2-for-1… or none?

As a country, are we getting bulkier? And for once, this is not in reference to the rising obesity epidemic. Today, we’re talking grocery shopping in bulk, convenience and of course – food waste.

A modern approach to grocery shopping frequently involves the purchase of food items in bulk. More shoppers are joining wholesale clubs where the grocery carts and the receipts seem to be getting larger every day.

Why are so drawn to these big stores and seemingly “bigger deals”?

Purchasing items in bulk and stocking food at home relates to both over-purchasing and the inability to manage food once it’s stocked at home (Porpino, Parente, & Wansink, 2015). Often items are purchased in such large quantities that they cannot be used up before going bad. Furthermore, shopping at wholesale clubs and purchasing bulk items seems to underpin over-preparing food – which then leads to more food waste (Porpino et al., 2015).

Evidence shows that this practice can be influenced by increased storage space (notably, larger fridge and freezers), convenience, and of course, interest in saving money (Schanes, Dobernig, & Gözet, 2018). Whatever the motivation, this practice can unfortunately contribute to household food waste.

Let’s take a closer look at how and why this behavior occurs.

  1. Convenience

Let us first consider the perceived convenience of shopping in bulk. In North America, we tend to reserve our grocery shopping to a once-weekly activity. This involves planning ahead and is typically viewed as a chore to be completed as efficiently as possible. When shopping for the next 7 days, we may overestimate how much food we actually need – resulting in the creation of our very own stockpile at home. When deciding how much of an item to purchase, we tend to use the “better safe than sorry” motto and purchase a little more than we might need “just in case”.

Although stockpiling food for unexpected occasions is seen to reduce stress and save time, it can result in over-purchasing products that will not be used up before going bad (Schanes et al., 2018).

  1. Cost savings

Over-purchasing and buying in bulk may also have an economic motivator. There exists a widely spread assumption that promotional offers such as “buy one, get one free” encourage consumers to purchase more than they had initially intended, and likely more than they actually need (Schanes et al., 2018).  Porpino et al. (2015) found that strategies typically used to save money – such as buying items in bulk – end up generating more food waste. This consequential food waste ultimately mitigates any savings incurred during the purchasing phase.

Furthermore, surveys have shown that consumers often attribute food waste to the large package sizes food products are sold in. These larger packages are not suitable for smaller households but the alternative – smaller packages – are comparatively high in price. One survey examining reasons for household food waste found that 20-25% of food waste was reportedly due to overly large package sizes and difficult-to-empty packaging (Schanes et al., 2018).

Finally, discounted food may carry a reduced perceived value. Because something was either purchased on sale or else as part of a bulk deal, it may be valued less by the consumer. This may result in it being wasted without as much concern as would be attributed to a more expensive item.

  1. Fear of Running Out

An additional motivator for this behavior may be a fear of running out of food. As discussed in a previous blog post, the good provider identity compels individuals to maintain a full fridge, freezer and pantry as well as to prepare extra servings for a dinner party to avoid not having enough food (Visschers, Wickli, & Siegrist, 2016). The fear of running out of food often results in over-purchasing as well as over-preparation and thus, increased food waste. However, there may be more to it than just that. Part of the reason why we stockpile food may also be due to an interest in maintaining an appearance of abundance. For some, a fear of food insecurity may run deep, resulting in keeping more food than necessary at home.

All of this begs the question: is none better than two-for-one when it comes to reducing food waste?

References

Porpino, G., Parente, J., & Wansink, B. (2015). Food waste paradox: Antecedents of food disposal in low income households. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(6), 619–629. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcs.12207

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

Visschers, V. H. M., Wickli, N., & Siegrist, M. (2016). Sorting out food waste behaviour: A survey on the motivators and barriers of self-reported amounts of food waste in households. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 45, 66–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2015.11.007

 

 

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Food scraps may get new life as clothing fibers

Here’s a new use for food scraps that didn’t quite make it onto the food waste reduction hierarchy: material for clothing.

Fast Company reports on how banana skins, pineapple leaves, and hemp stalks can be used for fibers to make clothing. While clothing made out of hemp has become more common in recent years, the idea of using hemp and other plant byproducts is more unusual.

The article features more information about an organization called Circular Systems, who was recently given a grant by the H&M Foundation to expand their operations. H&M has come under criticism in the past for being part of the “fast-fashion” phenomenon, but when a company of their magnitude makes a public commitment to more sustainable sourcing, or alternative material procurement, people are bound to take notice.

Circular systems is working on two types of technology: Agraloop, which converts food scraps into fiber, and Texloop, which recycles fabric scraps and used clothing into new fibers.

You can read more about Circular Systems’ work in the Fast Company article here.

Do Older Generations Waste Less Food?

Do Older Generations Waste Less Food?

To some, the answer to this question may seem obvious – yes! Of course!

Both anecdotal evidence as well as academic sources repeatedly show links between age and amount of food waste, favouring older populations as wasting less.

It is interesting to consider just why this occurs.

Historically, there hasn’t always been the abundance of choice that we enjoy today when it comes to food purchasing and consumption. Many from older generations grew up in times of food scarcity and rationing. Any, even minor, food waste in this context simply did not occur. Creative cooking techniques, the re-imagination of leftovers and a healthy appetite were all employed in the name of food waste mitigation and making the most of what was available.

