The five real reasons we're wasting food - from anoraks to social media stars

Women of the Year Awards 2014 - London

We have become more conscious of waste in recent years. We're better at recycling, and conserving energy, and selling on old technology when we upgrade rather than chucking it out. But there's one area where we're lagging massively behind: we're useless at cutting food waste.

When asked why they waste food, people cannot give a good reason for it. They feel highly confident that they know what they are doing in the supermarket and the kitchen, and say they have all the skills they need, and yet they are chucking out hundreds of pounds worth of food every year.

Whatever reason you think you're wasting food. There are actually five real reasons why you're throwing good money away.

1. Because planning is for nerds
Making a shopping list is the kind of tragic thing that couples with matching anoraks and no social life get up to. A study by Sainsbury's found that 70% of people don't think it would save them money anyway - because they already know what to buy. However, those who do write a list save £145 a year on food. You don't have to tell anyone you make a list - just do it.

2. Because you wouldn't catch Kim Kardashian making a meal of leftovers
The Sainsbury's study found that we have very few high profile role models when it comes to food waste. Instead our role models are the kinds of people who would throw meals out because they have inexplicably taken against them. But the role models are there if you look hard enough. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has written an entire cook book on the subject of leftovers, and Jack Monroe (pictured) has made cooking on a bootstrap from a necessity into a career.

3. Because we prize spontaneity
Nobody is suggesting that your meal plan, and shopping list become the destroyers of your social life. Sometimes you will go out instead. The point is to make a plan for the food you're not eating - rather than just let it fester in the fridge. This should be a no-brainer, because 95% of people say they're confident about freezing food, so make sure that when you get home after a spontaneous night out and a late-night kebab, you pop the chicken in the freezer for next week.

4. Because we don't see the waste
Food is spoiled when we bin it, so we no longer assign a value to it. It means we don't realise that we're throwing money away. In fact, the average family throws away £700 worth of food.

5. Because we don't care
The Sainsbury's study showed that when we have messages drummed into us, we eventually give in. Three quarters (74%) of us now actively turn lights off when we leave a room to save money and over half (55%) admit to turning down the heating. A third (32%) have even changed energy suppliers to keep the household bills down. The energy efficiency badgering is finally bearing fruit.

Collectively though, these changes would save £305 a year, less than half of the £700 spent on wasted food by a typical family each year, so it pays to be ahead of the curve, to make yourself aware of food waste, become a secret list-maker and freezer user, follow Jack Monroe on Instagram, and save a small fortune.

It's hard to know whether a campaign by a supermarket is going to make the difference, but Sainsbury's is giving it a go. This study is part of a year-long push to get people to waste less food, and as part of that campaign this weekend it will be giving away one million free fridge thermometers to help people keep their food fresher for longer, cutting waste and saving money.

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10 easy ways to stop waste
Look through your direct debits and ask yourself whether you are really getting value from all of them. Are you reading your magazine subscriptions? Are you attending clubs? Are you going to the gym? In many cases we have let these roll over in a vague hope that at some point they'll be useful to us again. But unless they're useful to you today, you need to ditch them.
Likewise, look through your cupboards, fridge and freezer and really think about what you buy versus what you eat. Ask yourself whether there are certain things you buy every time you shop that you appear to be stockpiling, or fresh foods that you buy out of habit that end up going mouldy more often than not.
This is particularly vital for car and home insurance. If you automatically renew instead of shopping around, you could be wasting £300 a year or more, so make a note in your diary when your renewal is due, and a week beforehand set aside some time to find the best deal.
The same goes for any service you sign up to. Many will automatically tick the auto-renewal box when you first sign up - so it's worth checking your accounts to see if you have accidentally pledged to buy the same products again next year.
We waste a small fortune by doing things at the last minute, in a hurry, or missing the deadline. Take travel, for example, if you know you are travelling in a few weeks' time you can buy your ticket far more cheaply today. Likewise, if you are ordering a present or something you need for an event, make the time to shop in advance and opt for standard delivery rather than paying for a rush job. And make a point of dealing within anything with a penalty for lateness at least a few days before the deadline expires.
Most of us shop in a state of semi-consciousness, rushing down the aisles and taking things off the shelf out of habit, without really noticing what we're buying. It's no wonder we come home with armfuls of things we don't need.
Shopping needs to be done consciously and purposely. You need to start with a list, and view each item carefully. If you tend to buy a certain brand, have you at least tried the supermarket's own brand to see if you like it as much? If you tend to buy the own-brand, have you tried the 'value' brand?  Switching your brain on can save you as much as 30% on your shopping bill
You might be skeptical if someone tried to tell you that your heart starts pounding at the sight of discounted toilet rolls or a BOGOF deal on tins of beans, but actually it does. Your heart rate will increase fractionally and your blood pressure will rise slightly, as your instincts tell you this is a good thing which will help you do your hunting and gathering more effectively and feed your family for less.
In order to avoid making mistakes, we need to think carefully about every deal instead of acting on our instincts. Is this something you were going to buy anyway? Is the discounted version cheaper than the one you normally buy? Is it a multibuy that's going to last long enough for you to use it? It's always worth bearing in mind that it's only a good deal if you were actually going to buy the product at full price anyway.

Even the most organised people tend to think about supermarket shopping once a week - just before they go. They might think about their likely meals, look at what they have in the fridge, and make a list of the additional things they need. This is all very well, but assuming you do this on Saturdays, you also need to make a date to check the fridge on Wednesday too.

On Wednesday there's still a chance to prioritise those things which are going out of date, or freeze the things you're not going to get to. By Saturday they will have turned to mush in the vegetable drawer.

This is something we've all heard from organisations trying to persuade us to go green, and somewhere in the back of our minds we know we're being wasteful. It can be easy to get into the habit of turning things off by remote control and leaving the red light flashing. However, when you hear that this little habit costs the average household £80 a year, it begs the question as to whether it's really so hard to turn it off properly.

We sometimes forget we live in a free market economy, and instead we stick with the companies and services we have always used. In some cases this is a very sensible idea - because we know we are going to a trusted hairdresser who always does a good job, or a dentist who is very reliable.

However, sometimes we find ourselves sticking with a company just because we have been a customer for so long - even if they have let us down in the past.

There's no logical reason for this loyalty, and it's often costing us money. So divorce the things we stick with for good reasons from the things we think we're stuck with, and vote with your feet.

There are some things we do because they are convenient, which we get a lot out of. If there's one night a week when you don't get home until 8pm and you're too tired to cook, it would be daft not to have something easy in the house to throw in a pan or the oven. No-one is suggesting you should sacrifice the conveniences you rely on to make your life work.

However, there are all sorts of 'conveniences' you may have fallen into because you think they make a far bigger difference to your life than they do. Try an experiment. If you usually buy cheese slices or grated cheese, bags of salad, carrot in sticks or sliced 'stir fry' ingredients in a bag, try buying them in a more traditional format for one week. If chopping, slicing or grating sends you over the edge, by all means go back to what you were buying before. If not, you could end up saving £100 a year.

All of us have an area in life where we know we could be less wasteful if only we understood a bit more about it. If you want to make cheaper overseas calls, stream movies for less, make calls for free, or track down a cheaper holiday, there are clever ways of doing it all. In an ideal world we could all become experts at it all. In the real world your circle of friends and acquaintances is going to be home to someone who's an expert in each field. What's even better is these experts will enjoy sharing the benefit of their knowledge, so make them a cup of tea and let them solve your problems
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