin.
“But I got used to the way they worked and saw how much more sensible it was.”
That inspired him to keep a close watch on what he does at work and at his home in Edinburgh.
“At home I try to buy what I need but of course there’s some food waste.
“And admittedly there’s been a bit of waste at the business that’s ended up in the bin. That’s because we’re still new and finding our way.
“I suppose I could find a charity to take it and distribute it, but I don’t always know what will be left and you’ve got to be careful with food.”
His two bedroom flat is cosy thanks to heat rising from the home below which keeps his monthly gas and electricity bill at a manageable £60. But council rules on his sash windows means there’s little he can do to change them even if his landlord agreed.
“I know I lose some heat because of my sash windows. I watch the pounds flying through the windows. There’s really a limit to what I can do though as the council won’t let you change the windows,” he adds.
“I admit I’m probably guilty of overfilling the kettle when I’m making a cup of tea. And I have been known to leave the lights on in rooms I’m not in.”
Zak takes his 2.3 diesel Lexus on short journeys from home to warehouses and producers to buy goods for the business. However he’s hopeful that his regular bike ride to work balances up the impact.
“When I bought my car I did make a point of checking the CO2 emissions.
“That’s something else they are huge on in Germany, people pay extra for a car that they feel doesn’t have such a negative effect on the environment.”
Zak gathers together his old clothes and unwanted furnishings and hands them in to one of Stockbridge’s many charity shops. But while they are often bursting with high quality and even designer items, he doesn’t pause to buy.
“If I need new chairs or a table, I’d go to Ikea or John Lewis, I don’t think I’d buy something from a charity shop. If something needs fixed, I’d probably just throw it away and replace it rather than trying to repair it.”
He is willing, though, to make even more changes. “I’m quite motivated,” he adds.
“I think you get out of life what you put into it. It’s the same with the environment, if you put a lot of rubbish in, you’ll only get rubbish back.”