The 5 R's to reducing waste
Food essentially comes to us as part of a cycle of growth, harvest, consumption & rot, which nourishes new growth. When we throw our food into landfill rather than composting, we are breaking that cycle.
Despite all our care refrying leftovers & cooking from the back of the fridge, we will inevitably end up with food scraps. While we may have considerably reduced our food waste so far, there is still more we can do with the scraps.
When we further decrease (& maybe even eliminate!) the food that ends up in our landfill bins, we are further decreasing the greenhouse gasses that result from rotting food.
Applying the 5-R principles of Revive, Regrow, Repurpose, Rot & Renewal to our food scraps will dramatically reduce our food purchasing & food waste. We will be continuing the food cycle, generating new resources from existing ones, which means we waste less & save more.
I find each of these are quite magic!
One of the simplest ways to save limp vegetables tricks is to revive them. Plenty of what we throw away could be saved with this simple trick.
Fill a bowl or sink with cold water & pop in your limp veggies. Leave for 20 mins to revive. They will soak up the water becoming crisp & ready to use again! This works well for all sorts of vegetables, from carrots to spinach, zucchini to broccoli.
Uncut sourdough which has hardened can be revived by running it quickly under the tap to moisten, then popping it in the oven at 100C until dry. This technique softens the loaf. Then once it is revived wrap it in a beeswax wrap to preserve it even longer.
RePlace the water with a little milk & cakes or scones can be revived this way too!
It’s important to be careful with any food that has really spoiled or has mould on it- these foods should be composted to avoid any health issues.
Give scraps a second chance by regrowing them! Some can be sprouted in water first, & some can be planted directly into the soil.
Lettuce, carrot tops, bok choy, celery, spring onions & any many more will regrow well, if they still have their base or an intact root system to take up water.
Place in a small glass with enough water to just cover the roots, & leave on your windowsill. Refresh the water every few days, & soon you will see new growth popping up. Plant them into your garden or a pot, or just leave them growing on your windowsill to pick at when you’re cooking.
Other root vegetables like garlic, potatoes & onions can sometimes start to resprout in storage. Instead of throwing them out, plant them directly into soil.
Fresh homegrown food from scraps- how wonderful.
Another way to give your scraps a second chance is by repurposing them into new creations! Stale bread becomes crispy breadcrumbs, banana skins & eggshells become plant fertilisers & limp herbs become tasty herb oils!
I have a container in my freezer which I add washed vegetable peelings or chicken bones to. Once the container is full, I make a healthy broth. Not only am I repurposing my scraps, but I’m also saving on packaging from shop bought stock, as well as saving money.
This is my all-time favourite waste saving hack. Adding small tricks like this into your week will stop those scraps from going into the bin!
Check out these DIY recipes section for some more creative ways to repurpose your scraps:
- DIY Vegetable stock
- DIY Bread Crumbs or croutons from stale bread
- DIY Pesto
- DIY Citrus peel sprinkle
- DIY Flavoured oils & butters
- DIY Snacks from potato skins + pumpkin seeds
- DIY Plant foods from eggshells + banana skins
- DIY Body scrubs + skincare
Rot is an important step in reducing food waste in landfill. You have done everything you can to consume & regrow your food, & are left now with the very last of your scraps.
When we think food scraps we don’t usually think opportunity, but when we consider our food as part of a cycle, we realise these remaining organic compostables are essential for starting the next stage of renewal.
Composting is the best kind of rot! Finding a suitable composting method for our food scraps will mean that instead of our food waste reaching a soggy & detrimental endpoint in landfill, they are turned into useful living & nutritious compost soils & liquids. Rich in microbes, compost can be cycled back into the Earth to enrich our garden.
I have a worm farm at home & I love the low maintenance of these wiggly little friends. I add my scraps & a little bit of dirt here & there, & in return they give me beautiful “worm tea” to pour on my vegetable garden.
You might like to create your own compost, but there are plenty of other options available too.
If you have space, these are a great way to go. Each style of compost bin will operate slightly differently, & it takes a little bit of planning & knowledge, but once your compost is up & running it’s very easy.
Some are relatively small & can be bought from the hardware store, while others might be home-made. Basically, a compost is a simple system in which soil micro-organisms break down organic matter into nutrient-rich living soil for your garden.
A compact & efficient way to deal with food scraps, the worms eat your offerings at the top & give you worm tea & castings at the bottom! Worm tea & castings are a wonderful & potent tonic for your garden. Again, worm farms take a little planning & knowledge, (& require a different kind of worm than your everyday earthworm), but are very simple to keep once they are up & running.
*Note- Meat & animal products are not suitable for composting. Once you have eaten as much as you can, & maybe even made a stock with the bones, wrap up in newspaper ready for landfill.
Great for apartment living, Bokashi bins break down food on your kitchen counter. The food goes into the bin, & a special mix is added to ferment & break it down. You are left with a fermented liquid fertiliser for your plants.
