Zero Waste Week Day 5 – Use It Up

It’s the final day of Zero Waste Week 2016. Have you enjoyed any inventive meals with leftovers? Had a go at meal planning? Adjusted your portion control for cooking and serving food? I really enjoyed hearing the podcast in which I was interviewed by Rachelle Strauss. I’m looking forward to listening to the other podcasts too. It’s also been inspiring sharing tips and ideas on the Zero Waste Heroes Facebook group. My final blog post is on the theme of Zero Waste Week 2016 – Use It Up. Every time you throw food in the bin, you’re throwing away your hard-earned cash. It is estimated that the average household throws away £60 worth of food per month, totalling a whopping £720 annually. Would you take £720 out of the bank and chuck it away? No, neither would I. Mainly because I don’t have £720! And yet, that is what’s happening.

We’ve looked at meal planning and shopping with willpower to reduce food waste at the purchasing end of the process. Let’s take a look at what you can do at the consumption end of the process.

Fridge Inventory

Keeping a close eye on the contents of the fridge avoids those situations where you suddenly discover something furry and unidentifiable at the back of the fridge. Some people like to keep a list on the side of the fridge where they can make a note of the contents, when they need to be used by and when they’ve been used. This is a little too much for me! I prefer to take a good look in all corners of the fridge every day or every other day to keep things in check. Root in the salad draw to keep an eye on that wilting lettuce or yellowing cabbage and adjust your meals to include a side dish or an extra ingredient to use it up.

Use It Up

What do you do with those extra helpings of mashed potato or vegetables that no one can squeeze in? What on earth will you do with that jar of chutney that no one likes? What about that bit of gravy left in the jug? When I was growing up, we had a running joke about the jug of gravy that was always leftover after Sunday dinner. It would sit in the fridge until Thursday, at which point my mum would either incorporate it into a cottage pie or down the sink it would go. Our fridge seems to be permanently full of little bowls with a few spoonfuls of something in and a plate on top. Here’s a few ideas to help you ‘Use It Up’:

  • Have it for lunch the next day. You can whizz vegetables up with a little stock and seasoning to make a soup. Pasta can be eaten cold as a salad or reheated and popped in a food flask for a warm packed lunch. Boiled potatoes can be fried or mashed and mixed with other ingredients to make patties.
  • Incorporate it into next day’s tea. That half tin of baked beans can be added to spaghetti bolognese, chilli, hash or shepherd’s pie. Leftover vegetables can be added to a pasta sauce or stir fry. Odds and ends of cheese can be grated into a cheese sauce to serve with pasta or make a cauliflower and broccoli bake.
  • Extra ingredients. Sweet and sour dishes taste great with the scrapings of a jar of jam, marmalade or chutney thrown in. Casseroles get some oomph from a spoonful of Marmite or Bovril. My mum always used to rinse out Bovril jars with hot water and add it to cottage pie for an extra beefy kick. Adding a mashed, overripe banana or some overripe soft fruit to flapjack allows you to cut down on the amount of refined sugar and butter you use, making it a healthier treat. Use your imagination and don’t be afraid to experiment.


Ignore Best Before

‘Best before’ dates are a guideline and a way for companies and supermarkets to cover their backs. Milk, eggs, cheese and yoghurt are all fine past their sell by date. Most jars and cans are also good for a long way past the ‘best before’, as long as the seal is secure. Meat and fish we’re more careful with. Beef I will allow a few days of ‘maturing’, but pork, chicken and fish I’m a bit fussier with. It’s important to use your senses. If something smells bad, don’t take the risk. I have very little sense of smell, so I quite often get my husband to check to be on the safe side.


Talking of ignoring ‘best before’, you can freeze food right up until its ‘best before’ or ‘best eaten by’ date. So if you’ve bought some chicken, fish, bread, etc and you suddenly realise you aren’t going to be able to eat it in time, just pop it in the freezer until you are ready to use it up. You can also defrost meat and fish, cook it into a dish and then freeze the finished product. The rule with reheating is: get it to as high a temperature as quickly as possible and make sure it’s piping hot throughout before serving. I used to have a book very similar to this one, that was totally invaluable as a reference book on freezing food.

Food We’ve Saved From Waste This Week

This week we’ve made an extra special effort to use it up. Here’s my list of food we’ve saved from being thrown in the bin:

  • Sweetcorn. We had two cobs left over from Sunday. I removed the corn, put half into tuna mayonnaise for sandwiches and added the other half to our selection of pizza toppings for tea on Tuesday.
  • Two crinkly red peppers. I sliced one up for pizza toppings on Tuesday and I will use the other one up in a curry later today.
  • Mushrooms. We used some in the pizza toppings and the rest will go in the curry.
  • Leftover mash and peas that our youngest didn’t eat. I reheated them with cheese and knob of butter for my lunch on Tuesday.
  • Carrots with black spots. I peeled and used them for tea on Wednesday as accompaniment to our toad-in-the-hole.
  • Spring greens with yellowy leaves. I saved all the green leaves to have with our toad-in-the-hole, fed some of the other bits to the rabbit and put the really nasty bits in the compost.
  • Squishy nectarine. I saved what I could to have on cereal. The stone and the really squishy bit went in the compost.
  • Mashed potato leftover from Monday’s lunch. I added cheese to it to make cheesy mash to go with Thursday’s tea.
  • Leftover bits of vegetables and couple of spoonfuls of mash. I will be turning into bubble and squeak for my lunch in a few minutes.
  • Half a tin of beans. I have put in the freezer to use up another time.

Nobody’s perfect though. I have a lump of stale baguette sitting on the kitchen side that is so hard it could do someone some serious damage. I might try soaking it in water and heating it in the oven tonight for supper so that we use it up.

Our Landfill Jar

At the start of the week I decided to keep our landfill waste in a jar for the week. Here’s our jar on Day 5:

wp_20160909_12_10_33_proI documented what went in it each day on my Facebook page. The grand total for the week is:

One large crisp bag, the plastic label from a net of clementines, four dishwasher tablet wrappers, two plastic four-pack holders, the plastic wrap from a pack of wafer cones, the plastic sheets from the butcher’s weighing scales (must ask them to put the container on the scales in future), the plastic wrap from a toy, some sticky tape, a couple of fruit stickers and some plastic clothes tags. I’m extremely pleased to say that there is no food waste in there. Some raw food waste went into the compost. We used all the leftovers this week in some way.

So that’s my Zero Waste Week. I’d love to know how you’ve been getting on this week. Did you manage to ‘use it up’ all week? Have you tried anything that you think will become a permanent change? Have you noticed a reduction in your rubbish or an increase in your bank balance?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.