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A look at food waste - from inside a typical family home

The challenge: Understand food waste behaviours among young families to inform intervention strategies

Partner: OzHarvest and the NSW Environment Protection Authority

Year: 2018

Food waste is estimated to cost the Australian community over $20 billion a year, with more than five million tonnes of food ending up in landfill. This has major environmental impacts.

Australia’s leading food rescue organisation, OzHarvest, is working hard to address the issue, rescuing around 180 tonnes of food every week from 3,000 food donors, including supermarkets, restaurants and other food outlets.

While OzHarvest is doing a remarkable job, it wants to do more to prevent food waste, primarily by reducing food waste in the home.

What did we do?

To better understand what happens inside people’s homes, OzHarvest engaged BehaviourWorks to conduct a study on food waste behaviours among ‘young families’.

Knowing there is a big difference between what people say they do, and what they do in real life, the BehaviourWorks team used video-ethnography as a research method to get closer to food waste avoidance behaviours such as planning for shopping, storing and cooking food.

The in-depth qualitative study involved 13 young parents from across Australia and gave the team a unique insight into their daily lives by video-recording how they stored food from a big grocery shop and prepared an everyday meal.

What did we find?

In line with other food waste consumer research, the study highlighted that non-conscious factors are key barriers to changing food waste behaviours and practices.

People – and particularly time-poor young families – are largely driven by habits and routines and have little ‘mental capacity’ to change their behaviours.

Moreover, they are subject to the shopping and social context of ‘keeping the family happy’.

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Raising awareness and using informational approaches to address the issue is unlikely to be effective on their own, with the researchers providing OzHarvest with strategies to better support behaviour change and reduce household food waste.

This project was sponsored by the NSW Environment Protection Authority.