Anything big business can do…
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll have seen me mention that in my corporate career I practice ‘Lean’ and ‘Agile’ which are ways of working that increase efficiency and cut out waste in businesses. Toyota and Nike are great examples of companies that have used these to become market leaders and there are lots more.
What I’ve realised is that these ways of working are totally applicable to our everyday lives outside of work, and can make us happier, healthier, better off, and help us live sustainably.
Another great example of this is the way we shop. In a traditionally run business, big batches of products are produced and stored, then distributed to shops where they get stored again, all in the hope that someone buys them. So lots of products are made and kept in warehouses and stock rooms with no one actually buying them, which means all that money and energy has been wasted.
We tend to do the same thing. We’ll go to the shops and stock up on things we think we might use, then fill up our cupboards and fridges with stuff, which until we use it is wasted time, money and energy.
The ‘Lean thinking’ solution in business is called ‘one-piece flow’ or ‘just in time’. To adopt this, businesses set themselves up so that they only produce something when a customer wants and buys it, which saves them a tonne of money and effort.
So what’s the solution for us? Jack in the weekly shop
It’s just so tempting to buy everything from the supermarket in one go once a week because it seems like the most efficient way to do it, the trouble is, it just isn’t. As I mentioned in my post on driving, doing things in batches seems intuitively like the best way to go about things, but businesses have cottoned onto its flaws and are dropping producing things this way. This is why:
More mistakes are made and aren’t found out until the whole batch is done
It all has to be paid for and stored without knowing if it will be used
Maybe that already sounds familiar to how we typically shop, but if not I’ll try to paint a picture…
How many times have you forgotten something on your shopping list or got the wrong thing by mistake?
Also, does a week go by where you don’t practically keel over at the checkout from how much money you’ve spent?
Then you get home and after hours of exhaustive shopping and unpacking you have a fridge and cupboards full of food, which is great, until a while later when it starts going off and you have to chuck it because what you thought you might eat in a few days’ time you never actually fancy. On top of wasting what you bought, hands up if like me you end up getting takeaways or extra food instead which costs even more money?
This way of shopping was nagging at me for ages as each time I threw away food, and therefore also money, I got a little tug in my tummy from all the waste. For me it became so obvious that buying food in advance wasn’t working that it felt pretty natural to do it less and less.
I’ve found that as long as I’ve got a few staples I can use to knock up a meal if hungry (for me it’s rice, soy sauce and frozen veg for an easy stir fry) then everything else can be bought every couple of days as needed. Now I buy what I want when I want it and because the fridge isn’t rammed full I can see what I’ve got so plan anything going out of date into the next couple of meals. This means that now I rarely throw anything away.
If you’re not convinced that shopping in bulk is all that wasteful then you might be shocked to hear that 40% of food purchased for the home is thrown away. Not only that but when food ends up in landfill it doesn’t biodegrade naturally because the environment is compact and hot. This means the CO2 stored inside that would’ve been released back as CO2 with a net effect is released as methane instead, which is a 25 times more potent greenhouse gas. (Source Leyla Acaroglu, TED talks – How to rethink environmental folklore 11.02.14)
Shopping little and often is also much quicker than traipsing round the supermarket for hours trying to imagine or plan what you’ll be eating in 6 days’ time, and there’s next to no chance of forgetting anything or making mistakes. This means the whole experience is comparatively stress free, making the dread of the weekly shop a thing of the past!
Food for Thought
So to sum up, you can slash your food shopping bill and reduce food waste going to land fill by up to 40%!
The impact you can have by making this simple change is a really big deal – “Food loss and waste generates more than four times as much annual greenhouse gas emissions as aviation, and is comparable to emissions from road transport” (Source – World Resources Institute website).
As always with the practical guidance on this blog derived from Lean thinking – you don’t have to change your habits in one go. A central concept to all of this is breaking things down into manageable, un-scary steps, AKA in the corporate world but just as relevant in everyday life – ‘Continuous Improvement’.
In reality this means starting with one small step that seems really easy and build from there, for example just start out with making one small shop and see how you go. You’ll very soon be on a path to fast, sustainable changes in lifestyle that don’t make your brain explode, as well as make your life and your impact on this world notably better.
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Sources and extra reading: