How to reduce food waste

Worldwide, we waste one third of the food we produce for human consumption. We are not merely throwing away food; huge amounts of water and land are wasted on growing food that is never eaten, driving deforestation and biodiversity losses, and food waste has a carbon footprint of 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Making lifestyle changes to take environmental action can often feel futile, fighting against a broken system. But what if I told you that, in industrialised countries like the UK, 40% of food waste happens at the retail and consumer level. In Europe and North America, consumers each waste on average 95-115kg, compared to 6-11kg by those in less developed countries. So, this is one issue where individual action can have a profound impact, and it doesn’t take much to do so. 

Below is a compiled list of low-effort, student-friendly ideas for reducing your food waste:


Shop at SCOOP and Robinson’s

SCOOP is a student-run shop in central Durham that sells pantry staples, including lentils, pasta and rice, as well as delicious snacks. They are plastic-free and zero-waste, with an ethos of making sustainable shopping accessible for all. The majority of their food is cheaper than Tescos, so you have no excuse not to go! Being plastic-free, you need to take along your own containers, and you can buy the exact amount of food you actually need. Having bought your dry food at SCOOP, nearby Robinson’s Greengrocers sells all your fresh fruit and veg, once again unpackaged and plastic-free. No longer are you forced to buy the 3-pack of multicoloured peppers, when really you only needed one for your dinner!

Both of these shops are convenient for students and within two minute’s walk of each other:

SCOOP: Unit 44, The Riverwalk, DH1 4SJ

Robinson’s Greengrocers: 5, Tenter Chambers, 58-62 North Rd, DH1 4SQ

Make a shopping list

Ridiculously simple, but how often do we forget to actually write down what we need to buy? Combined with thinking about the meals you want to make, it stops you from making unnecessary purchases while you are standing there stressed in the supermarket aisle. It helps to prevent you from accidentally buying something you have at home, or that random item that catches your eye. Keep a grocery list note on your phone, or go old-fashioned and keep a pen and paper in the kitchen, and then add to it whenever you run out of something.

Keep older produce at the front of the fridge

It is all too easy to shove the groceries you have just bought into the fridge. By doing so, the older produce gets relegated to the back, whilst the newer food gets cooked first. If you make sure the older fresh food stays at the front of the fridge, it stays in your eye line and is more likely to be eaten in the right order. The same goes for fruit bowls – keep the old fruit at the top!

Go along to REfUSE Cafe in Chester-le-Street

REfUSE saves around twelve tonnes of food every month that would otherwise be wasted by retailers in the North East. This food is then used in their cafe, which runs on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis, and is also packaged and sold in their Waste-Not Box scheme. Anyone can buy a crate filled with fruit, vegetables, cupboard essentials, baked goods and more for only £15! These boxes can be bought directly from the cafe or ordered online for delivery, making it very convenient for students. So if you find yourself in Chester-le-Street, pop along to the REfUSE cafe for a meal and a crate of good groceries.

Make the freezer your friend

Keep food lasting longer by storing it in the freezer. You can do this with bread, meat, and many fruits and vegetables – though you will want to chop them up first. If you have leftovers after a meal, these can be frozen and kept for another day. You can even freeze your wilted fresh herbs in ice cube trays, as explained in this video.

Reducing our food waste is one way that we, as students in a developed country, can really help the environment. As shown by these tips, it doesn’t take a drastic lifestyle change – low effort changes can bring about a high impact.


All statistics from FAO and UNEP.


Featured image: Daniel Cukier with license.

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