Throwing away a few lettuce leaves here or some crinkled-up blueberries there might seem like nothing to worry about.
But when Clare Axworthy, 42, kept track of her family’s typical food waste for two weeks, she was shocked by the results.
Here, Clare – a freelance copywriter who lives with her husband Jon, 49, and their three children Eddie, 17, Sammy, 12, and Annie, ten – reveals the daily diary she kept at their home near Plymouth in Devon.
DAY 1 Saturday
Total waste: 1.13kg, 600ml
My first thought, sitting down to write a diary of our food waste, is how rarely I notice what actually goes in our bins. Getting everything cleared into the right containers for recycling, food and general waste can feel like enough of a challenge with three bundles of energy for children!
Clare Axworthy, 42, kept track of her family’s typical food waste for two weeks in a daily diary
I don’t think we’re particularly wasteful, though. Like most families, we try to make as much as possible from what we buy. And we shop frugally. Also, my husband Jon and I work from home, so we often mop up leftovers for lunch. On the other hand, I do have a tendency to cook big portions and the kids are all growing. So I’m fascinated to see how we get on.
At the end of day one, it’s already obvious that we have a problem at breakfast time. The children often don’t finish toast or cereal they’ve prepared, while I can be guilty of putting too much on their plates. Today two slices of French toast go in the bin.
Last night, we had chicken with potato skins and corn on the cob. Whenever I cook that dish, it never gets reheated the next day. So that’s in the bin too.
The kids were all at home today and were snacking through the morning, so they ate less for lunch. I don’t want to be one of those mums who’s so insistent on them cleaning their plates that they put on weight. I suppose that means accepting the risk that more goes in the bin. Of course, less snacking is the obvious answer – but as every parent knows, that’s easier said than done.
DAY 2 SUNDAY
Total waste: 2.44kg, 600ml
Oh dear, today’s waste was mountainous! Keeping track of every crumb is making me feel guilty and we’re only two days in.
I do find it hard to cook small portions for Sunday lunch. I’d hate every plate to be empty because I’d feel like I hadn’t cooked enough. But the children don’t like reheated roast potatoes, so they were binned. One small victory today though, was leftover pork shoulder – shredded and frozen for pulled pork sandwiches at some point. I wanted to make soup with the leftover cabbage, carrots and broccoli stems, but ran out of time.
DAY 3 MONDAY
Total waste: 1.15kg, 380ml
School lunches are a bone of contention in our house. The children take fruit every day, but it sits in their lunchboxes getting bashed and bruised and is inedible by the time they arrive home.
Today, an apple and an orange went straight into the bin. Eddie ate his banana at home but Annie wanted a fresh apple.
Throwing away a few lettuce leaves here or some crinkled-up blueberries there might seem like nothing to worry about (stock image)
When I’ve threatened them with school dinners, they tell me not to bother with the fruit. But I know the lunch ladies monitor their lunchboxes. It’s a conundrum for Jon and me. Maybe we need to bite the bullet and leave the fruit in the bowl for when they get home.
… and here’s everything they binned
16½ slices of bread
½ hot cross bun
730ml orange juice
11 rashers of bacon (195g)
6 potato skins
5 drumsticks (400g)
6 corn on the cob
1½ pain au chocolat
1 fruit corner
5 stuffing balls (250g)
130g tenderstem broccoli
100g Honey Nut Cheerios
1 loaf sourdough (600g)
1½ chicken salad wraps
6 bread rolls (300g)
1 iceberg lettuce
1 garlic baguette
300ml apple juice
40g pop chips
1 Actimel yogurt drink
½ chicken rogan josh
½ garlic naan
½ can Coke Zero
380g sticky toffee pudding
400g tomato pasta
230ml pinot noir
100g orange jelly
1 Nak’d bar
1 ice cream cone
½ packet Pom-Bears
700g shepherd’s pie
1 tin baked beans
½ tin spaghetti hoops
25g everyday cheese
2 Jacob’s cream crackers
4 banana pancakes
¼ Cornish pasty
½ packet square crisps
1 cos lettuce
½ lemon drizzle loaf
¼ pepperoni pizza
3 red onions
4½ Activia yogurts
1 tin tomato soup
1 iced bun
¼ coffee cake
½ birthday cake
200g French stick
1 crepe with Nutella
500g Greek yogurt
4 chicken goujons
½ jacket potato 80g
2½ tea cakes
150ml sour cream
400g roast chicken
75g kettle chips
2 Gu lemon cheesecakes
200g Greek salad
DAY 4 TUESDAY
Total waste: 1.59kg, 330ml
Buried at the back of our American-style fridge, I find the leftovers of a chicken curry takeaway from last Thursday night. That’s five days ago and I don’t want any of us getting food poisoning. I meant to eat it but daren’t now – so with a heavy heart, I had to put the whole lot in the bin.
