Food waste: beyond good ideas, what will people actually do?

Waste Management facility in North Brooklyn, New York, USA (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)

On an international scale, food waste is a big problem. “The largest contribution to food waste is from the consumption stage, where household food waste represents the largest share.” In a time of growing food insecurity even in so-called richer countries–due to war, the effects of climate change on agriculture, supply chain problems, and more–wasting a large percentage of the food that is produced magnifies and exacerbates the challenges of feeding people around the world.

While many ideas have been put forth and even put into action to try to curb food waste, human beings are fickle. The phenomenon is called the “vote-buy” gap or “claim-action” gap. “People claim or vote in one way (people vote in favor of better conditions for animals like cage-free) but act differently (when they shop in the grocery store, they don’t buy cage-free eggs). People may vote in favor of a food waste policy but hardly change their food waste behaviors after the policy is implemented, thus limiting the policy’s effectiveness. For example, people may support selling imperfect produce in retail stores, but they may not buy ugly produce when grocery shopping.”

The study below tries to get at “what people say they support” and how they will actually behave.

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*Fan, L., Ellison, B., & Wilson, N. L. W. (2022). What food waste solutions do people support? Journal of Cleaner Production, 330, 129907. [Cited by]

In the U.S., the estimated food waste at the household level is 32% of purchased food, translating to $240 billion in economic losses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency set the first-ever national food waste reduction goal of a 50-percent reduction by 2030. Under this policy environment, this study assesses public support for nine food waste solutions: changes in food packaging, changes in portion sizes, standardization of date labeling terms, selling imperfect produce in retail stores, making donations easier, using uneaten food to feed animals, implementing composting in communities, consumer education campaigns on food waste, and taxing food waste. An online survey was sent to a nationally representative sample of U.S. respondents that asked about support for and perception of the effectiveness of each food waste solution. This study finds that making donations easier and the standardization of date labels were the most supported food waste solutions. Different food waste solutions appealed to different demographics of people based on their personal food waste experiences. Results are similar for the perception of the effectiveness of each food waste solution. Nevertheless, the percentage of respondents that considered each food waste solution to be effective was almost always less than the share of respondents who supported the solution. Thus, it is important to be cautious about this divergence when assessing public opinion on potential solutions, which may be enacted as policies designed to mitigate food waste.”

For more information, see —

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