Simple Living Series - The hierarchy of food waste

25 January 2010
Last week we started talking about food waste and how to prevent it.  Of course it starts in the planning stage, before you even buy your food; if you can get that right, you'll be half way there.  Once food is in the home it must be stored correctly then served when it's at its peak - both in flavour and nutrition.  Storing food will be our subject tomorrow, today we're focusing on stopping the waste.

Our garden last year with compost piles in the background.

When you buy anything you are responsible for it and if you're living frugally you want to get the full value of it.  If you buy a dog you must make sure it stays healthy and doesn't bark day and night upsetting the neighbours, your car needs to be kept in good mechanical condition and only those licensed to drive can operate it.  Everything you buy comes with its own set of responsibilities - food is no exception.  When you bring it home you must store it so that it doesn't deteriorate before you have a chance to eat it, and if there is food that will not be eaten by the family, it should be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way - that is your responsibility.  Throwing food in the bin to be taken to the rubbish tip or putting it in the garbage disposal system isn't a solution.  You're passing your responsibility on to someone else.  If you believe that living more simply involves personal responsibility and independence, this is an area that you'll need to focus on.

We deal with food scraps and waste according to the value it returns to us.  On the top of that hierarchy are the chickens - they turn scraps into food again so they're at the top of the chain.  The chooks get plate leftovers, day old bread (I bake almost every day because we like fresh bread), leftover salad, tops of tomatoes, fruit and vegetables peels.  Along with the fresh greens they're fed from the garden and the grain we buy for them, they use that food to lay eggs for us and therefore we get the most value from food waste by giving it to the chickens.

We love our dog so even though there is no returned value except for the look on her face, Alice gets left over pieces of cake, soft biscuits and all the pieces of meaty fat or gristle I trim off meat before cooking.

 We have our worm farm set up on an old bathtub in the bushhouse.

The worms are the next level in the hierarchy.  They get whatever food no one else wants.  I put it through the food processor so it's in tiny pieces.  They don't need much feeding so their leftover feasts are an occasional thing, definitely not daily.

A different time in last year's garden with the compost pile and a heap of grass clipping beside it  - waiting for all the additions that will make good compost.

Potato and onion peels are put in the closed compost bin to slowly decompose.  If left in the open compost, they take too long.  Egg shells are left to dry, then pulverised and added to the chook food as a calcium supplement.  Tea leaves or tea bags go into the general compost, coffee grounds around acid loving plants, like blueberries.  Pineapple tops can be planted - in a semi-tropical or tropical climate they'll fruit in their second year.  Everything else goes into the general compost.

Of course all this is dependant on having those systems and animals in your backyard.  I wonder how people dispose of food waste when they live in an apartment  or flat.  What do you do if you live in a house with no backyard, or a backyard but no chickens, dogs or worms?  Of course there is the Bokashi compost system, but I'd be very interested in knowing other means of efficient and environmentally friendly food waste disposal.  Please leave a comment if you're doing something clever or different.

I promised the dog food recipe today and I think it fits in nicely here because it can help you get good use from those vegetables that are going a bit soft.  It also cuts down on all those tins too.

This is taken from my post on dog food here.

  • 1 kg beef mince - if you go to a butcher you'll be able to get a lower grade and cheaper mince. Our butcher is now charging $4/kilo.
  • 1½ cups raw brown or white rice
  • 1 cup raw barley OR lentils
  • 1 cup raw pasta
  • 2 cups chopped vegetables - it can be whatever you have on hand but NOT ONIONS or LEEKS.
  • 1 spoonful of Vegemite or peanut butter (optional)
  • Water
Place all the above ingredients into a big stockpot. Cover with water and stir to break up the mince. Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes. When it's finished cooking, top up the stockpot to the rim with water and leave to cool.

When it's cold, place into portion sized plastic containers and freeze until you need them.We make this once a week. It feeds our two dogs for seven days. The dogs love it and it's got no preservatives or artifical flavourings in it. It costs around $7 a week.

They also have a scoop of Omega 3 dog biscuits in the morning.  Alice weighs around 22 kgs and she gets two cups of this food per day.

  • 2 cups water mixed with 2 tablespoons Vegemite OR two cups beef or chicken stock. This can be homemade or from stock powder.
  • 1 cup bread or plain/all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups wholemeal or rye flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats or instant oats
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
These can be made in the bread machine.  The post about making  dog biscuits is here.


    1. You talk about what people do with their scraps if they don't have the systems set up that you have and I must say one of my biggest quandries since our dear little dog Poppy died a few months ago is what to do with the meat scraps, off cuts and bones that she loved so much. Our cats will eat little bits and pieces but I find that I am having to wrap them up and pop them in the garbage bin. Terrible waste.

