ACROSS Scotland, we are almost as good at feeding our bins as we are at feeding our bellies. Here, in 2013, we wasted around 1.35 million tonnes of food and drink. And we are part of a world-spanning problem, in which it is estimated, globally, a third of food is wasted. The UK is among the worst offenders. A 2015 report found it topping a European Union league for food waste.

Nearly half of all potatoes bought in the UK are thrown away by householders. That’s almost six million potatoes per day which end up in the bin. But potatoes are not our top most wasted food – that prime position is occupied by bread. We waste around 900,000 tonnes of it every year in the UK, and bin approximately 24 million slices per day. 44% of all bread produced in the UK is thrown away.

This isn’t just a moral disgrace, given the millions in the world that go hungry, it also has an environmental disaster. Huge amounts of water are wasted in the production of this food that is never eaten; large quantities of energy are put into the growth and manufacture of foods that only end in landfill. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, the carbon footprint from food wastage is estimated to be around 4.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

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Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland described the production of food as “one of the biggest drivers of climate change”.

“Food waste,” he said, “is the most carbon intensive of our waste materials. It represents the biggest carbon impact, of all the material that’s in people’s bins. It might not be the heaviest thing we put out, but it is the biggest in terms of carbon.”

While we can celebrate the increase in the quantities of food waste recycled in Scotland – the majority of households now have access to separate food waste services, and businesses are required to separate out food waste – the ultimate aim should be to reduce the quantity that even goes to waste. Food waste is a problem at all levels of the supply chain as well as at a household level. In Scotland, households are the biggest are the biggest contributors to food and drink waste, chucking into garbage around 600,000 tonnes per year. Manufacturing produces 510,000 tonnes. The hospitality industry bins 54,000 tonnes per year.

The Scottish government has committed to a target of a reduction of 33% of food waste by 2025. “Avoidable food waste,” said a government spokesperson, “is bad news for the environment, and bad news for households. When sent to landfill it releases large amounts of methane which is 25 times worse for climate change tonne for tonne as carbon dioxide.”

We are moving in the right direction. Household food waste has already decreased by an estimated 37,000 tonnes per year since 2009, a figure which compares with a 4.2% rise between 2012 and 2015 across the UK as a whole But do we look like we are on target for slashing it by 33% by 2025? “Our figures indicate,” said Iain Gulland of Zero Waste Scotland, “that we’re not going to hit that with the current way we’re going about food waste. We need to accelerate the activities that we’re doing and get more people engaged, more people thinking about it.”

How not to waste food

1. Know your labels. In the UK it has been estimated that around 2 million tonnes are thrown away due to “not being used in time”, and for a third of this food, date labelling is cited as a factor. However, a lot of people are throwing away food unnecessarily because they don’t know the difference between “use by" and "best before". "Use by" is a safety date, which suggests some health risk if eaten after. "Best before" is basically about quality. If you’re happy with its flavour and texture, then eat away.

2. Freeze it and save it. “The freezer,” says Iain Gulland of Zero Waste Scotland, “has a fantastic role to play in reducing food waste. It’s the pause button. When food is about to go off so often people throw it out – but freezing it stops all that. Basically you can freeze anything. And if you freeze stuff before the use before date then it’s fine.”

3. Use a shopping list. Less than half of people use a shopping list, yet, as a report by Sainsbury’s estimated, it could save people £145 a week. That same report also found that 4.4 million tonnes of food waste is avoidable and is caused by overbuying and lack of planning.

4. Take a fridge photo. Selina Juul, the Danish activist who has been behind Stop Wasting Food a campaign that has seen a 25% reduction in food waste in Denmark, says she regularly uses this “hack” of taking a mobile phone shot of the contents of her fridge before going out, as a handy reminder.

5. Ask for a doggy bag. Don’t be embarrassed. You’re now officially allowed to. Since Zero Waste Scotland ran a pilot project called Good To Go, some restaurants have pro-actively been offering doggy bags for food you don’t manage to eat. But even if they aren’t part of the scheme, it’s still worth asking, and you can even take along your own box. “We’re trying to make it more of a mainstream activity,” says Iain Gulland of Zero Waste Scotland. “If you’re out and you order too much you should think about taking it home.” Around 34% of the waste disposed of by Scottish restaurants is estimated to be "plate waste" – good food left by the customer at the end of the meal.

6. Take a Tupperware. Like the fold-up shopping bag, the storage box could soon become one of life’s everyday accessories, on your person for that moment when leftovers need scooping up. Jess Acton who runs Food Sharing Edinburgh, a volunteer organisation that redistributes food that would go to waste, notes that a lot of events and conferences provide an excess of food. “A lot of my volunteers would take Tupperware to events like conferences and then take the leftover food home with them.”

7. Cut the Christmas waste. It’s all, according to Selina Juul, about the planning, starting now. November is the time for eating up the contents of your freezer to make way for the Christmas goodies, getting your Christmas shopping list straight, and even creating a plan for what you're going to do with the leftovers.

8. Don’t over-cater. If you’ve got eight people coming for dinner, don’t cook for fifteen. “We’re always very afraid,” says Selina Juul, “that there’s not going to be enough food for our guests. If you are in that situation and you have cooked and bought too much food, do not serve everything at once. And remember to store and freeze the leftovers quickly so that they do not stay and sweat on the table for many hours.”

9. Love your leftovers. Learn new recipes to help you use them up, and plan them into your weekly menu. “You should think,” says Selina Juul, “of the leftovers in a new way, as new bonus food. Shop your fridge, instead of shopping in the shops.”

10. Use smaller plates. The bigger the plate, the bigger the portion, and the more likelihood that there will be some left there at the end of the meal.

Loaf Savers

ACROSS Scotland, a growing cohort of food activists is rescuing food from the jaws of bins. For instance, Food Sharing Edinburgh, last year saved two tonnes a month of perfectly good food, by collecting what was otherwise going to be binned by businesses. Bread, our nation's most wasted food, is the product the organisation’s volunteers most frequently rescue – then go on to redistribute to friends, community groups and third sector organisations. Acton observes, “Bread is quite an easy one to redistribute. Bakers tend to mostly only want to sell it on the day that it’s baked and it’s got a very long shelf life after that. It’s not a sensitive food group so you’re not at risk of food poisoning people. But there’s just so much of it and it’s hard to find enough people that really want it.”

Also active in rescuing food is The Real Junk Food Project, started in Leeds, which now has groups across the country. Donna McArdle was one of the founders of its Edinburgh community. As well as picking up food from regular suppliers, like Fruitilicious, a greengrocer in Morningside, they also, last year, collected from the Edinburgh Christmas market after it finished. “We rescued two tonnes of food,” she recalls. “A lot of bratwurst sausages. 200 kg of them.”

What both McArdle and Acton express is a concern over the sheer quantity of waste produced in the city, and a belief that they are only rescuing a drop in the ocean of what is out there. “We collect from twenty small businesses in Edinburgh,” says Acton. “And sometimes I think about how many more businesses there are out there. The quantities are almost unimaginable.”