Food and Food Packaging
What's the issue?
Thirty percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are related to food production, and 30% of the food produced worldwide is wasted, so this is very much a climate justice issue where we can all make a difference.
A 2013 report estimated that nearly a million tonnes of food and drink were wasted in Scotland per year. Based on this, the Scottish Government set a goal of reducing food waste by 33% by 2025. If you have a kitchen that produces 5kg or more food waste per week, in a non-rural area, there is a legal obligation to separate the waste for recycling. More details on food waste regulations are on the Zero Waste Scotland website.
What do you do with food waste?
Many congregations and community groups based in the buildings use kitchens to produce food, and different groups will be serving different food or snacks depending on their activities and membership. Measuring and reducing the carbon footprint from food and food waste may therefore require a collective effort, involving all the cooks.
The easiest way to start may be to measure and calculate the carbon footprint of the food waste going from the congregation's kitchen and eating areas into the bins over a month. There are a number of questions to ask:
- Do you separate food waste from other forms of waste for council waste collections?
- Do you have a private operator who deals with your food waste?
- Do you compost any waste directly in your gardens?
How can you measure your food waste and its carbon emissions?
You can use the 360 Carbon site, which has a Waste and Water page, pictured below:
Measuring your waste:
- If you separate food waste into a food waste bin, you could either weigh the weekly food waste bags for a month to work out how much you produce, or keep a record of the number and size of bin bags filled over a month
- If you have a private operator who deals with your food waste, you could ask them for monthly figures
- If you compost some raw food waste directly on site, weigh the amount you take out to your compost heap over a month, or keep a record of the number and size of bin bags composted per month
Add up all the food waste that is both composted and separated for recycling, and enter it under "Food (separated and composted)". You can select how to record this: by weight or by size of bag or bin. The website will calculate the carbon footprint of your food waste.
These figures will give you a good estimate of how much food you are currently disposing of. You can use this information to decide how to target your efforts to reduce. For example, if composting raw food scraps directly in the garden is going well, you may not want to reduce that if it's mostly scraps and trimmings. But if you find you're composting a lot of raw food that could be eaten, for example fruit or vegetables, you may be able to reduce that.
There is also a 360 Carbon page for food, which involves entering how many meals and snacks of different types have been served. This would enable you to gather data on your full carbon footprint as a congregation, but it doesn't mean that you should reduce the number of meals you provide in order to reduce your carbon emissions.
Reducing food waste in your congregation
The Scottish Government target is to reduce food waste by 33% by 2025, and by January 2025 biodegradable municipal waste will be banned from the general waste stream that goes to landfill. This means we won't be allowed to put food waste into our landfill bins. It will have to be separated and either put into a food recycling bin to be collected by the council or composted on site.
Apart from the obvious financial benefits, not using more food than is needed will reduce the carbon emissions involved in growing, harvesting and transporting food. Cooking only what is needed keeps the congregation's direct carbon emissions down, by reducing water and fuel use.
If your congregation runs a café or serves food
Zero Waste Scotland has helpful ideas about reducing food waste for those running cafes and food service. For free support and advice in this area, call them on 01786 433 930. Zero Waste identifies the role of portion control in reducing waste, as older people tend to eat smaller portions.
They recommend that if food is being left on plates and has to be thrown away, you consider introducing a "doggy bag" system in your café, enabling customers to take home any uneaten food from their plates. Use a compostable or reusable takeaway container if possible. If you have regular customers, consider encouraging them to bring a container from home for a doggy bag or take away.
Portion planning and making the most of food
If you know how many people you are catering for, this Portion Planner from Love Food Hate Waste can help estimate how much food to buy to avoid waste.
Fare Share is a charity that prevents food waste by distributing fresh surplus food from supermarkets to charities which provide food to support people, including many congregation-based activities. You can find your nearest Fare Share service by entering your postcode on their website.
Choose "wonky" or "misshapen" fruit and veg where possible. It may be cheaper and more people buying non-perfectly shaped food means less will be rejected and wasted in the supply chain in the long term.
"Baby" carrots and other miniature vegetables take up the same growing space as full-grown ones, but because they are smaller in size they have a higher carbon count per kg. Full-grown vegetables use less resources for their weight.
Storage so food doesn't go off
Keep vegetables in the fridge to keep them fresh for longer and check the fridge is set at 5 degrees C or lower to keep food fresh for longer. If there's no temperature on the controls, you could use an appliance thermometer to test the temperature manually.
If you have a freezer available, consider buying frozen vegetables, berries and meat if you're not going to use the whole bag at once. The food often has the same nutritional value, but you can use a little at a time without the rest of it going off.
Slice any unused bread and store it in the freezer. In the UK we throw away 20 million slices of bread per year.
