There’s no garbage bin at my house, we don’t create enough rubbish to have one, so I guess that means my family of four is pretty good at reducing waste. We’ve also reduced our recyclable materials down to a bucketful each week and compost everything else.

We’ve achieved close to zero waste by inspecting the contents of our bins to come up with ways to eliminate each item. I’ve enjoyed watching the volume of our garbage and recycling go down but I’ve noticed that the amount of compostable material has grown. This is partly because our diet has changed to include more fresh fruits and vegetables to avoid packaging, and partly because I make sure every skerrick of biodegradable gunk from our home is composted rather than sent to landfill. But, I’ve never scrutinised the contents of my compost bin like I have the other waste bins. How much of that food waste could be avoided?

Technically I‘m already doing the right thing with my food waste by ensuring ALL of it is composted at home rather than sent to landfill. If you thought food breaks down in landfill then you might be shocked to know that archaeological digs of landfill sites by the University of Arizona have turned up un-decomposed 40 year old hot dogs and perfectly preserved 25 year old lettuces (Grimes, 1992)! Out of curiosity I wanted to see a photo of the hotdog but couldn’t find one. Instead, I found this picture of carrots that had been in landfill for 10 years! In a compost heap vegetables will only take 5 days to 1 month to breakdown! The reason biodegradable things don’t biodegrade in landfill (well they do eventually but it’s incredibly slow) is because landfill is so tightly packed (to get as much rubbish in as possible) and that creates an environment without oxygen, dirt, water, and microorganisms. Anaerobic (lack of oxygen) conditions leads to methane production nd methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If we compost at home or via council facilities we will reduce the amount of methane going into the atmosphere and save a huge amount of space in our fast filling landfills.

Carrots dug from landfill after 10 years. Photo from City of Kirkland, Washington.
Carrots dug from landfill after 10 years. Photo from City of Kirkland, Washington.

But there are other important reasons for reducing food waste. Whether you buy your food from the shops, or grow and make it yourself, a huge amount of effort and natural resources goes into producing that great tasting, healthy food, and that should not be wasted. To me, composting food is what recycling packaging is – a last resort to reclaim the resources we have used. It’s more important to use less resources in the first place, and we can do this with food by using every last piece of it.

I already do a lot of things to reduce food waste but after examining the contents of my kitchen compost bucket for a week, I decided to see if I could extract every last piece of goodness and usefulness from our food and have zero food waste for the week. Here’s what happened:

Pumpkin peel – Instead of peeling it before roasting, I left the peel on and we ate it (I already leave the peel on most other fruits and vegetables).

Pumpkin seeds – I usually keep these for planting but I don’t need more pumpkin plants. This time I lightly toasted them in the oven and they were delicious.

Potato peel – After rinsing the peel, I baked them in the oven and they made nice crunchy chips.

Potato peel baked in the oven to make crispy chips.
Potato peel baked in the oven to make crispy chips.

Yoghurt – My leftover homemade yoghurt went off so it couldn’t be eaten but I figured this was a good opportunity to try another use I had read about for yoghurt – facial cleansing. It worked really well!

Shaved ham – I should have prepared a dish or snack that included our leftover ham before it went off. This was one of those times when I bought more than I normally would have because everyone was eating a lot of it, but then suddenly they stopped eating it. Does your family ever do that to you? I gave it to our dog.

Leftover celery stick and half a capsicum – I could have used these up in a tortilla or omelette with the ham before they were too far gone.

Broccoli and cauliflower stalks – I cut these up and roasted them along with some other vegetables. But I love the idea in this Love Food Hate Waste video to thinly slice them up to go in a stir-fry.

Cauliflower leaves – I also baked my cauliflower leaves with olive oil and salt and I can’t believe how good this tasted. I’ll be buying cauliflower with leaves from now on.

Egg shells – I crushed them up and use them as an abrasive to clean my glass bottles before they go into the garden. You can also finely grind them up and add them to your own or pet food for extra nutrients.

Banana peel – I cut up the peel and put it in my banana smoothie but I’m wondering if anyone has tried eating banana peel in other ways. I found Five Easy Ways to Cook With Banana Peels which you might want to try. It was hard to use up all our banana peel so some did get composted.

Bread crusts – I blitzed these into bread crumbs which I store in a container in the freezer. Any large pieces that didn’t break down went to the chickens.

Citrus peel – I discovered you can candy the zest of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit. This is a great thing to do when making something that requires a lot of citrus. For single pieces of fruit, I will make more of an effort to grate the zest and store it in the freezer until needed. I also used some peel to infuse white vinegar for cleaning. It gives it a more pleasant scent.

Candied orange peel.
Candied orange peel.

