Iain Gulland: Festive foodwaste amounts to millions of wasted meals and money

Foodwaste is worse at Christmas so it's a good time to make a difference. Picture: Cate Gillon
Foodwaste is worse at Christmas so it's a good time to make a difference. Picture: Cate Gillon
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As we eat, drink and be merry throughout the festive season, we will also be generating a staggering amount of foodwaste. Around 67 million meals worth of food – nearly 12 meals for every Scot, will end up in the bin this December.

Foodwaste is a huge contributor to climate change.

When we waste food, we waste all the energy and resources that went into growing, processing, packing and transporting it. But there’s also a very nasty sting in the foodwaste tail. When sent to rot in landfill, wasted food pumps out methane, a greenhouse gas that’s much more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.

We recently surveyed Scottish households to reveal their food shopping habits at Christmas and found more than one million Scots will leave it as late as Christmas Eve to doing their festive food shop. More than a third (35 per cent) won’t do any pre-planning before they head to the supermarkets, which is a key factor in overbuying.

No matter how they shop, 84 per cent of households will have food left over on Christmas Day.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the core festive fare that we waste most; more than half a million potatoes and as many as 100,000 turkeys will be thrown out.

These figures are a shocking representation of the vast foodwaste problem we’re facing.

An excess of food has historically been associated with the spirit of Christmas. Now, though, it leads to overbuying and stressed cooks.

Our survey revealed that more than a quarter of festive food shoppers felt stressed or worried.

For the rest of the year, our food buying is influenced by daily habits. At Christmas, our typical habits don’t work.

The food we eat and the number of people we cook for can vary significantly over the festive season, we tend to get overwhelmed and caught up in the seasonal excess, and we can end up buying and preparing far too much food.

It’s time to think differently.

At the time of year when we show how much we care for the people in our lives, we can also all show how much we care for the planet they live on. Everyone wants to fight climate change and Christmas is the perfect time to align with the cause.

The one good thing about foodwaste is that it’s a problem we can all address easily. We can all help reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly just by changing our beliefs and behaviour around food.

The best sort of Christmas is about being relaxed and sharing food and fun with people you care about. Excess food, too much work and a mountain of waste aren’t a natural part of that. So we have some suggestions for a low-stress, low-waste, highly festive Christmas.

l Plan your menus. Think about the types and quantities of foods that will make your guests happy and build meals around that.

l Plan your shop. Make a list, check it twice and make sure you get everything you need and nothing that you don’t.

l Enjoy Christmas Day and then enjoy cooking creatively over the rest of the season. Use your leftovers inventively and freeze food for another day.

l Remember to recycle what you really can’t eat.

l Try to keep foodwaste out of the general waste and use your caddies to send it off to make clean energy, fertilisers for our farms, and compost for our gardens.

Foodwaste is worse at Christmas so it’s a good time to make a big difference.

It’s also a good time to acquire some very good habits: buy only the food you need, store and cook it well, love leftovers and recycle what you really can’t eat.

All of us at Zero Waste Scotland wish everyone a mellow, green and very happy Christmas.

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland