The environment and sustainable eating are headlining these days, and with good reason. Half of the plastic ever produced has been made in the last 13 years and only 9% has been recycled. Ireland are currently Europe’s biggest users of plastic waste, generating an average of 61 kg per person, twice that of the UK. The good news is that there are some small steps we can all take to be greener and these are usually better for our health and our bank balance too. Read on to learn how you can do your bit to ‘eat green’.
Reduce food waste
40% of our household waste is organic (= compostable) waste, mainly food, costing each Irish household between €400 and €1000. 20% of this is ‘unavoidable’, things like banana skins, veg peel (you can add this to your stock pot) and chicken bones (great for making stock or bone broth). The other 80% is avoidable waste – left-overs, food that has passed it’s sell by date or items like potato skin or bread crusts that we chose not to eat.
Key to minimising food waste is to plan ahead. Run your kitchen like a professional chef or like your great grandmother would have and don’t waste anything. Uneaten veg can be turned into a soup or added to an omelette. Leftover meat like roast chicken can be used for sandwiches or salads. Bread crusts (wholegrain of course!) can be turned into breadcrumbs to add to veggie burgers or used to top pasta gratin dishes. Or made into healthier bread and butter pudding. Tired looking fruit can be cooked up to make fruit compote to add to yoghurt or chopped, frozen and added to smoothies. Fresh herbs like coriander can be frozen in coconut milk or wine in ice cube trays and added to curries or casseroles as needed. Stopfoodwaste.ie has lots of information and ideas.
- Shop with a list and check what you already have at home first to avoid waste (you buy 20 – 40% more without a list)
- Bring reusable bags. Or if you forget them, use cardboard boxes from the supermarket as a more sustainable choice. Our plastic bag levy has been in place since 2002 and we have reduced our use of plastic bags from 350 per person to 14 per person in 2012, but we could all do more
- Chose fruit and veg without packaging or in cardboard or paper packaging where you can just put them straight into your bag (and not a plastic bag!). These can often be more expensive than buying the equivalent wrapped in plastic though
- Where you must buy food in plastic packaging, go for hard plastic that can at least be recycled
- Make your feelings known. Strip off your plastic packaging at the till and leave it in the supermarket. If you feel like making a point, ask to speak to the manager and tell them how you feel about excess packaging or price discrepancies in ‘naked’ produce
And even smarter
- Buy local and in season where you can and check where the produce is from. For example, most apples sold in Ireland are from New Zealand, South Africa and France and picked months ago. Fruit and veg lose vitamin content the minute they are picked, so there is a health advantage to buying local too
- Frozen produce may be a more sustainable option and is often at least as nutritious as fresh counterparts and usually much cheaper
- Use your local butcher or fish monger. They can recommend cheaper cuts and how to cook them. Bring along a plastic container to avoid them having to use plastic
- Buy in bulk or try minimal waste grocery to shop without packaging
- Carry a disposable coffee cup with you or keep one in the car. We use 2 million coffee cups every day in Ireland and most of these can’t be recycled
- Use a reusable water bottle, or a recycled reusable one for extra points! In the UK 55% of people own a reusable bottle but less than 35% use them regularly.
Make Green food swaps
- Eat more veg. These are high in fibre (80% of us don’t get enough) vitamins and minerals and are also cost effective and usually a more sustainable choice. At least half of our plates at lunch and dinner should be made up of veg
- Treat meat like a luxury item and have less of it, less often. Try a meat free dinner once or twice a week. Doing this can help the planet and help your health. Pulses are a great source of non-meat protein as well as fibre. Add them to curries, Bolognese, salads, either as a vegetarian meal or to make your meat go further. Or try tofu, much of which is made from European-grown soya beans
- Swap salmon for gurnard, ling, pollack, haddock, mussels and look for the MSC label. Many of the fish species we commonly eat here are overfished and even mackerel has now been removed from MSC certification due to over-fishing. Look for the MSC label when buying fish
- Be aware that some of the healthy foods and drinks often recommended, like avocado, almond milk, coconut oil and quinoa may have a bigger environmental footprint than local equivalents. It takes more than 1500 litres of water to produce 1 litre of almond milk in California, where 80% of the world’s almonds are grown. More sustainable alternatives closer to home include oat milk or dairy, which is a relatively sustainable choice in Ireland. Blend avocado with frozen peas for a greener and healthier avo topping for your toast. Try including more local grains like spelt, buckwheat, oats and barley.
Get into the kitchen
- Batch cook where you can. Most larger packs use less packaging and it takes less energy to make one large batch. This also saves time, money and hassle
- Check portion sizes when cooking. We have all cooked too much pasta and ended up binning the leftovers. Or just putting more on the plate ourselves. If you do make too much, put it aside straight away for lunch or another meal
- Use your leftovers the next day. Or get them into the freezer
Be green at home
- Ditch cling film. Use bees wax wraps (we love Hanna’s wraps, made in Cork), old jam jars, tupperware or silicon lids for food storage instead
- Store fresh veg and herbs in a damp kitchen towel in the fridge rather than in plastic bags
- Get into the garden! Grow your own lettuce or herbs, even if you only have a window box. This is great for kids too. Grow from seed or try quickcrop.ie for really reliable plug plants
- Recycle correctly and compost what you can. Putting non-recyclables in your green bin risks contaminating the entire load. Go to mywaste.ie for more info
Pack a green kit on the go
All of these items can be bought as reusable:
- shopping bag
- coffee cup
- water bottle
- container for leftovers / composting
Let’s continue the green wave!