Earth First

The Cost of Food Waste

Changing everyday choices we all make around food is central to tackling food waste, especially in developed countries. Finding messages and ideas that are realistic and stick with us, is a crucial part of solving the food waste problem. So, what is it that motivates and informs our buying and eating habits?

Benefits of Reducing Food Waste

A recent study, published in Environment & Behaviour, found that targeting the wallet might just be an answer to helping reduce household food waste, certainly for residents in London, Canada, where the research was conducted.1

The results of the study found that over the course of a week residents that were regularly sent the message “Reduce Food Waste, Save Money”, along with a pack helping them manage their spending, wasted 30% less food than a control group.

Previous research also backs up the idea of money serving as a motivator when it comes to food habits. A 2018 review of largely European research found that, “…personal concerns, such as saving money, elicit a stronger motivation to reduce food waste than environmental and social concerns.” 2

Just how much money is really wasted though? Are we talking small change or big bucks being tossed into the bin at the end of the week?

The Cost of Food Waste

According to estimates in a 2016 report, the cost of food waste in the EU in 2012 was 143 billion euros.3 An astonishing two-thirds of that total is associated with food waste from households (98 billion euros). In the average UK household for example, 13% of edible food and drink purchases are wasted, at a cost of €620 per year.4 Whether an extra €52 Euros in your pocket at the end of each week is a big deal to you or not though, is likely to depend on how well off you are.

Created by Andrea van der Berg

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some studies have found a positive correlation between income and food waste, with higher earners wasting more food.2 It’s not just a case of being able to afford the waste either, but about how we view and value food in the first place. When food comes so easily and cheaply, its apparent value is diminished, and we rarely conserve things we don’t value.

Relatively speaking, we are paying less and less for our food. Of the eight countries in the world that spend less than 10% of household income on food, four of these are in Europe.5

Created by Andrea van der Berg

Of course, the abundance of relatively cheap food in Europe is hardly the consumer’s fault – it is part of an issue far bigger than the average household: the result of the systems and market conditions in which food is provided. Is raising food costs the answer, to better reflect the true value of food and the cost of waste? Maybe, but it seems a bit upside down. Surely there are other ways to get people to care about waste.

Is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ enough to change habits?

If we look at the other motivators that came out of the 2018 review mentioned above, second behind financial motivation was the desire to do the ‘right’ thing - a sense that wasting food was just ‘wrong’ in some way.2 There are certainly many reasons to feel this way, whether they are related to environmental impacts of waste or global hunger. Often however, just a general sense of wasted utility seemed to be enough of a motivation, irrespective of the financial cost of waste.

In an ideal world, this sense of food waste just being ‘wrong’, or even socially unacceptable, would be ubiquitous, and waste would be frowned upon in the same way as someone lighting a cigarette in a public space would. Based on our wasteful habits, it seems we are still a way off such a world. Maybe this is because just don’t know how to reduce household waste (something to look at another time!).

Either way, it makes sense to utilise the full arsenal of communication and motivational tools at our disposal, and if the mantra, “Reduce Food Waste, Save Money' really has the potential to reduce household food waste by 30%, it is surely worth considering.1

What are your thoughts on food waste? Let us know in the comments below!

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