How to reduce food waste & composting

Planning your meals and preparing a shopping list can help you save time and money and help to prevent food waste. Food planning can also help improve nutrition, reduce the stress of planning 'what's for dinner' and make your trip to the grocery store much quicker and easier.

Start with a food stocktake

Check your fridge, freezer and pantry cupboards regularly to take stock of the food you already have at home, before you head out to shop. This way you won't buy double-ups and end up throwing food away because you haven't used it and now it is past its 'best before' or 'use-by' date.

Write a meal plan

By planning meals, you can avoid impulse buys and know exactly what you need to purchase - saving money, time and excess food. Turn leftovers into tasty dishes.

Plan for portions

Portion planning can help reduce wasted food and ensure a varied, healthy and balanced diet.  Portion sizes vary between men and women and age groups. As a guide, the Australian Government's Eat for Health website recommends the following standard portion sizes for one person for one meal:

  • 75g of vegetables
  • 150g of fruit
  • 75g of cooked rice or pasta
  • 1 slice of bread
  • 65g of cooked lean red meat, 80g of cooked lean poultry or 100g of cooked fish
  • 150g of cooked beans or tofu
  • 30g of nuts
  • 1 cup of milk, 2 slices of cheese or 200g of yoghurt

Make a shopping list

To avoid buying excess food, not buy items you don't need and save money - write down the items you need with the quantities in a list.

  • check the 'best before' or 'use by' dates and only buy ingredients that you can use in time
  • avoid food shopping when you are feeling hungry - you'll buy less and save money
  • avoid impulse food purchases by doing your grocery shopping online with your shopping list
  • think before you buy 'two-for-one' specials - do you really need two? A deal is only good value if you can use the food
  • buying in bulk can be a good option as long as you have the right storage and can use all of the food before it spoils or perishes

Best before and use by dates

The 'use by' date is used for food that needs to be eaten by a certain date due to safety concerns. This is different to the 'best before' date which provides a guide on how long you can expect food to retain its 'quality' attributes including colour, taste and texture. Learn more about the guidelines used for food dates on the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website.

Get the best out of your fridge and freezer

  • Store perishable food and cooked foods in your fridge or freezer.
  • Check the temperature in your fridge is steady - between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius. If not, then check your door seals.

Safe fridge storage

  • Avoid overcrowding in your fridge - air must circulate around food to keep it cool.
  • Store fresh produce, raw meat and cooked foods separately to avoid cross contamination.
  • Avoid leaving food out of your fridge for more than 2 hours.

Use your crisper wisely

Foods behave differently. Generally, foods that 'rot' should be stored in low humidity while foods that 'wilt' should be stored in high humidity. If your crisper drawer has a manual humidity control function, adjust it to suit the type of food you are storing.

Visit Council's Environmental Sustainability web pages to find out more about minimising food waste.

Thinking of starting your own compost? Have some fun with it! Download our Party Planner's Guide to Composting(PDF, 4MB).

What to add to the compost

Greens (nitrogen products)
  • Fruit, Vegetable and food scraps (plate scrapings, meal leftovers, food prep off-cuts, cores & peels)
  • Expired use-by date or rotted food stuffs 
  • Tea bags/ leaves and coffee grounds (remove staple)
  • Dead flowers
  • Egg shells
  • Fresh lawn clippings and leaves
  • Manure from cows, horses, sheep, birds and chickens
Browns (carbon products)
  • Dried leaves and lawn clippings
  • End of season vegetable plants from the garden
  • Sticks, branches and palm fronds (10-20cm long, no more than 10mm thick)
  • Vacuum cleaner dust (wool carpets/rugs only)
  • Shredded paper, biodegradable packaging (bamboo, )
  • Saw dust 
  • Used potting mix and soil

What not to put in your compost

  • Meat 
  • Dairy products
  • Vegetable fats and oils
  • Diseased plants
  • Manure from carnivores (cats and dogs)
  • Magazines
  • Large branches
  • Plants or weeds that have been sprayed with pesticides
  • Treated timber
  • Weeds spread by runners or bulbs 
  • Plastic or general rubbish

How to compost

  • Find a partially shaded and sheltered, well drained area in your garden to build a compost.
  • Build layers of brown and green organic ingredients (follow the diagram below), each the depth of your hand, watering each as you stack.  
  • Keep the compost covered (use a lid or canvas) - this helps keep rodents and animals out plus moderates water content (rain).
  • Check regularly to keep moist but NOT dripping wet – this makes bad odours and slows breakdown.
  • Always cover food waste with a layer of Browns - helps keep flies from nesting.
  • Turn your compost layers to aerate.
  • Finished compost won’t produce heat, should smell earthy and be cool and crumbly to touch.
  • Add your compost to your gardens and pot plants for good soil health.
To speed up the process and completely decompose organic waste
  • Add air to increase the internal temperature – turn regularly or poke holes in the sides of a large garden pile, keep pile ‘fluffed up’. If you turn your compost every second day, you could produce compost in 4-6 weeks.
  • Keep it moist, aerated and in semi-shade so beneficial fungus, bacteria and insects will call your compost home – they are decomposing organisms and will help break down the ingredients.
  • Change the pH of the compost mix using ash (from your fire pit) or garden lime.
  • Keep the compost covered with a lid or canvas, to keep rodents and animals out and to prevent drying out.
Common compost issues
  • Smelly – compost should have a slightly sweet but not sickly smell. Add more Browns and turn more regularly.
  • Too wet – add more Browns to create air pockets, locate the compost pile in a well-drained area.
  • Slow to break down - add more Greens (manure, soil, fresh lawn clippings) or activating ingredients (comfrey solution). Turn more regularly, ensure it is moist.
  • Maggots or cockroaches - No meats or fats, cover each layer of food waste with Browns, turn regularly, cover maggots with garden lime.
  • Mice or rats - Excess breads or grains can attract them, ensure compost is moist, add a fine wire mesh under the bin, turn regularly, cover each layer of food waste with Browns.

Compost styles to suit you

  • Compost bin: works well for those with a backyard. Uses both food waste and garden waste. Also available as a moveable tumbler. 
  • Worm towers: Add nutrients to raised garden beds, in small areas or to particular plant roots in need. Uses small amount of food and garden waste to turn into compost. Choose PVC pipe or a bucket and drill holes around sides and over the base for worms to get in but not rodents. Bury the pipe/bucket in your garden and compost ingredients in layers. Seal with a lid to moderate water (rain) and keep moist. Wait for add or your own worms. 
  • Garden heap: only uses garden waste and is good for garden bed mulching. 
  • Trench compost: Dig a trench in your yard or garden bed to bury your food waste but keep it away from plant roots. 
  • Worm farm: Suitable for smaller spaces like a balcony or garage. One farm can consume the kitchen waste of a 2-3 person household. Uses food waste only and creates worm castings and liquid fertiliser. You can build your own with polystyrene boxes.  

How else can you use food waste?

  • Cook with leftovers
  • Diversify your pets' food - talk to your Vet for healthy and safe options

Other resources