Written by Allie D'Almo
Even if you’re the most conscientious, organic buying, farmers market-visiting type of consumer, you’ve probably ended up throwing away a lot of food scraps which could have gone a lot further.
Heaps of peelings, leaves, stalks, stale bread, soggy herbs, mouldy fruit and rinds are all declared useless and tossed in the compost bin. But a lot of those food scraps can actually be re-purposed or re-grown, instead of thrown.
As well as saving money, it’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.
The FAO of the United Nations estimates that if food waste was a country, it would be the third-highest emitter of greenhouse gasses after the US and China. And, whilst individuals can’t take all of the blame, we’re still accountable for a significant part of it; households are responsible for at least 53 per cent of food waste in Europe.
If you’re not composting that food waste, those scraps are headed for the landfill. Rotting organic matter releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is several times more potent than carbon dioxide.
And, even if you do use a compost bin, keep in mind that every forkful of food we throw away was responsible for greenhouse gasses even before it reached our plate.
So, regrowing your spring onions instead of buying new ones, or using up your cauliflower leaves instead of buying a bag of spinach, is a really effective CO2 reducing action.
Here are some surprisingly simple hacks for you to start repurposing your food scraps:
1. Re-grow before you throw
No soil required - all you need is water and a sunny spot. Lots of veg can be regrown from the ‘inedible part’ but spring onions and leeks are particularly fool-proof, so make a good place to start.
Simply snip off about an inch of the white rooting base of your spring onions, drop into a glass or jar on a windowsill and, providing you change the water everyday, green shoots will appear almost immediately. Within a few weeks you should have fully formed onions.
Once you’ve got the hang of the spring onions, the world is your oyster - fennel, celery and lettuces can all be regrown in water.
Tip: Storing spring onions in a jar of water (instead of the fridge) encourages them to grow - more bang for your buck
2. Stop wasting your herbs
If your herbs are looking limp but not yet mouldy, you may be able to breathe new life into them. Try trimming the stalks and placing them upright in a glass of water or picking the leaves and soaking in cool water until they return to their former selves.
Recipes often call for the leafy parts of the herb, but the stalks are actually the most flavoursome part of the plant - so keep chopping! Or save up the stalks, chop finely and add to vinegar or oil for a herb-infused dressing.
3. Repurpose your leaves
Lots of veg - broccoli, carrots, the once-maligned cauliflower - come with an abundance of green leaves and we rarely have a clue what to do with them. Instead of adding to your food waste bin, use them as ingredients in their own right. Use cauliflower leaves as a side dish alternative to spinach or kale; either stir fry, or roast up the leaves as a tasty snack - a great alternative to kale crisps.
Even the tough outer-leaves of cabbage can be shredded for sauerkraut.
4. Re-grow your root-veg tops
With root vegetables like carrots, turnips and beetroot, we eat the root and discard the tops. But those discarded scraps can re-grow into tasty leaves for salads, pestos and purees. Leave at least half an inch off the vegetable top, place in shallow water and fresh greens will appear within days.
5. Save your seeds
Keep the slippery seeds leftover from pumpkin and squash recipes. They’re a great snack and can spice up any salad. Just wash, dry, toss in olive oil and toast or roast in the oven.
6. Use coffee grounds as fertiliser
Your filter coffee can do more than revive you in the morning, it gives plants a helpful kick too. Sprinkle used coffee grounds straight onto the soil of indoor and outdoor plants as a fertiliser. The grounds add nitrogen to compost and also improve drainage, water retention and aeration in the soil. A helpful pesticide too!
Alternatively, if you’re not the green-fingered sort, store used-grounds in a jar in the fridge and add to brownie, biscuit or cake recipes.
7. Blend your veg stems
Leafy superstars like kale, cabbage and broccoli are often called for in nutritious recipes but their chewy, woody-textured stalks are rarely used. These odds and ends can make a great addition to smoothies, since stalks are more fibrous than the leaves. Peeled broccoli stems work fantastically in stir-fries or steamed and served hot with a mayonnaise.
8. Save cheese rinds
Cheese rinds - particularly strong cheeses such as parmesan - are powerfully flavoured. Instead of tossing them straight into the compost heap, add them (whole) to sauces and soups such as minestrone or pop them in a jar with olive for parmesan-infused olive oil. Rinds bring a tremendous depth of flavour to stocks too.
9. End-of-the-jar vinaigrette
It's a sad moment when you get to the bottom of that tahini jar and you know you could get more out of it, if only that spoon could reach it. Those bits at the end make a great emulsifier for oil and vinegar and a delicious vinaigrette. Add olive oil, vinegar and a small amount of dijon mustard to a nearly empty jam jar or make your tahini go further by adding olive oil, garlic, lemon and sumac.
10. There is always Pesto
Don’t stop at basil. If you’ve got some wilted spinach, sad-looking rocket, beetroot greens fast- deteriorating in the fridge, let the food processor do the work. Blitz it up with olive oil and seasoning and toss through pasta or add to a jacket potato. If you don’t trust yourself, check out some of these recipes.
11. Learn to Preserve
Nothing new here. Pickling and fermenting techniques have been used for thousands of years to help food last longer, so why not join the gang? Most people only go as far as pickling cucumbers, but you can pickle almost anything with the 3:2:1 (vinegar:water:sugar) method. Peeled root veg, chopped carrots, even watermelon rinds, all make for delicious chutneys and pickles.
Unwaxed already-squeezed lemons transform into a delicious relish when finely sliced, massaged with salt and packed tightly into a jar.
You can even use leftover brine from an old jar of pickles to kick-start a new jar of pickles.
12. Zero-waste Jam
One of the most off-putting things about making jam is the prospect of having to buy a lot of fruit just to pulverise it all. Instead, store scraps from leftover fruit peels, soft fruits in a freezer bag - don’t worry too much about mix and matching - to create a tutti-frutti jam.
13. Re-use pasta water on your plants
Instead of dumping that starchy pasta water down the drain once the spaghetti is ready, let it cool and use it to water your plants. As well as conserving water, the starchy pasta liquid is rich in minerals and vitamins which help to promote natural nutrient storage within the soil. Just make sure the water is un-salted.
14. Revive loaves of bread
Globally, almost 900,000 tonnes of bread are wasted annually. That's around more than 24 million slices of bread per day. Revive already-stale bread by transforming it into croutons, or if it's too late to chop it up into cubes, you can slice thinly for deliciously crispy toast.
Failing that, bread can always be blitzed into breadcrumbs.
15. Keep your citrus peels
Citrus peels have an infinite amount of uses, so there really isn’t any excuse to throw them away just yet. Add to diluted white wine vinegar for an all-purpose cleaner. Add to a jug of water to infuse water or alcohol for infused liquor. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you can boil them up with sugar and water to make candied peel.
Adding orange peel to a jar of brown sugar also stops the sugar from going hard!
Just type ‘potato peel’ into the internet, and you’ll be rewarded with hundreds of recipes for ‘potato peel chips’, which proves just how popular this snack is. The spud snack is - if not entirely sin free - both delicious and zero-waste.
17. If all else fails, keep a scrap bag
Never buy stock again. Just toss peelings, trimmings, stems, rinds and leaves into bags in the freezer and - once full - use for stocks and broth.
Allie is a London-based writer with a special interest in sustainable and ethical lifestyle. She can be found tweeting at @Allie_DAlmo.
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