Several qualitative studies have interviewed seniors about their feelings on food waste. Despite now living in times of relative food abundance, the important lessons regarding the value of food and the importance of avoiding food waste have become life-long habits. In some studies, participants reported feeling that wasting food was a sin and that witnessing food waste was anti-ethical to how they live (Cohenmansfield et al., 1995; Palacios-Ceña et al., 2013). Food waste for these individuals elicited feelings of regret, embarrassment and guilt (Graham-Rowe, Jessop, & Sparks, 2014). For them, food was clearly viewed as a privilege and not something not to be squandered.

Since our views on food are strongly influenced by our unique history and experiences, living through food insecurity had clearly left an impression on these individuals. Perhaps if the overwhelming notion in modern-day society was that food waste is anti-ethical, we wouldn’t be faced with a food waste problem of this scale. In fact, some sources argue that food waste is a contemporary issue that historically stems from a shift away from food scarcity to food abundance (Hebrok & Boks, 2017).

Of course, the solution to the food waste problem is certainly not widespread food scarcity. However, if we were to experience food rationing in our modern-day context, it is likely that our perceived value of food would increase and thus, food waste may be reduced.

In summary, my question is this: Can the growing food waste problem in North America at least partly be explained by perceived food abundance? And does this perception of abundance contribute to a reduced valuing of food, which subsequently results in food waste?

References:

Cohenmansfield, J., Werner, P., Weinfield, M., Braun, J., Kraft, G., Gerber, B., & Willens, S. (1995). Autonomy for Nursing-Home Residents – the Role of Regulations. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 13(3), 415–423. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.2370130309

Graham-Rowe, E., Jessop, D. C., & Sparks, P. (2014). Identifying motivations and barriers to minimising household food waste. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 84, 15–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2013.12.005

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

Palacios-Ceña, D., Losa-Iglesias, M. E., Cachón-Pérez, J. M., Gómez-Pérez, D., Gómez-Calero, C., & Fernández-de-las-Peñas, C. (2013). Is the mealtime experience in nursing homes understood? A qualitative study. Geriatrics and Gerontology International, 13(2), 482–489. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1447-0594.2012.00925.x

Photo retrieved from: https://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/f/food_waste.asp

Legislative interventions for food waste on the menu in the United States

A story in USA Today details how state governments in the United States are working to keep food out of landfills and onto consumers’ plates.

The article outlines three broad ways that legislation has been enacted in certain regions of the States to reduce the amount of organic waste that ends up in a landfill:

  1. Tax breaks: Tax breaks are a way to incentivize those who produce waste to donate more product that may have originally been shipped to landfill without a second thought. By providing a tax incentive to donors, the government hopes to redirect edible food to people. Additionally, tax incentives may cause business owners to more carefully keep track of and monitor the amount of food being ordered and wasted, to not over order and therefore waste in the future.
  2. Cosmetic standards/Arbitrary Best Before dates: Much food waste is caused cosmetic blemishes to food, which have no affect on the tastiness or nutritional value of said food product. Loosening legislative cosmetic standards to food could go a long way to reduce unnecessary waste.
  3. Bans: Organic bans are a legislative measure which prohibit disposing of organic material, such as food waste, into landfills. They are already in place in small geographies such as Massachusetts. Bans can be useful in areas that have both a high density in population and a low amount of landfill space. They are most effective when they can be monitored by local authorities and enforced closely, with perhaps the threat of fines for not complying with the ban. Otherwise, they  may not be effective as organic waste producers will find other places to ship their waste.

You can read more about further legislative and corporate efforts to reduce food waste here.

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

WRAP launches TRiFOCUL initiative to prevent food waste in London

WRAP has a new plan to reduce food waste in London. The UK charity has long been at the forefront of the fight against food waste by creating and implementing food waste reduction strategies that have been adopted by countless organizations and businesses. However, their new plan is innovative in its intention to combine food waste reduction, promote food recycling while encouraging healthy eating. TRiFOCUL, or Transforming City FOod hAbits for Life, is a £3.2  million project that will begin this September and will run for three years. WRAP hopes to prevent food waste and encourage healthy eating by influencing consumer behaviour and attitudes towards food preparation and purchasing. TRiFOCUL will use a variety of techniques to reach the public, including events, advertising and direct communication with residents.

City of London

Image via The Grocer

Londoners waste about 900 000 tonnes of food each year, about 540 000 tonnes of which is avoidable. With this new initiative, WRAP hopes to help Londoners save around £330 million worth of food yearly.

“We want to help Londoners consume food more sustainably, save money and get a bit healthier by doing it, and then use their food recycling services more effectively” said Antony Buchan, Head of Programme at Resource London. “TRiFOCAL will build on the work we’ve done with Recycle for London and the Little Wins Love Food Hate Waste campaign. It delivers an exciting new chapter in making the capital greener.”

Read more about the TRiFOCUL initiative on the WRAP website here.

 

 

 

Sustain Ontario launches household food waste toolkit

As the majority of Canada’s food waste occurs in the household, some of the most effective waste reduction strategies focus on the individual. In support of this idea, Sustain Ontario has released its second Food Waste Toolkit, a guide for municipalities and regional governments, food policy councils, NGOs and community groups. It contains information on existing initiatives as well as opportunities to reduce food waste at the household level.

ValueOfFoodWasted_graphic
Canadians waste more food at the household level than any other sector.
Image: Sustain Ontario.

The online toolkit seeks to help communities in maximizing food waste reduction, offers economic benefits to local economies and facilitates partnerships with actors across sectors.

Read more about the toolkit as well as Sustain Ontario’s other food waste initiatives here.