The solution to food waste starts with bread

One out of five slices of bread is wasted, mostly because we're too picky. Maybe focusing on bread can help us to value our food and start solving one of the world's dumbest problems.

bread waste cover

Frank Holleman | 08-04-2021

Main learning: Household bread waste is a major part of the food waste problem
Goal: Don’t be picky about stale bread
Impact: High 🌍🌎🌏🌍βšͺ️ (as part of all food waste actions)

We live on a planet where 800 million humans don’t have enough food. We also live on a planet where humans waste 1/3 of all the food they produce.

As if that’s not a big enough problem already, food waste also contributes to climate change. Project Drawdown has listed food waste as the third-best solution to reduce emissions. In one of their updated scenarios, it even comes out on number one.

So I want to know where you and I should focus our attention to be part of the solution.

Bread waste

A good place to start our search for solutions is to look at everything we waste. That is literally what some Dutch researchers have done. They opened the trash bags of 130 households and started sorting.

They weighed the various categories and found that the most wasted product – one-fifth of all waste – was bread.

sorting food waste and bread leftovers
Photo by Mileucentraal

Dutch people eat bread twice a day, but this isn’t just a problem in the Netherlands.

Wasted calories

Instead of analysing food waste by its weight, you can also look at the wasted calories. After all, 1 kg of bread can feed more people than 1 kg of apples. The result of that analysis is even worse: 53% of wasted calories come from cereals.

Cereals include more than just bread, but in the Netherlands, three-quarters of all cereal waste is bread.

Wasted greenhouse gases

And then there is a third way to look at wasted food: what’s the carbon footprint of each category? For example, wasting a bag of apples is heavier than a steak, but the steak has a higher environmental impact, making it all the more wasteful if it’s not eaten.

So, what’s the climate impact of wasted food?

Carbon footprint of avoidable household food waste

The first thing that sticks out is milk. The other big category is once again bread, in the form of wheat (it also includes pasta).

One reason for the high footprint of wheat is that it’s a crop where farmers apply loads of synthetic fertiliser, which causes a lot of greenhouse gases.

This shouldn’t discourage you from buying bread. It’s an amazing product with a very low impact per calorie and protein. That is if we actually eat it.

Bakeries vs. households: who wastes more bread?

To know what we can do about wasted bread we need to know where it happens. My first guess would be bakeries. Every evening, a bakery throws away perfectly good loaves of bread because the next morning everyone wants fresh bread.

This is indeed part of the problem. But I was surprised to find out that in Western countries, most of the bread is wasted by consumers. In the Netherlands, half of the bread waste happens in our own homes.

food waste of cereals at different stages in Europe

When I first saw this chart I couldn’t believe that people throw away so much bread at home. And then I remembered all the times I left the last piece in the bag and opened a fresh bread. I have to admit that I am part of the problem.

Sometimes food waste is unavoidable, but for bread that is not the case. A German study looked at the different reasons for throwing away food. The biggest reason for wasting bread was that people didn’t feel like eating it. It’s such a contrast to other regions like Subsaharan Africa, where hardly any cereals are wasted at home.

We are so rich, and our food has become so cheap, that we hardly give a second thought to throwing away perfectly good food. With this mindset, the average family in the Netherlands wastes around 500 euros a year!

But there is also hope. Because while the solution is not easy, it is very simple and powerful: value our bread and be less picky

At the core, we need to change our perspective of food. Food is one of the few things in life that really matter. Humans have known this for thousands of years. It’s only since a few decades that we have unlearned this. The only way to solve food waste is by remembering the true value of food.

How to reduce your bead waste

The most important part is being less picky. We’ve got to eat the ends of bread. If you dislike the crusts that much you should probably buy better bread.

The second part is about storage. The easiest way to keep bread is to put it in the freezer and only take out the slices you need (not the entire loaf at once, then it dries out).

One time I told a French girl that I freeze my bread and you wouldn’t believe the shock in her eyes. If you are the type of person who finds frozen bread a disgrace then the next best thing is to cut it yourself. Bread that is not cut into slices dries out less quickly.

The third part is about being creative when you have stale bread. There are a few options:

  • Toast it (while there are also CO2 emissions for heating the toaster, it’s better than throwing away the bread)
  • Tear it into pieces and put it in a soup
  • Crumble it on top of oven recipes

And if none of this has prevented your bread from getting mouldy, don’t throw away the entire loaf. You can safely cut away the mould and eat the rest.

Last but not least, if you want to become a food waste warrior you can buy your bread with Too Good to Go. They have a platform where shops can sell leftover food at a discount.

Conclusion

Bread is one of the products we waste most. It’s also the product where the biggest reason for waste is because we are being too picky.

Bread is one of the cornerstones of many people’s diets. That means that every day we have a chance to practice our attitude to food. Perhaps bread offers us the chance to start solving food waste and learn to value what really matters.

What do you think? I certainly look differently at a loaf of bread.

Recipes

This week’s recipes include two soups where you can either toast bread for on the side or add chunks of bread. There’s an oven recipe with bread crumbs and a sandwich recipe!

  • Moroccan soup
  • African peanut soup
  • Shepherd’s pie (with breadcrumbs)
  • Balsamic Ravioli