    2. This is THE most articulate article about how to "recycle" food waste. I found it interesting how you put it into a hierarchy. I can understand the chickens come at the top. However, the rest is basically distributed for compost. However, you gave specific examples of what goes where.

      I have tried worm farming. And definitely did not do very well at it. I have managed to kill off two sets of worms. Sigh. I am not sure I will pursue this one again. I have had good luck with my compost pile.

    3. Hi Rhonda,
      I agree with what you say about responsibility. I agree it is our responsibility what ends up in landfill, not something to forget about once the wheelie bin hits the curb.
      We live in a townhouse, and don't have a system for food scraps, so I would like to find out what others do too.
      One thing that I do do, is freeze vegetable scraps and make stock from them. They still end up in the bin, but they get a second life as stock first. It makes practically free stock too.

    4. I make the doggy stew ,well a version of it, up particularly in winter in the slow cooker. But I have had trouble keeping hungry husband from taking spoonfuls of it out of the pot when he comes home from work.
      I don't know if this says the dog stew recipe is great or my usual cooking isn't so great. Last batch I had to go out so I put a post stick on top of the lid DOG FOOD.

      PS Gave the recipe to my neighbour and her hubbie pinched it also. Are the men around here all animals?

    5. I am so enjoying the food waste series as well as the kitchen sink series. Your blog always has such great information. Thank you for sharing your gift with the rest of the world.

      ~Mrs. M

    6. I read your blog daily, but don't comment often. This time, however, I have a question. Is your dog food recipe suitable for cats or does anyone know of a homemade cat food recipe? This would be something I would want to make for my indoor cats.

      We don't have chickens or worms to feed, but we do try to compost as much as we can and we feed table scraps, meat scraps and day old bread to our outdoor cats along with some commercial cat food.

    7. We are doing many of the same things as you and Hanno minus the worm bin. We also re-purpose non-food items before we consider wither to put it in the recycling bin or the plain old trash.(It takes us 6 weeks to fill our trash can.: ) )We are finding as we do more and more for ourselves we have less and less waste of any kind. Less in the landfill and more money in our pockets a double good thing.
      What I really wanted to say is I love Alice and her sweet face.

    8. Annie, this dog food is not suitable for cats. Cats are true carnivores and need more protein and fat than dogs.

      If you go here, there is a booklet of cat food recipes.,239030382,10604495s,00.htm

      I have not used any of these so be careful in your selection. Look for recipes with high meat or fish content.

    9. Hi Rhonda. Now that we have the chooks, worms and compost in place our general food waste is taken care of. I thought I might mention something about food waste where I feel it's OK to use the bin. On Friday night we had a gathering of 14 for Tony's birthday. It was a blisteringly hot night, I made sure all the food was refrigerated before I put it out, but then I lost track of time and the uneaten food was out for over an hour. There was a fair bit left over (people had brought a plate) so I just decided to throw it out. Salmonella perhaps for us, and I didn't want to risk the chooks well-being either.

      Pats to The Lovely Alice.

    10. Hi Rhonda. I just wanted to say I love your blog and I enjoy reading it. Question: Do I need to sterilize canning jars if I'm using them for storing grains and things in my pantry?

      We live in an apartment (part of an old house that has been split up). We don't have any backyard space, but we do have a small deck. I've been thinking about worm composting.

      About your dog, along with her sweet face, people with dogs also live longer, have less anxiety and depression, get more exercise, and are generally healthier and happier. Think how valuable that is.

      Can I ask, why do you cook your dog's meat? I know nutrition for pets is a heated topic, but I just wanted to mention that cooking the meat is not necessary and removes valuable nutrients. I'm sure you have your reasons for the diet you have chosen, I just wanted to include my opinion.

    11. My suggestion for Jenny about what to do with meat scraps and bits is to make meat stock. I save the meat bits here at Acorn Cottage in a freezer container till I have enough to fill the slow cooker, then make broth. The broth gets frozen and added to anything soup-ish. I find it a good way to get some extra value from my meat purchases, though the bones must be thrown away in the end, the skimmed fat can be mixed with birdseed or bread and fed to the wild birds...

      I now have a happy worm bin that lives in my kitchen, when I tried having an outdoor worm bin the worms died. (the first summer it got too hot (104F) and the second batch froze in the wintertime. If I didn't tell you no one would ever know that I have worms, their "house" is made from two layered plastic boxes, set on a stand from wood strips to make it countertop height. Very easy (I had the worms under the kitchen sink before) and convenient for the things that my hens won't like.

