10 tips for sustainable eating
Want to live more sustainability? Check out our tips on how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, from eco-friendly washing-up products to zero-waste apps and sustainable meat boxes
1. Join the OLIO app
Meet the local community app that connects neighbours so they can give away, rather than throw away, food waste.
There are times when you just can’t avoid making food waste – it might be a meal you intended to cook but then you ate elsewhere, an overload of something in a veg box, or a bulk buy that’s nearing its best before date. Dried food isn’t a problem to redeploy but fresh food is much harder. In our test kitchen we have produce, products and cooked food left over from recipe tests, so we use an app called OLIO to help manage this. OLIO is a local community app that connects neighbours so they can give away, rather than throw away, food waste. Many of us use it at home as well. The app has been going for five years so it’s had time to iron out any glitches and there’s a strict code about saying you’ll take something and then not turning up, so when people say they’ll come, they do. Since its launch, the app claims to have shared 40 million portions of food, which is the environmental impact equivalent of taking 120 million car miles off the road, saving six billion litres of water and preventing 36,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions. You can also give away non-food on OLIO and borrow or lend pieces of equipment. So whether it’s a portion of soup, some spare cake (if you’re an OLIOer near our office, you’ll be eating Christmas food in July) or a bag of rice, someone will want to eat what you can’t. olioex.com
2. Buy eco-friendly washing-up products
Ditch the plastic bottles and throw-away sponges, and try some greener alternatives.
It’s easy to forget that there’s waste generated by clearing up after a meal. Plastic bottles of washing-up liquid, sponges, cloths and kitchen paper all have a shelf life, some longer than others and a few of them ultra-disposable. You can make adjustments to what you buy and cut down on this considerably.
Companies such as Andrée Jardin have been making beautiful, affordable wooden brushes in Brittany for 60 years. A beechwood (beech is fast growing) washing-up brush with vegetable fibre bristles can be separated into metal (the hook and head attachment) for recycling and the handle and brush head are biodegradable. Eco Coconut is another option for brushes, made ethically in Sri Lanka from coconut fibre, stainless steel wire and FSC-accredited timber for the handle. If you prefer a scourer, try a cactus or coconut fibre scourer from Eco Vibe.
Consider swapping your bottle of washing-up liquid for a bar of dish-washing soap. The soap is often multipurpose and can be used to clean your hob and sink, too, and most bars will save you more than one bottle of liquid.
3. Download the Sustained app
In a world where we’re actively encouraged to be kinder to the environment, apps such as Sustained are providing shoppers with the know-how.
It’s no longer just about where our food has come from but also how much energy it’s used to travel from supplier to buyer. Compatible with major supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Ocado, Sustained uses categories such as water scarcity, land use and damage to wildlife to help rate the environmental impact of a food’s production. Products are rated on a scale of A to G, with A ranked as the best with the least environmental impact. The app can either be used in store by scanning product barcodes as you shop to instantly bring up a score, or you can use the search function to look for products and find out what their environmental impact is before you buy. You can get an average sustainability rating for your entire food shop and search for alternative products that will improve your rating. Sustained hopes that by providing shoppers with more transparency on food production, people will be able to make more informed choices, which in turn will encourage big brands and food producers to evaluate their practices and make greater improvements. sustained.com
4. Swap beef for deer
How eating more deer meat can help to prevent food waste.
During the past 18 months the number of deer in the UK rose because of the drop in demand from restaurants closed in lockdowns. Overpopulation of any species is rarely a good thing and rising deer numbers can lead to lack of food for them, as well as the destruction of woodland and habitats where other species live. Deer have no natural predator so, if we don’t eat them, they would have to be culled and become food waste.
An oversupply is also an opportunity – wild venison is lean, nutritious and sustainable, and as a nation we don’t yet eat much of it (try our venison recipes here). Deer Box venison is harvested with lead-free shot, hung for seven to 10 days and prepared with full traceability. The breed of deer and cuts vary according to season, and the meat is sent out frozen. In 2021, 10% of all the venison Deer Box produces goes to The Country Food Trust Charity, which distributes venison-based meals to charities.
5. Order no/low-waste takeaways
Delivery companies and restaurants are putting lots of thought into trying to eliminate waste. Waste is generated all the way along the food journey, from growing to serving or delivering, so it’s no mean feat to tackle every part of the chain. Here’s how two companies have done it.
DabbaDrop, a takeaway service sending out set meals using a subscription pre-order model, is tightly controlled around all aspects of sustainability. Pre-orders means ingredients can be ordered in the correct amounts, making minimal kitchen waste. The meals are then delivered by push bike, e-bikes or electric refrigerated vans. The meals are delivered in reusable stacked stainless-steel tiffin boxes (called dabbas), with any sides packed into compostable paper bags or pots, so everything is free of single-use plastic. Used dabba tins are swapped each delivery with new ones. Currently London-based.
