Avoiding food waste

Food waste can harm your budget and the environment, but there are some practical ways to avoid it.

The average household throws away around $2,200 in food a year, or around one in every five shopping bags of groceries.

When food breaks down in landfill, it produces methane, which is 28 times more powerful at warming the planet than carbon dioxide. Throwing away food also wastes the energy and resources used for production, transport and packaging.

You can significantly reduce food waste by following some practical steps at home and the grocery store.

How can I avoid food waste?

Plan your meals

Meal planning for the week is easy and fun. It will also help you buy the right amount of food so you can avoid unnecessary leftovers. Here are some tips that will help:

  • Before cooking, check how many household members will be eating
  • Write a shopping list and stick to it, making shopping cheaper and less stressful
  • Check your fridge and pantry first, as you may already have some items
  • Have a snack before you shop to avoid impulse food purchases

Shopping smarter

Buying bulk dry goods such as rice and pasta is useful, but fresh ingredients don’t last as long. You should reconsider bulk deals or specials, as they're only cheaper if you use all the ingredients. Buying locally grown food that's in season will help support local farmers and food systems.

Storage is key

Food storage is vital to minimising waste. Here are some tips that will help:

  • Keep food that's closer to its use-by date near the front of the fridge or pantry, and in your line of sight - or create a use-it-up shelf in the fridge, freezer or pantry. Check out OzHarvest’s nifty Use It Up Tape (or get crafty and make your own), to put onto food containers or individual items so you know what needs to be used up first.
  • Store food in clear containers or jars so you know how much is left.
  • Store food properly. Our food storage chart (green design) and food storage chart (collage design) have great information on where and how to store food.
  • Visit the Wholegrains Council website for advice on how long to store grains.
  • Check your fridge temperature (1-3 degrees C) and freezer temperature (below 18 degrees C) is optimal.
  • Eat foods before their use-by date has passed. A best before date indicates when a food is at its best and can still be consumed after this date.
  • Write the date and contents on leftovers in the fridge and freezer.
  • Freeze food that won’t be eaten within the next 3-4 days. Separate freezer food into smaller portions so you only defrost what you need.

Cooking and using leftovers

There are some great ways to reduce food waste by getting creative with your cooking and making the most of your leftovers:

  • Preserve veggies by pickling, saucing or stewing for use later.
  • Once a week, make a meal that combines food that needs using up from your fridge or freezer.
  • Cook only what your household needs. Check out this portion calculator for more information.
  • Use the whole vegetable or fruit if you can, including the skin, stalks and leaves. Check out these Sustainability Victoria's recipe ideas for commonly wasted food items.
  • If the fruit in your fruit bowl is starting to look a bit sad, freeze them and turn them into smoothies.
  • If your veggies are close to their use-by date, turn them into a veggie-packed soup, pasta sauce or casserole.
  • Use vegetable scraps or meat bones to make stock. Put them in a pot with enough water to cover them, bring it to the boil and then simmer on a low heat for one to two hours and strain. You now have homemade stock!
  • Stale bread? Make a bread and butter pudding or croutons for a salad.
  • Consider a dedicated leftovers night where you commit to using up leftovers one night a week.

Festive food waste

Reduce food waste this festive season with these top tips:

  • Use up food from your freezer the week before to make space for leftovers
  • Count your party guests and plan what everyone will bring to take the guesswork out of how much to buy and cook
  • Shop smart, write your festive shopping list and stick to it!
  • Check the shelf life of the food you are buying and the space you have for keeping it fresh
  • Ask your guests to bring containers and take leftovers home – or freeze/refrigerate as soon as possible
  • Store leftovers in the freezer or share food with friends and neighbours if you know you’ll be going away

More food waste resources