Understanding behaviours driving food waste

Last year, be Waste Wise did a panel discussion with some key figures in the field of food waste  and looked at the behavioural drivers behind food waste that would need to be tackled in order to combat this waste. The article based on this panel discussion boiled identified six key issues:

1. The data: The stats around food waste are sadly lacking, which can make tackling an issue with so many unknowns a major challenge. Measuring waste both created and avoided is not easy and there is no one way to do so, making comparability an issue.

2. Lack of kitchen know how:  People spend less time preparing food than in the past, many ‘normal’ food skills have been lost, and we are no longer adept a making use of leftovers or kitchen scraps. Is it reasonable to tell people to invest more time in preparing their own food?

3. Visibility: Few people are confronted with their food waste in aggregate; not seeing it can easily translate to not seeing it as an issue.

4. Reduce packaging waste or food waste: Sometimes increased packaging can extend the life of food and prevent food waste, but it can also creates waste in other streams. This reveals larger scale issues in our food system: why do we need to make our fresh food last so much longer in the first place? Is our food system too large?

5.  Cheap food: Cheap food may be seen as a way to make calories accessible and affordable to more people, however, cheap food can contribute to food being undervalued and then wasted. However, few people would feel right saying that making food more expensive is the solution.

6. Policy approach: Voluntary agreements or landfill bans? Food waste can be tackled by different approaches, depending on political opinions. A big part of the debate is whether changes should be voluntary or enforced. In some places this may mean focusing on encouraging change in the private sector or educating the public as opposed to requiring source separation or banning organics from landfills.

Changing people’s behaviour to decrease food waste and to manage residual organic waste is not a simple task. If anything, the outcome of this panel discussion shows that food waste isn’t such a easy matter. One problem can have many potential solutions, all with different ramifications.

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