Food, glorious food! We love it, so why do we waste so much?
What on earth is a FOGO?
Macedon Ranges Council recently announced the rollout of a Food and Garden Organics collection scheme, usually referred to as FOGO.
How is it different from Council’s kerbside Green Waste collection service? A complete FOGO system involves each household using a kitchen caddy for collecting all food waste including leftovers, meat, citrus and other hard-to-compost items, and switching to a weekly collection of food and organic waste. The FOGO waste is then processed through a series of composting methods until the result is a clean, useable compost.
Why is Food Waste a Problem?
According to Sustainability Victoria, Victorians send 250,000 tonnes of food waste to landfill each year. Each household wastes approximately 20% of the food they purchase – that’s one shopping bag out of five. Food that goes off, hasn’t been properly stored, was surplus to need or just purchased in error. Obviously, this results in wasted money, somewhere between $1000 to $3800 in wasted food per household each year.
That’s a lot of waste.
In recent years, we have seen how our wasteful habits are causing crisis in industry and chaos in the environment. Globally, food waste in landfill is a significant contributor of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Large-scale composting operations are now able to turn this polluting and troublesome waste stream into a useful carbon-sequestering product that contributes vital hummus and microbial activity back into the environment, contributing positively to the biosphere. Life back into life: converting food waste into compost is the ultimate in a closed-loop system.
Wasted food is not only a tragedy in the face of increasing poverty and food insecurity here and internationally, it is also a waste of the vast amounts of energy and water used in producing and transporting the food in the first place.
Food Waste in the Macedon Ranges
Community responses to the proposed FOGO system here in the Macedon Ranges have a common theme: “We live in the country and already compost our waste”. It is true that rural residents have more opportunities and space for composting, and pets or livestock to help dispose of food waste. However, the fact is we are still throwing out a lot of compostable material.
Last summer, Council conducted a waste audit. Measurements were taken from landfill, recycling and green waste from Kyneton, Gisborne, Woodend, Riddells Creek and Romsey. Results show that Macedon Ranges residents’ landfill bins contain around 30% of food and organic waste. So even if we are composting at home, our bins are still about 1/3 full of compostable waste each week.
I was one of the rubbish pickers for this waste audit, and I know that the figure for food waste did not include food sealed in containers, as much of this was considered to be non-compostable residual waste. So whole jars of mouldy sauce or unopened plastic-wrapped packets of supermarket chicken were not considered food waste as there is no possibility of composting food thrown away in this condition. Considering this, the percentage of food waste in the Macedon Ranges is likely higher than the waste audit indicates.
The most common food items thrown in the garbage were leftover cooked food, stale bread, meat, dairy products, vegetables and fruit. This is the stuff which we can now compost through a FOGO system.
Incidentally, Macedon Ranges residents’ weekly garbage bin also contains about 5% of recyclable containers and 4% of recyclable paper and cardboard, so getting better at sorting our rubbish at home would mean less waste going to landfill overall, which is why Council is considering shifting landfill collections to fortnightly.
What Can We do About Food Waste?
FOGO systems are designed to operate on a large-scale and are a valuable asset in emissions reduction and fighting climate change.
But best of all is avoiding wasted food in the first place.
Sustainability Victoria is currently running a challenge called Love a List, aimed at encouraging people to stick to shopping lists and menu plan to avoid buying and preparing food that will be wasted.
Tips from the Waste Action Group to help avoid food waste:
Clear out your pantry annually to make sure you are not hoarding out of date items, and stop buying items that end up languishing at the back of the cupboard.
Menu plan. It is a money, time and stress saver. In our house (2 primary-aged kids, 2 working adults), we rotate a menu during the week:
Monday – something quick with eggs or pre-made soup in the slow cooker
Tuesday – pasta (kids’ night to cook)
Wednesday – fish
Thursday – Asian: curry or stir-fry
Friday – tacos, homemade pizza or leftovers
The weekends are when we take the time to cook something special, enjoy a meal out or have a cheeky takeaway.
Use a list when you shop, don’t fall for the bargains and special offers unless you really need it!
Leftovers are for Lunchboxes.
Do a cook-up at the weekend and freeze meals.
Reduce consumption of seafood, dairy and meat - these are frequently wasted items and use a vast amount of energy in their production.
Freeze bread and keep out only what you will use over a day or two.
Store food properly:
o Fridge temperature should be 5 degrees or lower.
o Cover food properly
o Don’t put hot food in the fridge or freezer, let it cool to room temperature first.
o Store raw food and cooked food separately in the fridge.
o Store bread in a cotton or linen bread bag, or use a ceramic bread crock (check the Op Shops for this piece of classic Nanna technology). This allows bread to breathe and prevents mould forming.
o Store potatoes and onions in a cool, dark place.