Food waste is a major source of squandered emissions, water and inputs.

Our food system is a major source of carbon emissions and pollution – and when we waste food, we are also throwing away all the carbon, water and resources that went into making it. From the methane animals produce and fertilizers that feed crops to the petrol burnt in transporting our food long distances, all of these climate-change-accelerating inputs go to waste if food is left to rot.

Food & Trees for Africa, a leading Section 21 non-profit social enterprise that focuses on food security and environmental sustainability, has been working for 30 years to develop local farmers who bolster food security and livelihoods while teaching farming practices that reduce waste.

A 2013 study published in the journal Waste Management estimated that South Africa’s edible food waste was worth about R61.5-billion, based on 2012 prices.

They found that about 5% of food waste happens with consumers, while the majority happens along the agricultural value chain: agricultural production (26%), post-harvest handling and storage (24%), processing and packaging (25%) and distribution (20%). 

Here are four tips to reduce food waste:

1. Eat eat food that is in season

We live in amazing times – where we can get strawberries from Europe or tomatoes from Israel in the depths of a South African winter – but those luxuries come at a cost, both for your pocket and for the climate. They have to be shipped a long distance and often the fruit or vegetables are picked before they are ripe and then kept in cold storage. At each stage, there is a carbon cost and waste. 

By eating food that is in season, you can reduce this waste because the crops don’t have to be stored out of season or transported large distances.

2. Buy the ugly carrot

Not all carrots have the stream-lined appearance that cartoons have taught us to expect. In fact, most are misshapen and may be squatter and less charismatic than you’d expect. When consumers see these carrots on shelves, they usually reach past them, even though they are as nutritious as their sleek comrades. 

These carrots end up rotting, and the supermarket may throw them away. The same is true for most produce. So, if you want to halt food waste at a retailer-level, choose the ugly carrot – or banana, pepper, or whatever other produce you enjoy.

3. Eat local

Choosing where you buy or source your food can make a difference to the planet and your community. Eating locally grown food reduces its transportation costs. The “locavore” movement is encouraging people to eat food produced within a certain distance, to reduce their carbon footprint and support local farmers.

FTFA has created a list of ways that you can source food locally and so reduce your carbon footprint.

4. Reduce food waste at home

According to a 2014 study in Tshwane, these are the main reasons why people waste food at home: 

  • They bought too much food
  • Their cooked portions were too large, and there were left overs that went to waste
  • Food was poorly stored
  • Food was bought on special offer because it was cheaper and then wasn’t eaten.

There are some easy ways to make sure that you don’t fall victim to these traps. These include:

  • Make a list of meals you want to make for the week
  • Make shopping lists before you go to the shops (and don’t shop when you are hungry)
  • Rotate the food on the shelves of your fridge, so that your old food is closer to the front of the fridge
  • Store food thoughtfully. Nonprofit Consumer Reports has some suggestions on how best to store your different produce.

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