Half a chicken sandwich and half a ham sandwich came back in the school lunch boxes today. I often look up recipes that use leftovers and today I saw one for banana fritters. Perfect for the four brown bananas now sitting on our kitchen counter… but I didn’t have time. Will I make them tomorrow? Probably not, if I’m honest.
It makes me cross with myself, but there always seems to be something more pressing than cooking new dishes with odds and ends.
DAY 5 WEDNESDAY
Total waste: 0.62kg
Much, much better today. Other than throwing out some old lasagne that’s been in the fridge too long, the biggest offender in our food waste bin was bacon. Sammy had a bacon sandwich and I cooked extra to put in a chicken club sandwich for me… but never got round to making it.
It’s more and more obvious that time is my biggest enemy. I often have the right intentions when it comes to food, but ferrying three children to school and back and making packed lunches – not to mention working full time – eats away at the minutes and hours. If I’d thought about it sooner enough, for example, I could have frozen the lasagne a few days ago. It’s too late now.
DAY 6 THURSDAY
Total waste: 1.22kg, 150ml
More fruit left in lunchboxes. More breakfast in the bin. This morning an egg, half a bowl of Cheerios and one-and-a-half glasses of milk all went to waste – which feels galling now I’m paying such close attention to our waste.
Maybe I need to stand over the kids to make sure they don’t heap too much on their plates? Being stricter on portion sizes works in theory. But every mum knows it’s hard in practice when you’re rushing to get them out to school.
I took a bite of one of the lunchbox apple that arrived home, but it was mushy and bruised.
Later, Jon discovered some beans in the fridge that were more than a week old. He said he’d eat them, but I refused point blank. Despite his iron constitution, the beans had congealed and looked like an upset stomach waiting to happen. He grudgingly agreed.
DAY 7 FRIDAY
Total waste: 0.69kg
Now this is more like it, a really low waste day for us. The kids just devoured my pasta with home-made tomato sauce, so hardly any went in the bin.
The only sore point is the garlic bread. It’s the same story as usual – we fill up on pasta and forget the garlic bread after everyone’s had a slice. I hate throwing it away and stopped making it for a while, but then everyone requested it again.
It’s not the healthiest of foods, so next time I’ll make less. But today I decided I’d rather it went to waste than on our waists.
DAY 8 SATURDAY
Total waste: 0.43kg
Banana pancakes for breakfast are a Saturday treat, but in my haste today I made too many and four went in the bin. Ideally, I’d have made smoothies with the leftover strawberries, which we had on the side, but would have meant getting my whizzer out and more washing-up.
With a busy day ahead, that put me off.
The scraps from lunch and dinner aren’t worth saving to make another meal – although Annie was grumpy with me when she came looking for the remainder of her pasty, only to find I’d binned it.
I’ve made a mental note to wrap hers and put it in the fridge next time.
DAY 9 SUNDAY
Total waste: 1.43kg
Sunday is fridge-clear-out day in our house, which doesn’t bode well for the food waste bin.
Limp and squishy lettuce, onion and tomatoes all had to go. They were buried deep at the back of the vegetable drawer and I cringed as I scraped it all into the bin, knowing how much it was adding to my total for the fortnight.
We’re wasting far more than I expected and we’re only halfway through. The most obvious lesson from today is making more effort to remember what’s lurking at the back of the fridge.
Also, moving older veg to the front of the drawer regularly would help me use it up.
