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.
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.
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.
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!