    12. Rhonda, your dog food is basically what I feed my poochies, but I don't cook it. I process up the vegies to a mince and then stir in some barley(or whatever), a little garlic and add in some doggy oils and supplements. Then each day I spoon out some vegie mix and some fresh meat for them.

      Gotta get me some chooks!!

    13. We do much the same, though a bit more may go to our compost pile. The chickens and our dog get quite a bit of it, though.

      Just wanted to say we've been making your dog food recipe for several months now, and our dog LOVES it! She is excited about mealtime again. One tweak I've done is to substitute a cup of millet or oats for the pasta, as we try to keep her diet wheat-free. And I've subbed the meat also when other items were available free or less expensively. For instance, we were the recipients of quite a large amount of leftover ham and turkey from dh's Christmas party. What we didn't eat within a few days we chopped finely with the food processor and cooked into this doggie stew recipe. Thanks again!

    14. Hi Rhonda, we compost most of our vegetable/egg waste at the moment, and now that we've confirmed that my 13 month old is NOT allergic to eggs, we hope to get chooks this Autumn. Yay!!

      We're also coffee addicts in this house, and my husband (the barista) grinds his own beans. The used grounds currently also go into the compost, but I'm interested in the concept of 'acid-loving plants'. We don't grow blueberries, but do you know of other plants that might benefit from coffee grounds?

    15. As I don't have a compost or chickens,
      I have to say I don't worry too much about scraps, so long as that is all they are. i.e not leftovers. I ease my conscience by knowing that the scraps breakdown in landfill and by trying to make sure the scraps are as little as possible. Its packaging of foods that bothers me a lot more - which is why I go natural as much as possible.

      Some things, like Rhonda mentioned can be used even in a unit in pot plants, coffee grounds, dried and used tea leaves/bags and also eggshells ground up to give calcium. Of course you can only have so many pot plants.

      Perhaps those in units (or without composts/chickens) might be able to discover if someone they know has a compost heap that might be willing to take scraps on a weekly basis.

      Meanwhile I guess I should go outside and build the compost bin I've been planning for the last week. Thanks Rhonda for the motivation!

    16. Hi Rhonda,

      You mention the Bokashi system for recycling food waste. Can I give it a personal, wholeheartedly thumbs-up recommendation?

      It's best to have two buckets going at once, and they take up very little room. You could fit them on the average small unit balcony (we live in a duplex) with no problems. At a pinch, you could keep them inside, but the Bokashi juice is very...pungent, so outside is better.

      Almost anything - except bones - can go in them, including things worms can't handle (citrus peel, meat scraps, leftover cooked food, etc). You can even put in small amounts of paper (e.g. tissues, for those who aren't back on hankies!). The waste ferments and produces a liquid - very smelly - that is wonderful for fertilising plants, when diluted.

      In an apartment, I think the dilemma would be burying the solid waste, when you finish milking out the "juice". We don't have access to soil ourselves, unfortunately, so we walk our waste down to my mum's place and bury it deep down in her garden. Since doing this, her plants have just exploded: her rocket is almost a shrub now!

      Otherwise you could dig it into a nature strip, parkland, etc. and the plants will thank you for it!

      I can't be enthusiastic enough about the Bokashi - although we still need to implement some of your food waste tips (e.g. meal planning, etc.) to minimise uneaten or off food, it is good to know that we can recycle anything that does slip - even without access to actual soil.


    17. Gonna have to try your dog food recipe. Our dog is having eating issues and I think she would really bennefit from it. She is not wanting to eat her store bought food. Although we buy a good brand, she seems to not wanting to eat it. But ofcourse she loves human food! So I am going to try it this week. Can you tell me about how much a 75 pound dog should have a day.

    18. Rhonda, this is off topic for this post, though not for your mission statement as I understand it, and I thought you might not have seen it:

      A family sold their big home and gave half the money to charity and bought a smaller home and found it benefited them as a family very much...I think you will like reading this.

    19. Rhonda, we have chooks, worms and a pug called Heidi and we do pretty much what you do with your scraps.
      I made up some of your dogfood recipe today and Heidi loves it.

    20. As a shop we have additional food waste and have created relationships with homesteaders with chickens and pigs. We provide them with the scraps and leftovers and in return we get the occassional piece of meat.
      As a shop we recycle egg cartons, give old batteries back to the supplier and provide cardboard boxes to those people in the village who need thme when selling stuff on ebay.I get a sheep fleece per year and in return knit a nice hat.
      We use the principle that our output is someone elses input you just need to look for the items.

