Make the most of your festive food – and help the planet

In her series looking at how we can reduce waste, reuse and recycle, service improvement officer Jenny Lowes, offers tip on how we can all tackle climate change – particularly as we plan our festive menus.

After the focus on the future of the planet art COP 26 and the “code-red for humanity” warnings from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, you might think there is little we as individuals and families can do to make a difference.

But a lot of small changes in our day-to-day lives add up. One of the most important things we can do individually is to avoid food waste. If food waste was a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Some people we talk to at our Rotters events are horrified by the idea of wasting food, which is great news for climate change. But not everyone has that understanding. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign is a good place to start.

Storing food correctly is important in reducing food waste and helps to combat climate change. When we waste food, we also waste the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport and package it.

Some storage solutions are logical – storing in the fridge to keep produce fresher for longer or freezing to increase the lifespan of food – but some hacks take food storage to another level.  There’s bound to be one you’ve not heard of…

  1. Onions tend to rot or sprout in the refrigerator. Instead, store them in a pair of nylon stockings or tights, tying a knot between each onion and hanging them in a dry, cool, and dark pantry/drawer or cupboard. They should last up to eight months.
  2. Berries are prone to rot if they aren’t washed properly before being stored. Rather than rinsing them under the tap, prepare a bowl with water and vinegar in a 10 to 1 ratio and soak the berries in this solution for five minutes.  Then drain them in a mesh strainer and let them dry. This process will kill any microorganism or bugs speeding the rotting process.
  3. Honey crystallizes in the refrigerator, so it’s best to keep it in a sealed jar in a dark, cool place such as a cupboard. Archaeologists have even found thousand-year-old honey that is still edible today.  If honey does crystallise, it is still good to eat but if you prefer smooth honey, it can be brought back by gently heating. Place the jar in a bowl of warm water and wait. Using a microwave would expose the honey to temperatures that are too high.
  4. Lettuce can go soggy and limp after a few days in the fridge. To keep it crisp, wrap your lettuce in a paper towel, which absorbs excess moisture.
  5. Storing your sour cream and cottage cheese lid-down helps create a vacuum at the opening of the container and prevents bacterial growth. Just make sure you close the lid tightly!
  6. Cling film leaves fine cheeses with a plastic aftertaste. If your cheese comes wrapped, unwrap and repackage it with waxed paper to preserve the taste and prevent it sweating.
  7. You can make pineapple last longer by cutting off its leaves and storing it upside down in your fridge. This helps redistribute the juice that pools at its base during shipping.
  8. To keep herbs and spring onions fresh, place in a tall glass or jar on your kitchen worktop. Ideally, the bulb should be in an inch of water near a sunny window. For best results, change this water every day. This will keep your herbs and spring onions crisp. You can even use this trick to grow new onions from an old bulb.
  9. Cakes storied in the fridge will go stale more quickly and absorb flavours from the other food.  Keep cake in an airtight container in the cupboard. Obviously, if the cake contains fresh cream, it should be eaten immediately and completely!

Before all this, make sure your fridge is set at the correct temperature (about 3 degrees) otherwise food will go off more quickly. Find your fridge here to check how to change it. The average UK fridge temperature is set at least 2°C too warm, which means food will perish quicker.

I will always say that home composting is the best way to deal with lots of food waste. If you’re a committed recycler and not doing it then you really should think about it – it’s the perfect circular economy in practice at home. Find out about home composting.