Jikoni is a London restaurant with deliveries under its Comfort & Joy brand. It uses 100% home-compostable packaging with zero plastic for delivery, it works with a high number of sustainable producers, and its waste partner is First Mile. First Mile is building an electric waste collection fleet and is zero-to-landfill, with all non-recyclable business waste sent to generate green energy. Jikoni also collaborates with suppliers to reduce packaging arriving at the restaurant and, in June this year, it became the UK’s first independent restaurant to go carbon-neutral.
6. Buy sustainable wine
We asked Stephen and Jeany Cronk of Mirabeau for their tips on buying French wine.
Look out for wineries that talk about what their efforts are for the environment – in France there is the Haute Valeur Environnementale Label (HVE) that is getting traction, as well as organic certifications such as Ecocert and AB (Agriculture Biologique), and biodynamic wines are labelled Demeter and Biodyvin.
Where to buy
Supermarkets are starting to offer great choice in these categories, especially organic wines, and there are a growing number of online wine merchants promoting inspiring winemakers. Some of our favourites are Little Wine Co, Pull the Cork and Wanderlust. Waitrose and Ocado have set up a B-Corp virtual shopping aisle and are adding more wines to this. Certified B-Corps are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.
What to buy
In looking to make more sustainable choices when buying wine, try bag-in-box and cans. Both options offer brands more sustainable and cost-effective solutions with a lower carbon footprint, and they are becoming increasingly popular.
7. Buy mixed sized eggs
Chickens don’t lay uniformly sized eggs – for example, younger birds lay smaller eggs, so this means that farms don’t have a steady supply of eggs of all one size. Larger eggs have come to be a standard in many recipes but they don’t need to be – even for baking, a correct combined weight of eggs will do nicely (bear in mind standard egg weights are shell-on). An increasing number of egg producers such as Clarence Court sell boxes of mixed sized eggs, and if this is what you buy you may find that the smaller eggs have a much bigger and better yolk-to-white ratio. The other reason to buy small and medium eggs rather than just opting for a box of large is for the sake of the hens – their life is easier producing smaller eggs. Find more information at bhwt.org.uk.
8. Try an ethical meat box
Eating less meat is, of course, good for sustainability, but choosing carefully which products to buy is also key. The Ethical Butcher, founded by Farshad Kazemian and Glen Burrows, does all that research for you.
Glen explains: “Our goal is to set a gold standard for the production of food that is not only sustainable, but regenerative. Regenerative farming is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focusses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting biosequestration, increasing resilience to climate change and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil.”
Product to try: Slow-grown soy-free chicken. Roasted, it delivers rich-tasting flesh and crisp skin. We tried it pressure-cooked, too, and it gave us an intense broth. Pick from three sizes – the largest is a whopper. The smallest, £19.50, made four meals for three.
9. Plan ahead to avoid food waste at Christmas
Plan ahead and use our top tips to avoid throwing away your left-over festive food this year.
It’s easy to buy too much food at Christmas – calculating exactly how much you need involves an intricate knowledge of how much everyone eats, so it’s almost impossible to buy the right amount. But there are other ways you can reduce waste – try our handy tips:
- Check what everyone is eating; how many vegetarians and vegans are there? Think about adjusting some recipes, such as gravy, to suit everyone.
- Check your fridge and freezer space, and perhaps eat your way through some things the week before you do your shop.
- Check condiments – last year’s cranberry sauce might still be edible.
- Find some recipes that use up leftovers. Fritters are brilliant for using up root veg, roast potatoes can be refried and topped with harissa, and virtually anything can be made into a soup. Cheese and meats can stuff toasties and Christmas pudding can be stirred into ice cream. Check out our best Christmas leftover recipes here.
- Give anything you won’t eat away. Storecupboard essentials can go to food banks, and you can offer fresh food to people nearby using apps such as Olio.
- Re-gift edible gifts that you know you won’t eat – someone will!
10. Look out for compostable plastic
Discover how scientists are working to improve biodegradable packaging.
One of the trickiest parts of inventing a whole new type of plastic is persuading people that it isn't just like the old one, because it often looks and behaves in the same way. Biodegradable plastics, for example – put these in your recycling and they contaminate it, possibly lasting as long in the environment as ordinary plastic. Putting them in your home compost doesn't work either – they generally have to go into an industrial composter. There's also the problem of microplastics that are a by-product of the breaking down process – the plastic doesn't degrade entirely. Better labelling, preferably in large print, so it's easy to see, would be helpful for home sorting.
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have worked out a way to embed certain enzymes into some types of plastic, which then 'eat' it when exposed to heat or water, ultimately turning it into something more soil-friendly that doesn't produce microplastics. Solutions for disposal are becoming a priority, especially when it comes to plastic from food packaging (as food safety regulations demand its use in some cases). One day, hopefully, it can all go in the compost bin.