    21. i am really inspired by the dog food recipe :) we're vegetarians, but i think i could bring myself to make this up for our sky. could you tell me how much a portion is please? i don't want to under- or overfeed her.
      also i want to thank you so much for investing your time and energy into your wonderful blog. it truly is informative and inspiring :) have a lovely day. x

    22. I use bokashi because I can put protein in it, I also find that I get less vermin that way. I put everything through the thermomix (food processor) first and when the bin is full, bury it in whichever vegie bed is resting. It makes the most wonderful soil. Much better than when I used traditional methods.

    23. Thank you for such an interesting post it has certainly caused me to reconsider how I deal with my food waste.I was also interested to see your pile of lawn clippings next to the compost. I am never sure of the best way to use lawn clippings and wondered what you do with them.

    24. We have had a worm bin for about 2 years now. We keep it inside so that the worms are nice and happy and it is easy to feed them once a week. We live in a town house with a very small yard. We just started using a bokashi system in December and since the ground is frozen, we plan on burying our bokashi in a big plastic tub and we hope that will help break it down.

    25. I have made your homemade dog biscuits, which my dog loved. I cannot get beef mince. The manager of our local supermarket said it is against the law to even give it away here - they could lose their liscence. Bummer. Any suggestions what to substitute with? Also, I'm curious about what the worm farm is used for. Could you talk about that sometime? Thanks. I really look forward to reading your posts every day and am learning so much from you.


    26. Hi Rhonda, We handle our food scraps very much the same as you do. Anything that can be eaten by the chickens and sheep, go to them - and they love it! Other food scraps get composted. Unfortunately, not much goes to my dog as he is very large and has a very weak stomach - not a good combination! (I will give your doggy food a try, though.) It takes us over 2 weeks to fill up the small trash can under the sink.

      This summer, we lived in the Boston area so my daughter could go to a ballet program. I was SHOCKED at how much trash was produced, and it was mainly food scraps because there was no place to compost, and no animals to eat it. We started keeping some scraps in the fridge and bringing it home on weekends for our animals, but that didn't come close to taking care of everything. I'm wondering what other people do under those circumstances since we'll be back in Boston this summer? Too bad there's not some sort of municipal compost facility.

    27. Thanks for this great dialogue! I live in a small apartment, and I have a great backyard garden and a compost bin, so veggie scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc go in there. Meat scraps still pose a problem. I now eat meat only once a week or less (I eat only pastured meat, which is more expensive, hence I eat less of it!). The only bones and scraps I usually come up with are chicken bones, I always make chicken stock and freeze it, but the bones finally end up in the garbage. I haven't figured out a better solution so far. Growing up in the country my dad would take any meat scraps and bones for a walk and leave them on a stump or log at least a quarter mile from the house, for the ravens, coyotes, and other animals to eat. That would be a recipe for lots of raccoon friends in the city, unfortunately.

    28. Wow - what an eye-opener. I live in a 3rd story apartment, and all my food scraps go in the trash. I have been working to reduce the amount of trash I accumulate (replacing disposables with reusables, recycling, things like that). But I guess I haven't thought about it further than that. Thanks for the great post and the ideas!

      Also - I'd love to know more about all this worm farm business, too!

    29. I am in Texas and I do most of the things you explain. We do try to live a simple quite life. I am not allowed to have chickens (I would love to) as we live in the city limits of our town. However we do have a garden, compost, and 3 rescue dogs.
      My question to you is 'what is mince' when I asked a butcher he looked at me like I had 3 heads or something.
      My dog food bill is very high, we actually have 5 dogs, (3 are rescue) so anything I can do to save a few dollars on their food cost is appreciated. I would gladly make their dog food once a week. Roxie

    30. we have a compost toilet here, so all of that goes to the compost, added to the grass, leaves, teabags, and vegetable peels. We'll have to let it compost for about one year, before adding it to the garden.

    31. Your dog food recipe is amazing. My dear little dog Mimo has suffered terribly with an intestinal problem for years. Thousands in vet bills and ongoing worries. She's become a very picky eater becuase of it. She wolfed down her first bowl of this, and after our walk today she was desperate to get her next bowl full. She loves it, her body seems to love it, and I can't say how happy that makes me. If only she liked the doggie biscuits as much - lucky our pig likes them instead. Thanks for sharing.

    32. I've found it easier to add raw meat to the cooked grains, pasta and vegies. I think raw meat for dogs is more natural (and I really don't like the smell of cooking meat). Jenni

      1. Rhonda talks about this in her very next post. Follow your own path. Thanks Rhonda I really appreciate your approach.


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