Reducing Wasteful Household Behaviours
Over ⅓ of all food produced globally goes to waste, which has an estimated worth of $1 trillion. Nearly one billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK, and Europe. The problem with food waste is blatantly obvious, and attempts to hinder, change, or stop these wasteful processes has been met with (although excitement and mild adoption) not enough change to make any real impact. This is why there has been a shift in recent years. Originally, businesses would either adopt an eco-friendly perspective right at the start or integrate it into an already successful business plan, however more and more there has been greater importance placed at the individual and societal level. We can help businesses to change all we want but at the end of the day if the customer does not choose to embrace these principles then reducing wasteful behaviours will be more of an afterthought or a unique selling point, rather than being the ethical standard. The individual level is represented by each person within society and the ethics they acquire whilst growing up and subsequently what they choose to impose on either their children, friends, or family. Making sure individuals understand the benefits and drawbacks of a waste-free life will better equip them to convert to such a lifestyle if they want to. The societal level is how the government, culture, & the media represents a particular type of thought, opinion, group, or community through laws, opinions, marketing, public sentiment, and communications. In the past, vegans or those who contribute to a zero-waste outcome have had a bad rap, derogatorily nicknamed things like “soy boys”, “vegenazis” or “veg heads”. But as the movement has expanded these nicknames have faded, with 2% of the US population now identifying as vegan, sales of plant-based foods has increased by over 30% since 2017.
How do We Change?
Many organisations have attempted to sway public opinion via awareness-raising campaigns to try to get more people to think consciously about what they throw away at home. These campaigns have been successful at reaching many people in the past, however, they lack proper monitoring and effectiveness measures so no one really knows whether making people aware of the concept of zero-waste is actually going to incentivize them to change their whole diet or to add an extra step in disposing of waste. What people need to understand is the difference between making people aware of a concept and the actual steps by which to begin to implement the concept. There needs to be a balance between both aspects so potential converts understand the process by which they need to go through to change. Put simply, household food waste results from buying more food than is consumed. Yet, food is rarely discarded directly after shopping. Rather, it is discarded after performing a complex set of behaviours, each of which increases the likelihood to waste. Understanding these household management behaviours helps to identify what interventions should target. This section first discusses the behaviours linked to food waste and then focuses on its drivers.
Behaviours Leading to Food Waste
Planning: Food management starts before food has even entered the household, namely when people decide what to buy. Meal planning and using a shopping list are known to reduce food waste as people understand clearly what they have to buy to stick to their chosen diet, this is important to make it easy enough for someone to change without them easily slipping back into their old ways. However, there are also some indications that too much planning can lead to waste. For example, if you buy a certain amount of ingredients and by the end of the week you still have plenty left over, but the meal plan says you have to buy the same amount each week and you can’t find the certain number you need, this might result in you simply throwing out the excess, which would result in potentially more waste than when you started out this plan.
Shopping: How people behave in-store influences their food waste levels. People who tend to buy impulsive items, such as treats and games, tend to waste more. You would believe that people who are price-oriented and have an attraction to special offers would waste more as they may buy in bulk or buy things simply because they are on offer, however, research shows that they actually waste less than their impulsive counterparts.
Storing: Adequate storing practices are linked to reducing food waste as they help prolong the time food can be eaten safely.
Preparing: An often-reported cause for food waste is cooking too much unintentionally. This can be reduced by carefully measuring quantities before cooking. Also, it may be a good idea to shape up your cooking skills at an in-person or online culinary class, general cooking skills are needed to avoid accidents, such as burning the food, which can help in reducing food waste.
Consumption: Of course, saving and eating leftovers are behaviours that lead to less food waste. Leftovers can be placed back into storage and can subsequently be transformed into a new meal, eaten directly or discarded.
These behaviours are known to influence the level of food waste at home directly and indirectly. It is important to note that food is not always moved through all stages in a linear manner. It can also bypass some stages or be placed back into an earlier stage. For instance, ready-made meals can be bought and eaten directly and leftovers can be put back into storage. Ideally, people would improve the above behaviours as soon as they realise their impact on food waste reduction. Yet, in reality, people already know that these behaviours have the potential to reduce waste, but still don’t change their behaviours. This raises the question of whether people are not willing to perform these behaviours and/or whether they are unable to do so. We have to hope that continued spotlighting of the negatives of waste and the positives of waste reduction will lead to a more environmentally friendly society. As increasing rates of veganism, vegetarianism, pescetarianism, and consciously-minded foodies enter the market we can hope to see a gradual decline in this world of excess, and hopefully the propping up of something that is better for everyone.
This article is in association with SWAPABEE. An environmental app company that allows anyone to swap their items for others. Create an account and start swapping today at https://swapabee.co.uk/.