Trash Talk: Post 2 – Elements of Successful Interventions

This post was originally posted on FoodFocusGuelph and is part of a four part series on household food waste.
          Once the drivers of household food waste are better understood (see last week’s blog post for more on this), it is time to consider the design and implementation of interventions. Both practitioners and academics around the world have begun tackling this difficult task. From awareness-raising efforts to the installation of fridge camera technologies, researchers are creatively designing and testing methods to reduce household food waste.
          Before diving into the details of these various interventions, I would like to discuss some behaviour change elements identified in the literature that can contribute to an intervention’s overall success.
Motivations Vary
          First and foremost, it is important to keep in mind that motivations for managing household food waste can vary greatly. Some people are compelled by messages highlighting the economic costs of food waste, while others respond more strongly to messages highlighting the environmental repercussions. These motivators are shaped by several factors from age and income to values and priorities. Thus, when designing interventions it is important to recognize that no one message will work for everyone and that every message should address different motivators.
Convenience is King
          In order to be effective, suggested behaviour change has to be convenient for people to implement. This means providing the structural conditions required to facilitate the target behaviour. One example of this can be found in a study conducted by Bernstad (2014) where two interventions were designed to encourage food waste source separation rates. The first was an informational campaign aimed at increasing participants’ knowledge of source separation. The second intervention was the installation of a food waste container in participants’ homes. The results are perhaps somewhat unsurprising, the informational campaign had no effect on the target behaviour, but providing better equipment significantly increased source separation of food waste. This emphasizes both the importance of convenience as well as the fact that it takes more than information alone to facilitate behaviour change. Which brings us to our next point….
Information Alone is not Enough
          In a systematic review of consumer food waste reduction and prevention interventions, Stöckli, Niklaus, & Dorn (2018) concluded that informational interventions alone are ineffective at changing consumer behaviour. Given the practices that cause food waste are deeply intertwined in the routines and habits of everyday life, they are not easily influenced by only providing best-practice information.
          However, informational campaigns can be successful when they address a specific behaviour not yet being performed, or else when paired with other intervention types. For example, strategies that are designed to support related prevention practices, rather than only the waste itself, can be more successful at fostering behaviour change. Additionally, for information campaigns to be more successful, Stöckli, Niklaus, & Dorn (2018) suggest the target behaviour must be strongly supported by related social norms. This is a challenge in the case of food waste as social norms can be at odds. Although research suggests that many feel guilty about food waste, there also exists a general normalization of waste in North America. Until all related social norms shift towards viewing food waste as being unacceptable, informational campaigns on their own may have limited success.
Reality Check
          The literature on food waste suggests that people are not aware of how much food they actually waste. Therefore, it is important to gently confront people with the reality of their food practices. Certainly, we all aspire to do better and social-desirability bias can lead us to exaggerate desired behaviour. However, facing the reality of our behaviour is an important first step to change. Along these lines, interventions should seek to address any denial of responsibility for the food waste problem.
Avoid Shame and Blame
          That being said, food waste in an emotionally-complex issue. Thus, it is important to provide feedback to participants without the use of shame and blame. Given food waste is often the result of competing values, interventions should shift away from messages with a moralistic stance that induce guilt. We must respect that no one actually intends to waste food. Rather, it is often the result of various behaviours and moments of consumption occurring before food actually becomes waste.
Behaviour Change is Complex
          In some ways, the stars must align to facilitate behaviour change of any kind. There are many elements to consider – skills, knowledge, facilitating conditions, attitude shifts, etc. In order to better understand this process, the Theory of Planned Behaviour is often used to explain food waste behaviour. This model identifies a gap between intention and action. This suggests that although people intend to reduce their food waste, their actions do not always follow suit. Based on this concept, interventions targeting only intention to reduce food waste will have a limited effect on behaviour. However, interventions that provide support for this intention-behaviour gap will have an increased likelihood of success.
          Bridging this gap can be difficult and to some extent, interventions must encourage change, without actually changing much. Along these lines, Hebrok and Boks (2017) have suggested the following;
“A successful design intervention will contribute to nudge people to reduce their food waste, perhaps without them having to change their attitude, be educated or raise their effort greatly.”
Intervention Types
          Current interventions have been building off some of these concepts. As a result, there are four primary categories of interventions designed to reduce consumer food waste;
  1. Technology that helps people plan their food purchases and consumption while keeping an overview of food they have at home.
  2. Packaging and storing solutions that extend product shelf-life.
  3. Information and awareness campaigns.
  4. Systemic change to the food system through the development and implementation of policy.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog post where I’ll discuss some specific interventions in more detail!
References

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