Food waste occurs at all stages of the food supply chain and in developed countries around 40% of all food intended for human consumption is estimated to end up as waste. Food waste is a significant concern for local government (Councils), as it comprises up to 50% of municipal waste bins. In Australia it is estimated that households throw out 2.7 million tonnes of food into landfill.
Food waste occurs through everyday practices of buying, cooking and storing. To reduce food waste, it has been suggested that these everyday practices may need to be shifted. Therefore understanding food waste is less about what is being put in the bin, and more about the upstream practices that are being performed that generate the waste.
The study investigated practices relating to the purchase, storage, preparation and disposal of food, over one week, in twenty-four households within three key districts in Banyule City Council (Ivanhoe, West Heidelberg and Greensborough) in order to gain insights to develop targeted programs to strategically reduce food waste across municipalities. Households were recruited through Banyule City Council via a range of mediums (i.e., newspaper, the waste education networks and social media) and participated through a mix of face to face interviews and completion of a household food and food waste diary and data collection kit over one week in 2013.
The distributed paper-based data collection kit consisted of a household food and food waste diary with 6 key exercises including: how they shop for food; auditing of food in the kitchen, pantry and fridge; what is cooked and what is not eaten through day 2-6; follow up audit of uneaten food on day 7; reflection; and changes they will make.
The project’s success can be measured in a) the development of a food and food waste diary questionnaire and research kit; b) the engagement of 24 households; c) the level of detail in completed diaries; and d) the interest from other municipalities in the study’s findings at a post-project workshop. Data was collected under fresh fruit and vegetables, processed fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, pre-prepared meals, take away meals and home grown food.
Similar insights and trends from this study have also been observed as per studies in other advanced economies regarding food categories wasted (vegetables, fruit, prepared meals and breads and cereals); and reasons for food waste (‘forgot about item it looks or smells spoiled’, ‘it’s now out of date’, ‘didn’t get around to eating and its spoilt’, ‘didn’t eat left overs’).
The ‘hands-on’ approach (the actual observation of waste and recording) had a positive impact upon many of the households. Providing residents with the ability to observe; record and report their daily activities, practices and actions around food planning, procurement, storage, cooking and eating may be beneficial (e.g., in accessible ways such as online, web-application (app), hard copy). There appeared little to no difference between socioeconomic groups thus suggesting that there is little evidence for communicating in different ways. Planning of meals is crucial to reducing food waste. Education programs should emphasize this including not falling into the trap of purchasing store specials or buying extra when it is not needed.
Melbourne: RMIT University Report , 2014. , 1-52 p.