Clean Plate Living: Fighting Food Waste


Through the Sense and Sustainability column, Jess McDonald sheds some light on the complexities of climate change and what it means for the world around us. From lessons on sustainable living to informative insights on emissions and renewable energy, she’ll keep us all up to date on this increasingly hot topic.

On the surface, it might seem like food is the least concern of all the things that end up in the bin. Unlike plastic, food waste biodegrades, and so won’t be hanging around on the planet for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, unless disposed of properly in home or commercial composting, food waste causes big emissions problems—in fact, 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from wasted food. Worse still, a third of all food produced globally goes to waste, enough to feed 1 billion people. And this isn’t just a problem for suppliers, with a large proportion of this waste created by households. 

Reducing food waste has been hailed as one of the most effective ways to combat climate change issues, with Project DrawDown placing it above plant-based diets and electric cars in terms of efficacy. Wasted food also accounts for wasted water: 25% of the world’s fresh-water supply is used to grow food that never gets eaten. Something needs to be done to stop this completely preventable problem from spiralling into a crisis. 

Home composting is one way to effectively reduce the emissions from wasted fruit and vegetables, as it allows waste to biodegrade quickly through organic agents like worms, as opposed to the much lengthier process in landfills. Food waste collection by councils also ensures any waste is disposed of in the proper environment. However, neither of these options are especially viable as a student, as you are more likely to live in a flat without a garden to compost from home, and food waste collections aren’t offered due to communal waste disposal. Obviously, the best thing that could happen would be for local councils and building managers to offer more accessible ways to dispose of food waste properly. But until then, there are ways to help alleviate the burden of food waste, both in terms of personal waste as well as that produced by supermarkets and restaurants. 

Fighting Food Waste with your Phone

As you can imagine, especially in the current lockdown, food outlets all have leftover food at the end of the day which has to go to waste. Luckily, there have been a few apps developed to help supermarkets, restaurants and cafés to find people who want to use up these leftovers. TooGoodToGo and Olio are just two examples of apps that you can download to get on board with this great initiative. The basic premise is that either the food outlet itself (TooGoodToGo) or a volunteer on their behalf (Olio) will advertise the food that’s up for grabs, which might be free or at a reduced price. You make a request, then go to collect the food at the suggested time and then voila: you have some perfectly fresh and tasty food that would otherwise have ended up in the bin. Olio allows you to have a bit more choice in your selection as products are advertised individually, while with TooGoodToGo you get a ‘mystery bag’ of whatever the outlet had left at the end of the day. 

These apps are not only a great way to reduce food going to waste, but can also open you up to new restaurants and dishes that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about. They’re also a good way to save a bit of money on groceries, and they’re definitely cheaper than a takeaway. They can be a bit more tricky if you have specific dietary requirements, especially TooGoodToGo where it’s a bit less certain what you’ll get every time. Often outlets will specify if a ‘mystery bag’ is vegetarian or vegan, for instance, but sometimes it’s a bit more of a gamble. Both of these apps are used widely across London, so there’s really no limit to the kind of food you can save from the bin. 

Daily Ways to Reduce Food Waste

As with all sustainable swaps, doing what you can in your day to day to reduce food waste is a really great way to have a long-term impact on your personal carbon footprint. Here are a couple of tips to help you make some small changes that can have a big impact:

Buy what you need — If you only need one carrot for a specific recipe, why buy a whole bag? It’s a great habit to get into to write a shopping list before heading out to buy in new food, so you know exactly what you need to get instead of picking something up thinking you need it when you don’t. Buying loose fruit and veg also has the added benefit of cutting down on the amount of plastic packaging you have to throw away, which is a big bonus.

Utilise your freezer — If you buy a loaf of bread but don’t think you’ll eat it up in time, freeze it (sliced) so that it can be used later for toast. This also works really well for fruit that’s going a bit over; just slice it up where necessary and pop into a freezer bag, to be added to drinks, smoothies, porridge etc whenever you desire.

Learn to store things properly — Food can be kept a lot longer (especially past its best before date) if it’s stored properly. This means putting open jars in the fridge instead of back in the cupboard and using well sealed containers for leftovers. If you have fruit and veg that comes in a plastic bag, make sure to take it out and instead store it in paper or fabric bags (this stops the produce from ‘sweating’ and going off quicker). 

As with a lot of sustainability issues, big changes need to happen further up the supply chain to stop the systematic waste of food that should be perfectly fine to eat. But if we can all do what we can, the problem can be alleviated even if just enough to encourage change elsewhere.


Jess McDonald is a third year student at QMUL, studying history. Aside from her reflections on the climate crisis, she also has a hidden love for Hollywood’s Golden Age of cinema.

*Featured image courtesy of


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