Eco Comment – Food Waste Week and Plastic

26 April 2024

Do you have a cupboard or drawer in the kitchen for plastic containers? Most people do. I’m not sure where the mentality comes from but it’s probably down to age and the ‘don’t throw it away, it might be useful?’ thought that encourages so many of us to keep these receptacles. We sometimes buy a set of new boxes, with matching lids when we reorganise our cupboards in the hope that we will not have so many boxes without matching lids. I did this a few years ago. I emptied all the kitchen cupboards and got rid of all the mismatched items, and it looked wonderful. It’s probably time for a rerun as I noticed the other day that the door of my kitchen cupboard won’t shut properly when I’ve put everything away.

As you’re all aware, the theme for Earth Day this year was Planet vs. Plastics. We should be doing our best to avoid buying products wrapped in plastic or those in plastic containers, but real life makes this difficult. A video for Food Waste Action Week shows Gino D’Acampo (TV chef) in a grocery shop trying to dissuade a customer from buying vegetables in plastic bags on the pretext that they’re only shopping for one meal and not feeding an army. Another advert is ‘1 potato, 2 potato, sure you need more? Choose what you use’. To me, this opens a debate on the way we both shop and cook. Do we do a daily shop or do we shop weekly? Do we cook for one meal, or do we batch cook and use those containers to keep portions for future consumption?

The rise of the supermarket in the UK has forever changed the way we eat. I notice that there are so many ready prepared meals in British supermarkets. This is very different to my experiences in Europe where pre-prepared meals are a rarity. It’s almost a ‘Catch 22’ situation. If you buy a ready prepared meal, there is no food waste. There is, however, invariably a plastic container, although some ready meals now use paper or bamboo but few can escape there being some plastic. If you shop and cook on a daily basis, choosing the correct quantities of ingredients is crucial if you want to avoid waste. Single vegetables are therefore a must, which usually means paying more as the average supermarket rewards the customer for buying in bulk. Cooking daily also uses more energy, even if you use current labour and energy saving devices.

The size of the household must also be a contributory factor. Cooking for one, or five?  Does everyone have a similar diet? Does everyone eat at the same time? Communal living raises so many questions and necessitates careful shopping and negotiation on the part of the person in charge of food.

The rise of eateries in the towns and cities is also a very real issue in the food waste story. It was pointed out to me that many people eat out because their living accommodation precludes their inviting others to eat with them. In fact, I was shocked to learn that many ‘flats/apartments’ available for rent quite often have no kitchen/dining facilities. To a person brought up in the twentieth century this sounds ridiculous, but maybe it’s another demonstration of changing tastes brought about by circumstances. Criticism is levelled at those who don’t cook, but possibly they would if they could, but they can’t. Schools are regularly chastised for not preparing young adults for independent living but with so many variables to contend with is it surprising that many lack the skills, facilities, or the money to eat sensibly at home.

Somehow, we as a society have to manage the amount of food waste produced every day. Given so many variables in our daily lives, it presents a real challenge, so maybe I’ll continue to batch cook when I spot a bargain in the supermarket and keep the portions in the many mismatched containers that I currently have in my kitchen cupboard. We must all do our bit!

Susan Morgan
Eco Group

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Wakefield Cathedral’s Eco Group brings together members of the congregation, volunteers and staff to work towards making the cathedral a greener place to work and worship.

The Eco Group achieves its goals through a variety of activities, including partnerships with local community groups.

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