“Global Warming Fatigue”: Does the Environmental Rationale for Reducing Food Waste Resonate with Consumers?

When you think of food waste, do you immediately consider its environmental consequences?

Generally speaking, consumers do not often make the connection between wasted food and wasted natural resources. However, when we step back and consider the problem more carefully, the environmental rationale for reducing food waste becomes clearer.

Evidence shows that food waste is indirectly accompanied by a wide range of negative environmental impacts including soil erosion, deforestation, water scarcity and air pollution, to name a few. Furthermore, the actual processes involved in producing and transporting food from farm to fork generate a great deal of greenhouse gas emissions (Schanes, Dobernig, & Gözet, 2018). The total contributions of greenhouse gas emissions from food waste to global warming have been estimated to be almost equivalent to the output of global road transport emissions (FAO, 2011)!

Ultimately, the production and transportation of food is highly resource-intensive. Of course, this is done with good reason: everyone needs to eat.

However, if food is wasted by households at the end of the supply chain, all of the various agricultural inputs, energy and greenhouse gas emissions put into its production, processing, transportation, cooling and preparation are in vain. Unfortunately, 50% of total food waste is in fact generated at the household level. So how do we help households make the connection between food waste and negative environmental consequences? 

Research shows that adding to the already abundant messaging about climate change may not be entirely effective. Recently, warnings and dire messages about the environment are fairly omnipresent. So much so, that we may be suffering from what some sources refer to as “global warming fatigue,” whereby the sheer number of messages results in less meaningful communications (Hebrok & Boks, 2017).

Few would disagree that they could do a little bit more to help out the planet. Although many of us recognize the importance of reducing our carbon footprint and being kinder to the planet, perhaps being surrounded by constant warnings may result in an overall reduced impact.

This leaves us with several questions as food waste researchers. The most pressing perhaps to investigate is whether or not the environmental rationale for reducing food waste should be a focus of educational campaigns.

References

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2011). Food Wastage Footprint & Climate Change, (1), 1–4.

Hebrok, M., & Boks, C. (2017). Household food waste: Drivers and potential intervention points for design – An extensive review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 151, 380–392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.03.069

Schanes, K., Dobernig, K., & Gözet, B. (2018). Food waste matters – A systematic review of household food waste practices and their policy implications. Journal of Cleaner Production, 182, 978–991. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.02.030

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How and Why We Let our Leftovers “Mature”

Have you ever opened up your fridge, looking for something to eat, and noticed a forgotten container of mysterious leftovers? Curious as to what it might be, you take it out, hold it up to the light and decide whether or not it might still be edible. The jury’s out, it’s probably still tasty but the fact that you forgot about it and the contents are difficult to identify probably doesn’t make it very appetizing. Instead of either peeling back the Tupperware lid or else throwing it away, you simply place it back on the shelf in the fridge. It’s probably still fine to eat, so you don’t want to throw it away. For now though, it will remain on the shelf and you’ll find something else to eat.

A week later, you stumble upon the container again. Okay, NOW it’s definitely not safe to eat so you can throw it away more or less guilt-free.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many of us practice the habit known in the academic literature as the “Maturation Effect”. This is described as the practice of placing leftovers in the fridge in order to delay any uncomfortable feelings associated with wasting it immediately. Instead, the leftovers are left to “mature”, only to be thrown out a few days later when they are no longer good. By letting the food go bad, we successfully manipulate the food in a way that it suddenly becomes “OK” to throw out (Hebrok & Boks, 2017).

It is natural to avoid feelings of guilt and discomfort. We don’t waste food on purpose and organizing a household budget, balancing different taste preferences and accommodating meals to busy schedules can be challenging. In this case, it is interesting to observe the utilization of time as a way of ridding ourselves of responsibility.

What is the solution? Don’t be afraid of your leftovers. Use best practices when it comes to determining food safety but try and get creative with repurposing your leftovers into different dishes. Not only can it save time but it will also save room in the refrigerator and ultimately, reduce food waste.

References

Hebrok, M., & Boks, C. (2017). Household food waste: Drivers and potential intervention points for design – An extensive review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 151, 380–392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.03.069