How to reduce food waste by using the parts of food which would normally be thrown away that are, in fact, edible and highly nutritious. Plus, a full step-by-step guide to setting up a compost at home.
I was listening to one of Mark Hyman’s podcasts a couple of days ago, and one of the things he mentioned was how, “Forty percent of our food is wasted.”
I was shocked.
If food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd biggest greenhouse gas emitter after the US and China.FAO, Food Wastage Footprint report, 2013.
After researching ways I could reduce my “food waste footprint” at home, I discovered many ways to use up food scraps instead of just tossing them in the compost. Here are a few different uses for kitchen scraps.
How to Reduce Food Waste
Let’s begin by looking at the parts of food normally thrown away which are actually edible and highly nutritious.
1. Kiwi Skins
I’ve always loved eating kiwi skins, and eat a kiwi fruit just like you would an apple. But for some, the kiwi skin is considered “trash”.
Kiwi fruit is a natural prebiotic; a food source for the beneficial bacteria in the gut! Prebiotics are types of fibre that the human body cannot digest, and so bacteria are needed to break down these foods, making the nutrients more bioavailable for the body to absorb.
The fuzzy, furry skins have triple the amount of fibre than that found in the fruit, and by not peeling the skin, you receive more vitamin C (as the majority of a food’s nutrients can be found just below the skin). Just make sure to always wash the skin before eating it and choose organic when possible.
2. Broccoli and Cauliflower Leaves
Broccoli leaves are loaded with antioxidants needed to fight free radicals in the body.
The stem and leaves of cauliflower can cause digestive upset in some and are tougher in texture. But, if you’re able to tolerate them, tossing the leaves in some olive oil, along with some dill and garlic powder, then roasting in the oven at 200°C (or 400°F) until the leaves are crispy, are one of the delicious ways to enjoy these “scraps.”
Broccoli leaves can be boiled and used as low-carb “wraps.”
3. Pumpkin (Squash) Scraps
When roasted, the skins contain higher levels of phenolics and antioxidant activity.
Unless the pumpkin skin has wax on it, leave it on and roast along with the pumpkin flesh. Organic pumpkin is recommended to avoid pesticide residues.
The blossoms contain a compound known as spinasterol, which has been found to contain possible anticarcinogenic properties. According to Dr. Axe:
The concentrated form of spinasterol applied to skin tumours in a mice study decreased the number of tumours by 65 percent.
The blossoms can be eaten raw in salads or fried.
4. Lemon Peels
The zest from these citrusy fruits makes a wonderful addition to muffins, salad dressings, vinaigrettes, or even just as a seasoning.
Lemon rinds have been found to contain anticancer effects. Again, always choose organic whenever possible to avoid toxic pesticides.
5. Any and Every Part of a Dandelion
While mostly considered a weed, dandelions have been used in herbal medicine for centuries to treat infections, bile and liver problems (being a wonderful detoxifier, dandelions assists the lymphatic system and liver in removing metabolic waste and toxins in the body, and they’re also a natural diuretic).
Dandelions are great for making detox teas, even caffeine-free “coffee”! The greens are rich in the carotenoid, lutein, which helps protect the eyes from oxidative stress, and are a prebiotic for the gut microbiome!
The roots can be roasted and used to make latte’s or coffee, while the flowers and leaves make nutritious additions to salads, smoothies, or even super greens powders.
6. Corn Husks and Silk
The husks aren’t really edible, but that doesn’t mean you need to throw them away! Soaking dried organic husks in hot water makes them more malleable, so they can be easily folded into shape and used as a wrap to encase food that’s to be baked or steamed (also providing a mild corn flavour to the dish). Once cooked, you can remove the husk and compost it. Do not eat it.
Corn silk contains proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, potassium, calcium, magnesium, alkaloids, saponins, tannins and flavonoids (with new research finding anti-fungal properties as well). You can chew on the corn silk strands or use it to make tea (it’s a diuretic though, so always consult with your doctor before taking this or any new product to make sure it won’t interact with your medications).
Always look for organic corn products. Non-organic corn is likely to be genetically modified, contain residues of glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup); a toxic herbicide that disrupts proper endocrine function in human cells.
If you’re allergic to corn, avoid this edible food scrap (just compost it instead).
7. Onion Skins
Onion skins are a great addition to homemade vegetable or bone broth and tonic recipes.
Quercetin and other compounds found in onion skins may potentially help:
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Reduce inflammation
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve insulin resistance
- Reduce risk of blood clots by thinning the blood
8. Bolting Lettuce, Kale, Spinach and Other Leafy Greens
For leafy greens that have begun to bolt (this is when the plant cycle has come to an end, and it transitions into blossoming-mode, sending up a thick seed stalk), cut off the lighter green leaves before they turn bitter. The thick stalk from Cracoviensis lettuce can be chopped up and added to soups and stir-fries.
9. Edible Flowers
Edible flowers like purslane, French marigold, pansies, viola, nasturtium, native violet, pumpkin (squash) blossoms or okra leaves, make wonderful additions to any salad, and deliver a boost of nutrients like vitamins A and C, riboflavins, niacin, calcium, phosphorous and even iron.
10. Strawberry Stems
The leaves can be tossed into the blender when making smoothies, or sprinkled on top of salads. They provide a huge hit of anti-inflammatory, disease-fighting flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol.
Kaempferol has been found to inhibit cancer cell growth and induce cancer cell death, while appearing to preserve normal cell function and health.
11. Watermelon Rinds
Citrulline, a precursor for the amino acid arginine (which has been shown to improve circulation), can be found in watermelon rinds.
