Food waste is a major problem worldwide. Across the globe, we waste 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food every year. A worrying statistic considering that 925 million people go to bed hungry every night. But we produce enough food to feed the current world population at least twice over. So, what can we do to reduce the amount of food we waste?

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 34% of all food produced in South Africa is wasted every year. But it’s not all down to consumers. In fact, just the opposite. The lion’s share goes to waste during agriculture production, handling and storage, processing and packaging and distribution. In other words, by the time we pick something off the shelf, most of the waste has already occurred.

But when you consider that 50% of South Africa’s population doesn’t have enough food, perhaps the time has come to pay more attention to the food we buy and how much of it we throw away.

Infographic - Food Waste.jpg

While it remains almost impossible to determine how much food South African households waste, we can hazard a guess as to the lifestyle habits of the more privileged portion of our society.

Studies found that UK households waste about a third of the food they buy, a figure that indicates that the average UK household throws away about £400 worth of food every year. In the US, it is slightly higher, with households wasting up to 40%.

From these statistics, one might make the assumption that households who maintain a first-world lifestyle – in other words, the same as that of industrialised nations – waste on average about a third or more of the food they buy. It might not be completely applicable in a South African context, but it’s food for thought nonetheless. How much do you spend on food every month? How much of that ends up in the bin?

For the moment, how much food we waste is still a choice. But if you feel you can do more to help the cause, here are five ways to reduce your household food waste:

1.    Plan ahead

Find fifteen minutes at the weekend to work out a weekday menu for the upcoming week, considering which ingredients you can use for multiple dishes. For instance, the tomatoes you didn’t use in your salad today can make a delicious relish tomorrow.

Adopt a shop-smart mindset. Make a shopping list and be realistic about what you need – checking, of course, what you already have in your fridge before popping down to the shops.

2.    Use everything

Get a bit creative. Embrace #LeftoverMondays. Instead of throwing the last three bananas out, make banana bread. And if you’re watching your waistline, give it to someone who needs it.

Another culprit in the food waste quagmire is the best before date. Treat it like a guideline, not a matter of fact. Use-by dates refer only to the quality of food – not its safety. Trust your senses – they are there for a reason. In other words, taste before you waste.

Take stock of the food you have in your home and adopt a new rule of thumb: use what spoils first.

3.    Check your portions

The problem of over preparing is an issue throughout the industrialised world, but as South Africans, the notion of Die tafels moet kreun (an old Afrikaans adage referring to festive tables set with an abundance of food) is better reserved for special occasions than for the norm.

It is speculated that mainstream restaurant culture is largely to blame here and it has affected our sense of value. The larger the portion, the better the value for money. But in the process, we’ve lost the ability to gauge how much we actually need. Remember, your stomach is only about the size of your fist.

Make a mind switch – let value centre on the quality of the ingredients. Focus more on the smell, the taste and the joyful experience of eating the food you make and less on the amount you ingest.

4.    Store it well

You’ll be surprised to learn what fruits and vegetables prefer to be stored at room temperature and not in the fridge. And if you can clear some fridge space, storing your leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch will become less of a problem.

Fridge clutter feeds a dangerous tendency of out of sight, out of mind. And it makes it difficult to know what you have to work with.

5.    Donate what you won’t use

Studies show that when people give to charities, it activates pleasure centres in the brain connected to trust and a sense of belonging, which are responsible for that “warm glow” feeling. 

Inevitably, we don’t always use all the food we buy. In a country with such a big divide between the haves and the have nots, why not find out where your local food banks are and donate what you don’t consume? Or start a local community dedicated to feeding the less privileged on a Saturday morning.

Why not share your leftover gourmet recipes with us on our #LeftoverMondays Facebook page? Simply post your recipe along with a picture of your creation and who knows? Your recipe could even feature on my blog or win a prize.


Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN

World Wildlife Fund