To put the problem of food waste into bite-sized numbers, the next time you bring your groceries home, put one bag out of five straight into the bin, because that’s basically what we’re doing.

“Wasting food wastes everything,” says Annika Stott, Sustainability Strategist at OzHarvest. “Think about it in terms of labour, land, water, resources, money and love!”

The dollars we’re talking about are significant. RaboDirect’s 2017 Food & Farming Report found Aussies waste about 14 percent of their weekly grocery buy, adding up to a whopping $10 billion worth of food being binned every year.

The report also found that nine in 10 Australian households waste food every week, even though 53 percent consider themselves ethically conscious consumers, and 77 percent care about changing their waste habits.

“Food waste also costs the Australian economy over $20 billion every year, and that’s probably an understatement because we don’t have accurate data for this in Australia. We do know that most of our food waste happens from people’s homes,” adds Stott.

Who are the worst wasters?

While we’re all guilty of wasting food, Gen Y, households with annual incomes of more than $100,000, and families with children might want to examine their food wasting habits. People living in cities also generally waste more (16 percent) than their regional counterparts (10 percent).

Stott says the main reasons are forgotten fridge foods, buying too much, and not checking the fridge before shopping.

“People are also guided by labels, so they often throw something out that is perfectly edible. It’s important to understand the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ labels,” she says.

“Best before refers to quality. It’s perfectly safe to eat after this date. Use by refers to food safety – it may still be fine to eat after this date but look at the food and smell it. The best way to be sure is to freeze food before the use by date.”

Stott says the top five foods wasted are bread, bagged salad, potatoes, bananas, and meat.

A bowl of salad. Bags of salad are a major contribution to food waste.

“This can be avoided by simply freezing bread and only taking what you need each time. Stale bread can be turned into breadcrumbs and stored in the freezer,” she explains.

“Bananas can be peeled and frozen then used in smoothies or cakes; bagged salad can be turned into lettuce soup. You’ll find the recipe on the OzHarvest website and it’s delicious! Potatoes should be stored properly and used even when they don’t look their best, and meat is easily frozen.”

“Many people also take food for granted and see it as a disposable item. This is different from my grandparents’ attitude: they didn’t have almost instant access to everything so they used what they had with great care,” adds Stott.

This begs the question: when did food waste on such a big scale creep happen?

“I think the disconnect with our food started in the 1960s when advertising on television took off and started encouraging people to buy more. On top of that, food became easier to obtain, and we now have almost instant access to it via convenience stores and 7-day-a-week grocery shopping. This means we don’t have the same drive to use up what we have because there’s always more that is easily available,” explains Stott.

What you can do

Glenn Wealands, Head of Market Research at RaboBank Australia and New Zealand, says reducing the amount of food that gets wasted or reaches landfill has significant environmental, economic and social benefits.

“By making a few everyday changes, such as using leftovers for lunches throughout the week and checking the fridge before shopping, Aussies can reduce food waste and save money.”

These tips will get you started:

Buy what you need and eat what you buy Plan meals, write a shopping list and stick to it, and don’t buy too much. An emptier fridge is easier to manage.

Say no to bulk buy offers Supermarkets are designed to ‘encourage’ you to fill your trolley. Stick to your list and resist offers such as ‘buy 2 get 1 free’.

Audit fresh food use Keep a tally of what you regularly use. Count how many apples, bananas, loaves of bread, bottles of milk, or tubs of yoghurt you actually use during a typical week – then only buy that number when you shop.

Know what you regularly throw out Look for patterns. Do your impulse buys usually end up in the bin? Do you buy more than you need of a particular item? Are you always binning bananas or bread?

Connect food waste with dollars Every time you toss food out, write down how much it cost, then add it up at the end of the month. When a friend took this challenge she was horrified to discover she had binned almost $100 worth of food.

Grow lettuce and herbs They are ridiculously easy to grow and it means you can pick what you need when you need it, reducing food waste and saving money. No backyard? No worries – they love growing in pots.

Use up leftover food There are heaps of recipes and tips online for incorporating food that’s ‘nearly past it’. Fruit crumbles and stewed fruit mixes are great for using up fruit. Vegetables make great stocks. Have a ‘leftovers night’ once a week, turn dinner into lunch the next day, or look at leftovers as ingredients for another meal.

Lots more tips can be found on the OzHarvest website.

Global call to action

Food waste contributes to climate change! Food rotting in landfill releases methane and is responsible for 8 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions.

Action is happening around the world to address food waste. Stott says the UK Government has a collaborative agreement with key supply chain players who pledge to reduce food waste and set annual targets to aim for.

“This simple step is making enormous progress and they are well ahead of their targets every year.” Also, the French Government has made it illegal for businesses to waste food and they must donate leftovers to a food charity.

If this has made you think about the ethical choices that can be made concerning food, you can read more here.