Pistachio shells – I spread mine around the garden as mulch but I learnt that they could be used at the bottom of pots for plant drainage, to make craft projects like beanbags and noisemakers, or to smoke meat. When crushed they can also be used for cleaning purposes like the egg shells. They are a bit too abrasive to use on your skin in homemade beauty products.

Onion skins – I have kept mine in a tub in the freezer to make scrap vegetable stock but one day I want to try using them to naturally dye fabrics. The remains of the onion skins can be composted.

Passionfruit rind – I believe passionfruit rind is inedible, so these went straight to the compost.

Date pits – I read that these can be dried, ground up and added to coffee, smoothies, cookies and cakes. I dried them but I found it impossible to grind them up with a mortar and pestle. Into the compost they went.

Leftover porridge – It seems any recipe that uses oats soaked in milk can use leftover oatmeal instead. So I found a muffin recipe on the internet to use.

Leftover flat tortillas – I baked them till they were crispy like crackers and stored them in an airtight jar to eat later with dip. You can do the same with pita bread.

In the end I learnt that absolute zero food waste is a bit ambitious but there is still a lot more I can do with our scraps beyond making vegetable stock or regrowing spring onions. I really enjoyed being as resourceful as possible and will keep looking for ideas on how to make the most of our food. Please share your ideas for using up random food scraps in the comments below (or let me know which idea you liked best), and don’t forget to compost whatever you have left!

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25 thoughts

      1. Frozen scraps like this are also great for worm farms as the freezing breaks down some of the cell structure making them easier to break down and them more quickly consumed by the worms. On hot days, put the frozen block in the worm farm to keep the worms cool as it melts, as worms work best in the mid 20 degree range.

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  1. I hope that if you are eating banana skins that the bananas are organic. The same with citrus, but even more with bananas. I did research into this; not because I was eating banana skins, but I was being given banana skins for my pet pig. (We mostly eat organic anyway). I found out that the chemicals used on bananas are very bad for you, and as the skin is not usually eaten, they don’t worry so much. Even if they are washed, you cannot get rid of the chemicals. The chemicals on citrus skins are also bad, but don’t appear to be as dangerous as those on bananas. Most recipes that tell you to use citrus skins seem to say to make sure that they are organic.

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  2. Some great ideas here. Never considered eating banana skins! I’ve pickled watermelon rind and that was ok. I do keep the trimmings from all veggies such as carrots, onions, broccoli (yes stalks go in stir fry and salads), celery, etc in a container in the freezer then make stock when container is full. The mush after that then goes to the chook (must get more). Citrus skins, if they are halved I place around the garden as traps for earwigs, slaters and other critters and recently I’ve been turning bread bits into rusks for our little grandchild to chew on and he loves them. Must try pistachio shells as smoking medium, currently use rice and black tea. I keep meaning to make crackers from sourdough starter discard but up until now haven’t had the oven capacity. Thanks for prompting me to revisit that concept. 🙂

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      1. Hi Tammy, no, just place peel halves into garden so they look like little orange yurts. I’ve got a couple of posts about smoked meals. This for chicken, https://aroundthemulberrytree.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/wok-tea-smoked-chicken-noodle-salad-weekend-roundup/ and this for fish https://aroundthemulberrytree.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/indulgence/. I love these dishes and hopefully next winter I’ll have a go at ‘serious’ smoking. 🙂

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  3. I love broccoli and cauli stalks more than the flowerheads …. I always look for fat, juicy stalks because it makes the most amazing soup, broc with just black pepper and a bit of parmesan … cauli with a tad of bacon gives it a beautiful smoked flavour. Bread/crusts blitzed and mixed with some grated parmesan and fresh herbs makes the tastiest crumb on tenderloins. I dehydrate my (organic) citrus skins (after washing in vinegar/water) and powder it …. when I make chicken sausages this added with basil gives them a sensational aroma when cooking. The citrus dust is also yummy on yoghurt. Flatbreads I do the same, just paint a little salad dressing (French is yummy) over them and into the oven. I think I am going to pinch your potato chips though! Imagine those with sweet potato, to die for! Thanks for sharing 😀

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    1. Fantastic tips! Thanks for the article. I was mowing the lawn today and noticed my partner had thrown his banana peels into the garden beds. He eats a banana on his way to work every morning so I found a few but he wasn’t thinking about plant nutrients, just getting rid of the peel. I’ll let him know how good it is for the plants ( and ask him to conceal them a bit better😉).

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  4. The river cottage leftovers cookbook has a really nice recipe for soup using potato skins. It tastes like mushroom and potato soup. I use any leftover porridge to make bread.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Blitzing old bread and freezing the breadcrumbs – what a great idea! We end up with lots of bread crumbs and off cuts from baking our own bread and I’d always just composted them without much thought 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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