Tomorrow (July 2nd) marks the start of Net Zero Week and you could be forgiven for wondering, but not daring to ask, what exactly net zero means.
In a nutshell, it’s the world’s answer to stopping the climate crisis. Waste prevention plays a major role, with the goal being to send nothing to landfill, incinerators or the ocean.
What better way to set about achieving this aim in ordinary, everyday life than by sharing ideas and tips on how to prevent waste?
There are so many excellent books, blogs and websites on this topic it can be difficult to know where to start. Fortunately, I’m addicted to tips; I never met a tip I didn’t like, except maybe the one about overcoming arachnophobia by getting matey with spiders.
A more eco-friendly home
My new favourite ‘tip-tionary’ is Green Living Made Easy by former Great British Bake Off winner turned best-selling author Nancy Birtwhistle. This book, and its predecessor Clean and Green: 101 Hints and Tips for a More Eco-Friendly Home, are packed with super simple ideas that make you wonder why you never thought of them yourself.
Nancy was inspired to find a new, greener way of living following a family discussion about climate change when she looked around the table at the innocent, gleeful faces of her young grandchildren and wondered what lay in store for them.
In the first chapter Nancy makes a good point about the difficulty of visualising the reality behind the many statistics that are thrown at us on green issues:
‘I read that a staggering 6.6m tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK every year. I find figures and statistics like this difficult to absorb, preferring to deal with my own food waste at a micro level and instead concentrating simply on my own fridge.’
I think most of us can identify with this sentiment. If the climate crisis is caused by the actions of individuals multiplied by millions, it makes sense that the answer, in part, also comes in the form of individual actions.
Nancy describes the way she used to dispose of waste as ‘robotic’. I can’t think of a better word to describe the unconscious way we create waste – until the moment we wake up to the consequences of our actions and realise we can do better, often with very little effort.
When you consider that these micro changes save you money too, it’s a no-brainer.
Here are 10 of Nancy’s simplest kitchen waste saving tips.
- 1. Thyme to save herbs
To double the life of shop-bought fresh herbs: dampen a double-thickness sheet of kitchen paper with cold water. Lay on it either parsley, coriander, dill, thyme, rosemary or mint after removing from the packet. Roll loosely so that all the sprigs are surrounded by a cold, damp blanket, then pop in an airtight box and keep in the fridge.
- 2. Freeze cheese please
To avoid cheese becoming hard and dry: buy a large slab of cheese – cut the block into 100g pieces. Put one block back in the original pack to use this week, then put the remaining pieces in a container in the freezer. Then for the next few weeks you have cheese that can be grated or used once thawed in the fridge for an hour or so.
- 3. Take stock of veggies
The best way to accumulate sufficient veggie bits for a stock is to keep a large plastic box or bag in the freezer and pop into it the ends of celery, parsley stalks, trimmings from onions, carrots, parsnips, pea pods, leeks and any other tasty veg. Once you have a large box or bagful, place in a large pan and simmer for half an hour or in a slow cooker for several hours. Strain, keep in the fridge for five days or freeze to be used later as a base for casseroles, soups, pie fillings and stews.
- 4. Piece of cake
Use a roll of reusable baking parchment instead of new greaseproof paper every time you bake. Use the bases of your favourite cake tins as a template, then cut the reusable parchment to size. Wash between uses.
- 5. Bag-tastic
The plastic liners in cereal boxes can be used to separate almost anything and make a good alternative to cling film. If you unpeel the seams of the bag this can then be used for pastry rolling. They also make good bread bags and freezer bags, sandwich wraps and for using in lunch boxes and picnics.
- 6. Don’t shell out on eggs
Many baking recipes call for only egg yolk or egg whites, leaving leftovers of both. Egg whites freeze beautifully (for up to a year) and thaw in a bowl at room temperature in an hour or so.
Egg yolks can be frozen but need a light sprinkle of salt or sugar to prevent them going rubbery. Nancy rarely freezes yolks, instead making a quick lemon curd using the yolks, sugar, butter, lemon juice and zest. Stir on a low heat for several minutes until the mix slowly thickens. Store in a clean jar in the fridge.
- 7. Scrap happy
Packs of bacon can lead to waste if a couple of rashers are left in the packet to dry up and go off before you know it. Instead, keep a small box of cooked scraps in the freezer. Cook the random rashes until crispy. Break them up into small pieces and pop them in a box to save in the freezer. Use these scraps as a pizza topping, stirred into pasta or sprinkled over salads.
- 8. Spice of life
Nancy buys ginger or lemongrass only once or twice a year, keeping them in a plastic box in the freezer. She breaks ginger root into chunks and grates both the skin and flesh from frozen, then puts the unused root back into the box for next time.
She also freezes chillies and uses them from frozen. With lemongrass – trim the root ends and leaves, then freeze and slice from frozen to use.
- 9. The besto pesto
Did you know that nettles have more vitamins and nutrients than many other green veggies? The sting is destroyed by blanching. Wear rubber gloves to handle them. Bring a pan of water to the boil, then add the leaves. Have a bowl of cold water at the ready. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds then use tongs to remove them and plunge into cold water to halt the cooking process. Drain the leaves, dry on a clean cotton towel and squeeze as much water out as you can. Whizz in a blender with parmesan, garlic, nuts, lemon juice, salt, pepper, olive oil. Freeze in an ice cube tray.
It’s a good idea to also freeze leftover shop-bought pesto in an ice cube tray, since it needs to be used within five days of opening.
- 10. Chit chat
Save egg boxes for potato chitting (encouraging them to sprout). The cardboard moulds keep potatoes upright, the soft material doesn’t damage the shoots and the open design offers plenty of light.
Nancy says: ‘I understand where I have gone wrong over the past 50 years, but so few of us knew the impact we were having on our precious planet, its resources, wildlife, weather systems etc. There is no time to waste, so whatever your life is right now – one change, any change, will make a difference.’
So true. There’s no point crying over spilt milk or hard cheese. We can’t change what we did in the past but we can change what we do from today.
So let’s save the earth – one fridge at a time.