The average London household throws away hundreds of dollars worth of perfectly edible food every year, according to food waste expert Paul van der Werf.

It works out to about $600 a year—or about 12 per cent of what people buy, he said.

"We're not talking about banana peels and eggshells—we're talking about whole fruits and bread, meat and other fruits and vegetables and so on," said van der Werf, who is pursuing a PhD in geography at Western University and spent the fall analyzing Londoners' curbside trash. 

That money could pay for a round-trip flight from London, Ont. to London, UK, according to figures from WestJet. 

Better yet, it could be used to address London's food insecurity problem, said Van der Werf.

Paul van der Werf

Paul van der Werf spent part of the fall analyzing household garbage in London. (Submitted)

"There's a lot of wasted money sloshing around," he said, noting that this money could be reinvested in organizations that are working to end food insecurity. 

Van der Werf said many people could easily save about half of what they waste—about $300 a year—simply by being more careful at the grocery store. They could put that money towards an organization that provides food or meals for people in need, he said. 

Charity notwithstanding, van der Werf said it's also more efficient from a policy perspective to save food than it is to waste it. 

"If you can get people to not throw out the stuff that's worth money and keep that money, as opposed to spending that money, throwing it out and then having it enter a waste management system... I think there's some pretty good policy implications."

I want to minimize food waste. But how?

Reclaimed food

Paul van der Werf says a lot of the food we throw away is perfectly edible. He took this photo at an Amsterdam restaurant that serves "reclaimed" food items. (Submitted)

Van der Werf offered a few tips.

Do your grocery shopping on an as-needed basis

Many families plan one big grocery shopping trip per week but van der Werf said that shopping more frequently means that you're more likely to eat what you purchase.

"If you're able to split up your shopping over two to three times a week, so 'just in time' delivery of the food you need, you have greater chance that you're going to eat all of it because it stays fresh," he said. 

Stay alert at the grocery store

Grocery stores will try to tempt you into buying food—after all, that's their job, said van der Werf.

As a shopper, it's your job to be mindful about what you're actually going to eat. 

"My own family, it's just the two of us, but if I'm buying some bagged salad there might be temptation for me to buy the bigger volume because I think I should be eating more salad," he said.

"But buying the stuff doesn't make you healthier, you have to eat it. I end up potentially buying too much stuff and throwing it out. So it's about understanding the amount of food you need to buy."

Be realistic about how much you'll cook

At the grocery store, shoppers might have the best intentions of cooking every meal at home. But for many people, it's important to leave a bit of wiggle room for last-minute meals out, said van der Werf. 

"I might be planning to eat at home all week but all of a sudden I've got some meeting somewhere or somebody says 'Oh, let's go out for dinner.' So I do that and I'm eating somewhere else, but I have this food [at home]."

Rebel against the best before date

"'Best before,' as I like to say, doesn't mean 'worst after,'" said van der Werf. 

"People generally know when stuff's bad and not bad and it's not the date on the thing."

Van der Werf said that although it's important to maintain food safety, there are lots of items—like cereals and snacks—that can safely be eaten after the best before date on the package. 


Sounds of the Season is our month-long campaign in support of the London Food Bank. We're raising money throughout December, and hosting two live shows Dec. 1 and 12.

Join the conversation and follow along throughout Sounds of the Season in the month of December by tagging @cbclondon and using the hashtag #cbcsotsont.