Some ways to utilise the power of the watermelon rind include as a replacement for cucumber in cool gazpacho, using it to make chutneys, jams, as an addition to Indian curries, or simply pickling or candying it.
How to Compost
Once you’ve used up as much edible food waste as possible, what do you do with the remaining scraps?
Throw them in the compost!
Composting is one of the best ways to reduce food waste.
One of the major reasons why food waste is so problematic for the environment is, when food is thrown into the garbage bin and scooted off to landfill, it isn’t able to decompose properly.
In landfill, buried under layers and layers of waste without any access to light or oxygen, organic food matter isn’t able to decompose as it should because it’s surrounded by inorganic material. It’s estimated that around 40% of landfill material is organics.
When you compost, organic material (such as food and plant waste) is able to break down and become organic, nutrient-rich fertiliser that can be used to grow more plants! By composting, vitamins and minerals left behind in the food can be recycled back into the soil, where they can be taken up by new plants.
Here are some easy steps to creating a composting system at home.
1. Decide on Your Process.
As the environmental, economical and physical benefits of composting are becoming more well-known, many households and communities around the world are separating their organic waste from other types of rubbish.
Some cities collect organic waste from homes, schools, businesses, and restaurants. They then process it and return the finished product back to local farmers and gardeners to use on their plants.
To find out if this service is available to you, call your waste collector or enter your postal code at findacomposter.com. Other wonderful composting services available include:
- We Compost: They’re a New Zealand-run company who can collect anything compostable, straight from your doorstep, event venue, or restaurant back door. Food scraps, compostable packaging… anything. (See here for more information about We Compost)
- ShareWaste: Connecting people who need to compost their food scraps (donors), with those who have a compost available (hosts).
- Positive Waste: An Australian food waste recovery initiative designed to help households, councils and organisations dispose of food waste properly. If you’re a household joining, they provide you with a kitchen caddie and compostable corn starch bags. Once full, you can pop your scrap bags in your food waste wheelie bin and they’ll come and collect it!
- Community gardens: These places will often take your food scraps to use as fertiliser for their plants! (Just inquire beforehand). You can find the nearest community garden to you by searching on Google (or Ecosia).
If you have the room in your backyard, you can create your own compost! Here’s how:
Choose an Outdoor Bin
Select a bin that works best for the area you’ll be composting in. I personally like tumbler bins as they’re much easier to manoeuvre (and make aerating the compost a breeze). However, if you’re looking for a cheaper option, you can create your own compost bin using wood pallets.
If you don’t have a backyard, that’s okay. You can use a worm bin as an alternative for recycling food waste. Here’s a great guide for making your very own worm bin.
How to Compost:
- 1 part green material (e.g. fruit and vegetable scraps, tea leaves/bags, or coffee grounds, weeds, freshly cut grass)
- 4 parts brown material (e.g. paper towels, napkins, soiled cardboard or newspaper, dead plants, stale bread and crackers, junk mail without any plastic coating on the paper, dry leaves, straw sawdust)
- A dash of water
- Pour these materials into your compost bin, and turn occasionally to aerate (this is the compost turner I use). Alternatively, you can use a shovel or pitchfork to bring the bottom layer of soil to the top (but it can be a lot more work). If you’re using a tumbler bin, spin the bin 2-3 times.
- Your compost may take anywhere from 1-6 months until it’s ready to use on your garden (depending on what’s being broken down in the compost; onion peels, citrus rinds and wood take longer to decompose). It will depend on the proportions of your ingredients and how often you turn the compost (1-3 times a week is enough).
2. Know What to Compost
Not all waste is compostable. Understanding what you can and can’t compost is very important.
The following materials are usually* safe to compost:
Green Material Waste
- Fruit and vegetable scraps, tea leaves/bags, or coffee grounds.
Brown Material Waste
- Paper towels and napkins, soiled cardboard or newspaper, dead/wilted plants, stale bread and crackers, or junk mail (ensure there’s no plastic coating on the paper).
*If you receive kerbside collection, double-check with your service provider to see what materials are accepted.
Green Material Waste
- Weeds (avoid weeds with seeds), and freshly cut grass.
Brown Material Waste
- Straw sawdust, and dry leaves.
How to Tell Whether Something’s Commercial OR Home Compostable…
If the item says:
Compostable: Assume it’s only able to be commercially composted.
Home compostable: The packaging will have a certification symbol specifying whether it’s “home compostable” or it needs to be taken to a “commercial composting facility.” Pop the item into your home compost after you’ve cut it up into small pieces.
Biodegradable: This term is often used in greenwashing (a form of deceptive marketing used to give a false impression that a product is “eco-friendly” when it really isn’t). Unless this word is paired with a description of which environment it can biodegrade in, it’s most likely greenwashing. When something is labelled as “biodegradable”, it simply means it can break down. Everything can break down (even plastic, but it really breaks up into smaller microplastics), so being ‘biodegradable’ doesn’t really mean it will break down into organic matter (compost). Unfortunately, the item must go to landfill.
Eco Watch shares a fantastic guide on how to spot greenwashing, here.
3. Form a Process (from Kitchen to Compost)
Determine how you’re going to get your scraps from your kitchen to the compost. Some people take their food out to the compost after every meal. In my household, we collect it in a container on their countertop and empty it when it gets full. An alternative is to store food scraps in the freezer until you run out of room. From there, either use the scraps to make a vegetable broth, or pop them into your compost bin.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
Do you compost? How do you minimise food waste at home? Share in the comments below.
Lots of love,
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