To bin or not to bin?

We’re a very wasteful country. Each year we amass something like 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink waste. Every day we throw away 1.3 million unopened yoghurt pots, 440,000 ready meals, 5,500 whole chickens, and 4.4 million apples. Every day! Most of the food we sling is edible, too. Spooked by stringent ‘best before’ – not ‘eat before’, mind – dates and salmonella scaremongering, we chuck food that, quite simply, doesn’t need chucking.

The implications are economical, ecological, social…it’s pretty terrifying. We’re given advice on how to avoid waste – steer clear of 2 for 1 offers when you don’t need them, weigh food more carefully when cooking, all that jazz. I’m quite a fan of cooking with leftovers, and indeed many things taste a good deal better the next day – curry, stew, soup…it’s very satisfying to ‘get them eaten’ as my dad says, rather joylessly.

But there are times when a judicious binning is the best way forward. Last week I had a small bowl of salsa verde left from a supper club. It sat in the fridge, lonely and hopeless, getting nudged further back as the days passed. Come Sunday night he was tucked behind cheeses and jars of chutney. I was cooking pasta. Penne with chilli, garlic and anchovies – a classic. Well, more classic with spaghetti probably, but penne was all we had. As I opened the fridge to get some parsley, I spotted him. This little bowl of salsa verde, verily an emerald amalgamation of 3 of the ingredients in the pasta – parsley, anchovy, and garlic. Like Archimedes from the bath, I sprung from the fridge and dumped the gobbet of green into my pasta.

It was vile. Confusing notes of mint, mustard and rosemary knocked the dish into a disfigured and ugly mess. It was a bowl of pasta in a hall of mirrors, as unattractive as a clumsy beekeeper. If only I’d binned it when I had the chance. Some things, of course, are worth saving, even when small and seemingly futile. Half a sausage can be a happy discovery at 1am, dunked in a pot of mustard and gobbled in one. But just because we’re told not to waste food, it doesn’t mean you should save every leftover salad leaf and espresso cupsworth of soup. Sometimes, as Nigel Slater said in some book or other, a discreet binning is the best solution.


Filed under Ramblings

8 responses to “To bin or not to bin?

  1. we have definitely become more concerned about best before dates… my mum continues to serve out of date produce from the fridge, tins, boxes… it’s become a bit of a joke but she always states that she hasn’t changed since she had kids 40 years ago and always served us out of date stuff (hating to throw anything away) and that we’re not dead yet, so she’s clearly not doing anything wrong!

  2. ah, but it wasn’t the salsa’s fault that you put it where it shouldn’t have been, is it?

    If you had just put that salsa on a plate with some nice charcuterie and maybe some goaty cheese, you would have been well away.

  3. I agree to a point, although I do try to find a use for most things as I hate food waste. So using something just to get it eaten will still be a meal.

    I was raised in the 60s when we really didn’t have the choices that we do now, so we tended to eat the same things each week. I do think that now we expect to be able to think.. “Oh, what do I fancy today?” get it, and eat it, rather than think “Oh what do I have available?” and eat that regardless of what we might have preferred.

  4. The current problem we have with food waste is two fold though. Obviously, as you point out, people are throwing away millions of tonnes of perfectly edible food because of confusion over sell-by/best-before dates, because they don’t know how to make the best of the food they buy, because of impulse/over shopping due to supermarket offers, squeamishness over leftovers, or just laziness. This all needs to be addressed, and there are a lot of agencies working to do so, but I think it is still important not to use your body as a bin.

    If something is past it’s best, there may be a cunning trick to revive it or still wring some use out, stock/soup generally being the last fall back, and I’m always cutting the mouldy bits of bread/cheese etc. to give it an extra life. But if something is truly past it there shouldn’t be any shame in throwing it out instead of unpalatably choking it down at the potential risk of your health.

    The problem here is what happens to the waste once it’s binned. Along side all the edible food waste we create is a fair amount of inedible waste in the form of vegetable peelings and so on. If this was all composted and put to good use instead of left to rot in a landfill there wouldn’t be such a issue. I find it so frustrating living in a non-residential street level flat, because although all the residential homes in my borough get a food caddy for organic waste we don’t, and without a garden or even a balcony there just isn’t room for us to compost ourselves. Which is a shame, because I know we’d be practically zero waste if we did.

    • Very well said Becca, on all counts. My dad is ruthless about getting things eaten for the hell of it, which is barking. It takes the pleasure out of food, and it’s just as wasteful eating something joylessly as it is chucking it.

      And you’re right re. compost. I started keeping a compost crock, but we’re on the second floor of a block of flats and, idealistic as you’d like to be, it just wasn’t practical. Flies were everywhere.

      Might petition for a communal compost area.

  5. phylliskirigin

    True, James, composting is good if it’s convenient for you, but if not, leave it in the fridge until it turns green and fuzzy. You know you can’t eat it then and tossing it will salve your guilt.


  6. nibbles

    Ooh yes, a tricky one. It’s hard to get a good look inside my fridge for all the little bowls of leftovers cluttering up the shelves. So I miss the sell by dates sailing by and end up chucking more food away than I would had I scraped the leftovers into what we call our peely bin (complete with resident fly swarm). I also get through reams of cling film which probably isn’t doing the environment much good either.

    If only we had some rough guidelines to help with this tricky dilemma of when to save and when to throw. Perhaps those commentators above who sound more confident in this area could oblige.

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