The modern food system is plague by waste from the farm to the table. A third of the food produced in the world each year (or 1.3 billion tonnes) ends up as trash. It’s like shopping for three groceries and then throwing one away when you go. Food waste is a major contributor to climate change. More than 5% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are cause by food waste. This doesn’t even include emissions from the actual production of the food, such as farming or transport.
The home is one of the most prolific sources of food waste. Australian households dispose of approximately 2.5 million tonnes each year. This amounts to approximately A$2,000-$2,500 per household in food value per year. There is good news. Today’s Australian-first research identified six of the most effective behaviours anyone can adopt to reduce food waste. These small, yet significant changes can make all the difference.
What Food We Did
Food waste in households is a complicate problem that can be influence by many factors. Some factors, like food type, packaging size, and safety standards are beyond the control of consumers. Some are small daily habits we can change such as not buying enough, forgetting to put food in your fridge, eating too many leftovers, and cooking too much.
We wanted to understand more about the complexity of household food waste. Our research was conduct in collaboration with Oz Harvest, Australia’s largest food rescue organization. We sought to identify and prioritize evidence-based measures to reduce food waste.
To reduce food waste, we reviewed Australian and international literature and conducted online workshops with 30 experts. These actions can be grouped as: shopping planning, shopping, storing food at your home, cooking, and eating.
This was a daunting number of behaviours to consider, and many people would not know where to begin. We then asked national and international experts on food waste to rank the behaviours according to their contribution in reducing food wasted. Additionally, we surveyed over 1,600 households in Australia. Participants were asked questions about each behaviour:
- The mental effort required to think and plan.
- How much it costs (financial expense) to adopt the behaviour
- Household fit refers to the effort required to adopt the behaviour based on the different food preferences and schedules of the household members.
- According to consumers, the biggest barrier to reducing food was mental effort.
What We Found
The three most effective ways to reduce food waste are the top behaviours that we identified. They are also very easy to implement qq online.
- Make a weekly dinner at home. It should include foods that is still in season.
- For foods that are not in use, designate a shelf in your fridge or pantry.
- To ensure that the correct amount of food is being cooked, it’s important to check with the family before you start cooking.
These actions are relatively simple, but we were surprised to find that few Australians had a shelf for use it up in their fridge or pantry or checked the number of people who will be eating before they cook a meal. Experts found that a weekly use it up meal is the best way to reduce foods waste. This is something many consumers already do at home. However, there are plenty of opportunities for others to try it.
Some consumers are more skilled players and have included the above behaviors in their daily routines at home. Our research revealed three additional behaviors that require slightly more effort for these consumers.
Do A Weekly Audit Of Food Waste And Establish Reduction Goals
- When shopping, make a list of all the items you want to buy and follow it.
- Plan your meals for the next three to four days.
- Our research revealed that there were many actions which, while valuable for many reasons, experts believed to be less effective in reducing foods waste. These actions were less likely to be taken up by consumers. These actions were:
- Preservation of perishable foods by saucing, pickling, or stewing for later uses
- Make a list of all foods leftovers (bones, peels) and keep them in a freezer for future use
- Buy foods at local specialty shops (such as butchers and greengrocers) instead of large supermarkets.
Doing Our Part
Today is the International Day of Awareness of Foods Loss and Waste by the United Nations. This day aims to raise awareness and encourage action to support a key goal of the global Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to reduce foods loss and to eliminate all forms of waste by 2030. Australia has already signed up for this goal and we hope that this research will help speed up those efforts.
Oz Harvest today launches its national Use-It-Up campaign to reduce foods waste. The campaign aims to provide information, resources, and tips for Australians. We also created a decision-making tool that will help policy makers identify appropriate foods waste behaviour based on our findings. Australia and the rest of the world can no longer throw away perfectly edible foods. But everyone has to play their part.