*Many local councils in Australia offer compost bins, worm farms & Bokashi bins at a discounted rate- sometimes even at up to 80% off!
To see what is offered in your local area visit compostrevolution.com.au
Other options for your food scraps include:
These are benchtop electronic appliances that convert your food waste to condensed organic matter, which can be used to nourish your garden. The only downside is that they come with a price tag of around $500.
A joyful addition to the internet, sharewaste.com helps you connect with people in your area who have composts. Simply freeze your scraps & take them to your local composting buddy to turn into beautiful soil!
Plenty of community gardens will accept your vegetable scraps. Freeze your scraps until you can take them to the garden for composting.
Another common end point for our food scraps is to feed them to our animals. Leftover dinner scraps might go to the family dog, & while their faeces* are not considered safe for manure, the food has been consumed & so not wasted.
Chickens are a great destination for our food scraps, supplying us with eggs & manure for our garden as a reward.
*Dog & cat faeces are tricky to deal with in an ideal way. It is generally not considered safe for your regular compost, though there are pet waste composts specifically for this, including a Bokashi option. You can make a pit in your garden to bury it, & pet waste can sometimes be flushed down the toilet too, though you might like to check with your local area wastewater treatment facility.
If you’re putting it in a bag, make sure it is a compostable one (& not just “degradable” or "biodegradable", which will result in microplastics).
It is inevitable that you will end up with some form of packaging. After you have made the most of reusable items, redirect recyclables into their correct waste stream
Set up a recycling station
Setting up a small recycling station will help you & others in your household redirect these items easily.
My station is a series of boxes, bags, bins & jars, which sounds like a lot, but it’s actually quite straightforward.
Being organised helps immeasurably in ensuring that items are dealt with in the best way possible.
My recycling station:
- A small basket for our glass, tins & bottles
- A small basket for paper recycling
- A bag for soft plastic recycling
- I also use an old milk bottle to contain small pieces of plastic like clothing tags. This means they aren’t loose in the curbside bin when it gets tipped into the truck, so won’t escape down the drain & into our waterways. Always ensure your waste is contained as well as possible.
- A jar for batteries
- A jar for bread tags
- A tin for beer bottle tops
You might like a few other containers for odd things like ink cartridges or pens, which can be recycled through places like TerraCycle- terracycle.com
Label your recycling station so everyone is clear on what goes where, & in no time you will have reduced what’s going in your landfill bin!
What items go into which curbside bins? (Aust)
Now you need to put your carefully sorted waste products into the right bins for collection.
Here is a general guide, but please check in with your local council/country to determine their individual curbside recycling options, as they may differ.
Ensure food containers are rinsed well, & free from residues so as not to contaminate the batch, & as a thoughtful measure for the people who sort the items (yes, real people manually sort our recycling for us, as well as machines!).
Paper recycling- all things paper. Containers that have held food can usually be recycled, if they are not lined with plastic* or soiled. Pizza box bottoms that are soiled can be composted or binned, but the clean part of the pizza box can be recycled.
Food compost waste- some councils offer food waste collection for composting- if that’s your council then that’s great news!
Container recycling- glass, tin cans, plastics. However not all plastics can be recycled- I’m looking at you 3, 6 & 7!
(If you’re unsure about plastic numbers, basically all plastic containers will have a number on the bottom, set inside a triangle of three arrows, indicating their chemical composition.
Anything with a 3, 6 or 7 unfortunately cannot be recycled, & will need to go into the landfill waste bin. This is something to consider when purchasing products).
Green waste- leafy items & small branches.
Tricky to recycle recyclables
*UHT/ Tetrapack containers are your long-life milk & juice containers, among other things, that are lined with plastic, & are often not able to be recycled through your regular paper or container recycling provider.
Other odd bits & pieces like e-waste, paints or dangerous goods can also be tricky to recycle & shouldn’t go into landfill.
Planet Ark offer recycling options for these types of waste. Go to recyclingnearyou.com.au for your local area options, so you can responsibly deal with trickier recyclables.
Your Landfill bin
Now, let’s take a better look at your landfill bin. After all your wonderful efforts consuming & repurposing your food, you will have a lot less to go into this bin.
A helpful step is to separate your wet landfill waste from your dry.
Try lining your landfill bin with newspaper or a paper bag & keep this bin for dry landfill waste only. We have a small bin at home with a repurposed paper bag that we empty once a week. We don’t put food scraps into this bin, & so avoid smelly odours.
Wrap up any meat or wet scraps in newspaper & freeze until bin day.
Bin liner alternatives
A small switch from using plastic liners will have a great impact.
- Newspaper or repurposed paper bags.
- Reusable washable liners.
- True compostable plastic bin liner alternatives*, often made from corn starch, which will break down organically leaving no harmful residues in the Earth.
*Beware of the multitudes of so-called “green” bin liners on the market, which may require specific conditions to break down, or may break down into microplastics rather than magically into nothing, as the marketing gurus would have you believe!
“There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere."
*Image via Canva