DAY 10 MONDAY
Total waste: 1.75kg
Despite starting the day with a clean and tidy fridge, I somehow threw away more than I did yesterday – melon, brie and half a tin of tomato soup. It’s alarming how it all mounts up. We’re buying too much at the supermarket, that much is clear. But I can’t help thinking the trick is keeping track of it all.
Each day something else seems to go off unexpectedly. This time, it was coffee cake baked by my mother-in-law. It was delicious while fresh and we managed to get through most of it. But the last bit has gone dry. I hope she’ll forgive us when she reads this!
DAY 11 TUESDAY
Total waste: 1.1kg, 50ml
I deliberately left a whole cabbage alone when I cleared the fridge on Sunday, vowing to do something with it. Two days later and it was still sitting there looking sorry for itself, so I’ve ended up throwing it.
Annie’s birthday was last week, and while a good portion of her cake was devoured, Eddie left the lid off the box and the remainder has gone stale.
After dinner, there is a smidgen of shepherd’s pie left over, which doesn’t seem worth saving or freezing. It’s not even enough for a meal for Annie. I like us to eat the same thing round the table as a family as often as we can, and saving the shepherd’s pie would have meant one of us being the odd one out.
DAY 12 WEDNESDAY
Total waste: 1.43kg
I usually eat porridge every morning but I bought yogurt for a change, thinking I’d have it with berries, melon and honey for a healthy breakfast. But, no, I haven’t had a spoonful. When I opened it, it was mouldy. So I had no choice but to throw it out. I’ll stick to porridge from now on. At least the oats can sit in the cupboard for months.
Nearly 20kg of food and more than two litres of milk, juice and wine were thrown away in just two weeks (stock image)
Banana, melon, blueberries and grapes all went in the bin today, too. I want us all to eat more fruit, but the amount we waste is ridiculous.
We left four chicken goujons at dinnertime, but they went into the bin before I could even think of saving them for a snack tomorrow.
DAY 13 THURSDAY
Total waste: 1.45kg, 130ml
OK, now the amount of fruit going to waste is really getting embarrassing. My bin looks like a fruit salad! Four more oranges today – and I was annoyed at the cherries. They’re my favourite and are quite expensive. I bought them as a treat, but because I didn’t put them in the fruit drawer in the fridge (they were tucked away behind the wine shelf), I forgot about them.
We invested in our American-style fridge (hence the wine shelf) thinking that stocking up with big weekly shops would save time and help us eat healthily.
Now I wonder if it’s part of the problem. It stores so much that I can never see right to the back.
DAY 14 FRIDAY
Total waste: 1.07kg
Today didn’t seem too wasteful – until the evening. Four corn on the cobs went uneaten, along with two half-bags of crisps.
We’re always doing this. We pour out crisps as nibbles around 6pm on a Friday when the children return from their various clubs. But inevitably they’re left in a bowl, and by 11pm when I go to bed they’re starting to go stale, so I chuck them. I really must clip them in a bag when we sit down to dinner.
A bag of kale went in the bin, too. I bought it for last Sunday’s roast but it was too much with all the other vegetables. It was more grey than green today, so it had to go.
DAY 15 SATURDAY
Total waste: 1.45kg, 200ml
It’s my last day keeping a diary and I’m dreading the final tally for the fortnight. I bought cheesecakes last weekend as a treat. But they were still there today… and past their ‘Use by’ date. I’d been eyeing them up, but I try to eat healthily during the week and save treats for the weekends. What a shame.
Today’s saddest loss was the wine. I would never normally pour wine away, but I spilled some salad dressing in the bottle, spoiling the lot, so down the sink it went.
CLARE’S VERDICT: ‘We are staggered and ashamed’
I’m staggered and ashamed about how much we’re wasting as a family of five. Nearly 20kg of food and more than two litres of milk, juice and wine in just two weeks? And I thought we were pretty low on waste…
Our children are chronically bad at opening things like a big bag of crisps, eating some and then letting the rest go stale, or pouring themselves a whole glass of milk and drinking only half. But it’s also clear that despite my best intentions, I’m routinely buying and cooking too much, then throwing away dribs and drabs when I don’t think there’s enough to save.
Maybe if I could pop to the shops on a daily basis I’d waste less because I’d be buying food as I needed it.
But that takes time we simply don’t have.
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