How lockdown made us less wasteful

The terrible toll of Covid19 on lives, health, livelihoods and loneliness is well known to us all, but there were some positive knock-on effects of the lockdown on our environment.

The most obvious one was a drop in air pollution including CO2 emissions, as industries and transport shut down. In northern India residents of the Punjab saw the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years as smog cleared. Closer to home wildlife ventured into quiet towns and cities. More of us connected with the nature on our doorsteps too, with 77% of people in England saying that visiting nature was important for their general health and happiness.

But a quiet revolution also took place inside our homes. UK citizens managed their food better in lockdown, cutting the throwing-out of the most wasted foods (potatoes, bread, chicken and milk) by over a third.

This is great news, because apart from being something that everyone can agree is a bad thing, wasting food is one of the worst things we can do in terms of greenhouse gas pollution. We’ve been getting better at this for a while. In fact, since 2007 the reduction in the amount of food we waste in the UK has saved 5 million tonnes of CO2 – that’s like taking 2.1 million cars off the road. Between us we’ve also saved £3.3 billion a year!

So what did we do differently in lockdown?

  • Better planning. Almost half of us checked our cupboards and fridge more often before shopping.
  • Better food management. More of us (37%) organised the food in our cupboards and fridge – for example checking ‘use by’ dates and using up fresh items first.
  • Getting creative. One in three people cooked more creatively during lockdown, and 30% started saving leftovers.

This is encouraging, but once the government started to ease lockdown measures, some of these new habits started to slip, and food waste began to rise again. Most of us want to maintain our better food management behaviours, but say that a lack of time and the pressure of busy lifestyles will make this hard.

Find some easy wins to keep up momentum

If we all had better knowledge and confidence in managing food, it wouldn’t cost us much time or effort to waste less food. For example:

  • apples last longer if stored in the fridge.
  • fridges will keep food fresher for longer when set to 5°C or less.
  • chicken breasts can be put into the freezer right up until the ‘use by’ date.

And some waste-saving tips from the Cottenham Community Coffee Shop

  • Our ‘daily do’ is any Jacket Potatoes left over from the lunch service we freeze and then use them to thicken our soups. This is a great use of leftovers but also ensures that all our soups are Gluten Free which is so important to many these days.
  • We have fresh fruits for sale (bananas, apples, oranges). When these are either too ripe or bruised we make cakes with them, another great way of saving wastage.

If we are to keep climate change within reasonable limits we need to make these food waste reducing behaviours part of our ‘new normal’. For all sorts of tips on food storage, meal planning, portion measurement and recipe inspiration, visit