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How to fight food waste at home

Average read time: 4 minutes

There can’t be many people who don’t feel a pang of regret – even guilt – as they discard a whole lettuce that’s been wilting in the fridge for days, or toss a bag of sprouting potatoes into the bin. And for good reason: food wastage is a growing global crisis that affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide, many of them in South Africa.

How to fight food waste at home

A report01 by the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF) lays bare the shocking extent (and the high cost) of food waste in our country. When the report was released in 2017, it revealed that 10 million tonnes of food are wasted every year – that’s a full third of the 31 million tonnes produced annually in South Africa. Of this, fruits, vegetables, and cereals account for a mind-boggling 70% of the wastage and loss.

The fact that so much of our food ends up in landfills is even more disturbing when one considers that an estimated one in ten South Africans (about 6.5 million in total)02 go to bed hungry at night and that 27% of children03 in our country are stunted due to undernourishment.

Apart from the human toll of so much food going to waste, the impact on the environment is disastrous. Food waste accounts for a staggering one-third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, 04of which are the main contributor to global warming.05

Reducing food waste may seem to be an insurmountable problem, but the responsibility does not lie with governments, industry, and agriculture alone. All of us can play a small but meaningful role in tackling food waste, starting in our own kitchens. If you would like to be part of the solution, read on for our practical tips.

Fighting food waste at home

  • Buy only as much food as you know you’ll use. Plan your meals for the week ahead, make detailed shopping lists, and resist the temptation to splash out on big quantities of food that are likely to go to waste.
  • Check the sell-by dates on every perishable item you buy. It’s worth noting that the expiration dates on the packaging are in many cases simply guidelines for retailers and not hard-and-fast rules. There is no harm in eating food that is a day or so past its expiry date, provided you use common sense and discard anything that looks (or smells) past its best.
  • It’s a good idea to do a thorough ‘fridge audit’ once a week so you can keep tabs on veggies and other ingredients that should be used up before they spoil. Place older vegetables at the front of the fridge racks so they’re not hidden behind newer ingredients.
  • Properly storing food goes a long way toward preventing waste and spoilage. Always cover leftovers with tight-fitting lids, and make sure raw meat is properly wrapped. For store-cupboard goods, seal the boxes with clothes pegs (or tape them shut) to discourage bugs.
  • Make sure your fridge is set to the right temperature. Food safety experts advise that this should be not higher than 4 °C.
  • Make good use of your freezer. Immediately wrap and freeze any leftovers that are not going to be eaten the next day, and label them with the date the food was cooked. Keep a roll of masking tape and a marker pen in the kitchen for this purpose.
  • Many veggies freeze very well, including whole heads of garlic, ginger bulbs, and woody herbs (such as sage, rosemary, thyme, and curry leaves). There’s no need to thaw them before use: simply grate the garlic and ginger directly into the pot, and crumble in the frozen herbs.
  • Fruits that freeze well include all sorts of berries, granadilla pulp, grapes, cherries, and lemon wedges. If you’d like to use them to make smoothies, cut them into pieces before you freeze them.
  • Use your freezer to store vegetable trimmings and cooked bones, for making nutritious stocks – this is an excellent way of getting a second use out of waste you’d normally throw away. Keep a big zipping bag in the freezer and keep topping it up with scraps such as the bones from a roast chicken, onion skins, carrot peelings, mushrooms, tomato slices, celery tops, and so on.
  • Explore new ways of transforming leftover ingredients. Make jam, chutney, or pickles with surplus fruit and veggies. Use leftover stews as a filling for pies. Toast stale bread in the oven until crisp, then whizz it in a food processor to make breadcrumbs for coating.
  • An excellent way to use up scraps that aren’t suitable for freezing is to build a compost heap, or invest in a small compost bin. You can add almost any kitchen scraps to a compost heap (apart from meat and bones), and these can be layered with dry leaves, lawn clippings and even newspaper.
  • Find creative ways of using leftover cooked food to create new meals. See the recipes below!

Lovely leftovers

Here are some recipes that make great use of leftovers to create tasty family meals.

Beef, lamb and gammon



Rice and Pasta


How Unilever is fighting food waste

At Unilever, we have ambitious goals when it comes to tackling food waste. Click here to find out how we, as one of the world’s largest food producers, are committed to halving food waste in our operations by 2025.

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