Publications and Reports

Spaghetti Soup – the messy problem of food waste

Waste not, want not

A third of the worlds’ food – over a billion tonnes – is wasted each year.  Spoiled, lost or thrown away uneaten, this wasted food contributes to climate change and land degradation as well as planetary and human health issues. It’s also a real threat to sustainable food systems globally.

To develop a framework for action, BWA researcher, Mark Boulet recently published a paper (co-authored by two Monash colleagues) in the international journal Appetite looking at 10 years’ worth of evidence on the causes of, and solutions to, food waste in households.

Big helpings

In developing countries, the problems may be with production, harvest and transport, but in wealthier countries it’s our home-based food consumption behaviours that need to change. We buy too much, prepare larger than needed meals and often throw out the rest. It’s estimated that over half of food wasted in the EU is at the household level.

Marks’ paper explores the current evidence base and finds that there are a spectrum of food waste behaviours, from planning, purchasing, storage, preparation, consumption and through to disposal. Then, a range of internal and external factors influence these food-related behaviours, like attitudes, values and habits, as well as social norms, food product characteristics and the retail and regulatory environment in which they operate.

THEN, when these factors combine with all the different behaviours, the result is spaghetti soup; a complex web of interactions that result in the overall phenomena we call food waste at home.  Messy.

Too many choices

The paper points out that while many studies focus on the multiple individual subsets of food waste behaviours, there are few comprehensive overarching perspectives to help guide policymakers, who often pick from a long shopping list of behaviours and interventions without knowing how they might work with a specific audience. 

In the paper, Mark and the team propose a new framework for separating the ‘spaghetti soup’ of influencing factors, so that “joined up” multi-level interventions can be designed to tackle household food waste more effectively. Still a complex group of problems, but not so messy.

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Micro, meso, macro

The framework takes into account the meso (household) and macro-level (outside the household) factors that are often missing in research and practice when it comes to understanding food-related behaviours.

The evidence – billions of tonnes of it – shows we need to do something about this appalling waste, for our sake and the planet. This framework may help policymakers untangle the spaghetti and find effective solutions that work for different audiences.