Tinned food can be healthy and full of nutrients with the advantage of being cheaper to buy and to store than fresh goods. Tins are also 100% recyclable. Zero Waste Scotland have launched a "CAN-paign" to encourage the use of tinned food as a way of cutting food waste, with details on their website.
For tips on keeping food fresh, visit the A-Z of Food Storage on the Love Food Hate Waste website.
Reduce food miles by buying locally
Buying local and in season will help to cut carbon emissions involved in packaging and transporting food and ingredients over long distances (this is known as food miles). Buying local can support producers in your area and improve communication and accountability between the producers and consumers of food.
Depending where you are in the country, this could be easier for some items than others. There can also be cost implications. If you want to try to shop more sustainably, here are some ideas to explore.
- Nourish Scotland's website features a local food map which aims to list "small-scale farms and food businesses which can offer produce directly to consumers, reducing food miles and increasing sustainability". You can type your town or location into the map to see what's listed in your area.
- Nourish are also involved in enabling more community bakeries producing nutritious local bread around Scotland
- Farmers Markets provide an opportunity to buy local food directly from the producers, although these are generally more expensive than supermarkets. Taste of Scotland have compiled a List of Farmers Markets around the country.
- Fruit and vegetable delivery services provided by local farms are often delivered in a reusable box which can be returned. They usually contain locally grown food (sometimes organic), and can provide good value for money, as well as saving you going to the shops. To find your nearest, search for fruit or vegetable delivery online.
- If you need produce that can't be grown locally, try to use food items produced in the UK or Europe. The country of origin is usually on food labels in shops, e.g. "Scotland," "UK", "Spain" etc.
Dealing with unavoidable food waste
If your congregation produces 5kg of food waste per week or more (which is the equivalent of a full food waste caddy), then there's a legal obligation to separate your food waste so it can be collected separately from landfill waste. There are exemptions to this in some rural areas, and details of exemptions can be found on SEPA's website.
Separating food waste for collection and recycling
This leaflet from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) explains the rules and gives guidance on legal obligations for non-domestic recycling. All cooked or raw uneaten food waste can be collected in kitchen in caddies, except oils and liquids. Used teabags and coffee grounds can also be added. It's essential to remove all packaging from the food. For more information on the environmental benefits of recycling food waste, look at this recycling Food Waste information sheet on Net Zero Scotland.
Composting raw food waste
Composting is not obligatory, but raw food scraps can be made into compost on site instead of being added to food recycling, thereby making garden fertiliser and saving energy and money. This requires a compost bin and some outside space or a garden to put it in, plus a way to ensure that kitchen users know the system for collecting raw food scraps. All packaging needs to be removed before food is composted, and a caddy or bowl in the kitchen needs to be designated to collect scraps for the compost.
Reducing food packaging and single-use products
Many congregations will have already started to reduce single-use items, as the sale of some products including plastic cutlery, plates and drinks stirrers, and polystyrene cups and food containers has been banned in Scotland.
Switching to reusable items, such as ceramic plates in place of disposable ones, will save money in the long run as they last longer and reduce the amount of waste you have to deal with, thereby also reducing your carbon emissions.
There are a number of ways for congregations to cut down on food packaging and single-use items. For example, you could offer paper napkins only to those who ask for them, or use refillable containers instead of sachets of sauces, salt and sugar.
One congregation replaced disposable cups by asking members to donate spare mugs from home. Charity shops are often good sources of cheap preloved crockery and cutlery if more is required to replace the single-use items. Congregations can also encourage people to bring travel mugs or refillable water bottles from home to events.
Reusing packaging such as plastic shopping bags, and thicker paper ones, is an effective way to reduce waste. To look at reducing packaging further in your shopping, it may be worth researching Zero Waste Shops in your area. These enable you to fill your own containers with food, cleaning products, etc. A list of zero waste shops and more about how they work is published by Zero Waste Scotland. While many think of these shops as expensive, refilling cleaning product or washing up liquid bottles in a local zero waste shop may be actually be competitive with the same product in supermarkets, and it's worth comparing prices. However, driving out of your usual way in a petrol or diesel car to refill a re-usable bottle may not contribute overall to reducing carbon emissions.
Much useful advice is available in this ZeroWaste Scotland checklist on Making More Sustainable Choices: Moving Away from Single Use.
Glass milk bottle delivery services are now available in many areas and this is a good way to reuse packaging, as empty bottles are collected for reuse when fresh milk is delivered. Local services can be found online. Glass bottles and jars which can't be returned to the shop can be put out for curbside collection and recycling in many areas, or taken to bottle banks. Glass jars with lids, when washed and dried, make useful containers for foods, spices and for anyone making their own jam or pickles etc. It may be worth asking if anyone in your community wants them.