What are the challenges in educating consumers to reduce food waste?
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It is estimated that Australians discard food over $5 billion annually (Baker, Fear, and Denniss 6). Thus, government efforts to reduce food waste would result in significant financial savings. However, the government’s public education efforts face many challenges. First, grocery stores encourage wasteful purchasing practices by consumers. The provision of plastic shopping bags eliminates the need for advance planning when buying food (Hamilton, Denniss, and Baker). Second, the focus on environmental protection does not resonate well with the youth whose food consumption behaviour is often wasteful (Hamilton, Denniss, and Baker). Therefore, education campaigns are less likely to gain acceptance from this highly wasteful demographic.
Third, household income is projected to increase, which will lead to even more wasteful consumption (Baker, Fear, and Denniss). Although most people are aware of the impact of wasteful consumption on the environment, they are unlikely to change their behaviour because of the projected growth in consumer expenditure. Informing consumers about the impact and strategies of preventing wasteful consumption can help reduce food waste. Moreover, to bring about behavioural change, consumers should be offered simple solutions to food waste. Besides, “poor food storage, over-purchasing, and high sensitivity to food safety” increase food wastage (Pearson, Minehan, and Wakefield-Rann 121). These practices are barriers to behaviour change.
Fourth, small households in Australia have increased in recent years. Overall, according to Baker, Fear, and Denniss, smaller households produce larger amounts of food waste than large families do. Thus, consumer education is unlikely to yield positive results due to the projected rise in the number of smaller households. This trend, coupled with expected rapid population growth, will lead to more food wastage despite increased consumer education to create awareness.
What important opportunities can be gained educating consumers to reduce food waste?
Many opportunities can be gained by educating Australians to reduce their food wastage. First, creating awareness about the monetary value of the discarded food will play a role in preventing food wasting. According to the NSW Government report, many people are unaware of the financial effects of throwing away food and thus, do not consider themselves ‘significant’ food wasters. It is estimated that each NSW household wastes food worth $620 annually (44). This underscores the need to raise awareness about the monetary loss of food wastage.
People also need to be educated about the link between food wastes and environmental degradation. In the NSW Government’s survey, less than 50% of the participants understood the connection between food wasting and climate change (52). Besides climate change, food wastage causes loss of “nutrients, energy, and water” used during processing. Thus, educating people about the relationship between food processing, use, and disposal through programs, such as the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’, is important. This would encourage them to adopt environmentally friendly techniques to dispose of wasted food.
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Consumers also have little understanding of how to avoid food wasting. Although according to the NSW Government, knowledge of food wastage is high, there is an opportunity for improvement. People, especially, younger participants, should be educated on the use of tea bags, fruits, and vegetables, and the meaning of food labels. This will prevent unnecessary food wastage. Food planning is another area that presents an opportunity for improvement. The NSW Government survey found that less than 35% of the people plan their shopping or meals. People can be educated on the importance of pre-planning meals to avoid “cooking too much and storing food in a freezer for long”, as these factors increase household food waste (NSW Government 61).
Why is educating consumers to reduce food waste better than encouraging recycling of food waste?
Educating consumers to reduce food waste has many benefits over recycling. Households incur a huge financial cost when purchased food is thrown away. It is estimated that food worth $5 billion is wasted in Australia each year (Baker, Fear, and Denniss 1). This amount is equivalent to the Australian Army’s annual budget. Statistics indicate that food spending takes a huge chunk of household income. If it goes unconsumed, it results in wasteful expenditure, which has implications on the economy. Therefore, educating people to reduce food waste will save households a lot of expenditure.
Besides financial costs, food waste has significant effects on the environment. Food processing, transportation, and packaging (plastic bags) cause environmental degradation. In 2007, about “14.8% of greenhouse emissions in Australia” were attributed to agriculture (Baker, Fear, and Denniss 4). Food transportation also emits greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The decomposition of food waste also produces greenhouse gases. Therefore, preventing food waste will help Australia reduce its greenhouse emissions as opposed to waste management. It presents a cheaper option of mitigating climate change compared to food recycling, which requires energy and emits greenhouse gases. It is due to this reason that the Australian government has undertaken to reduce food waste at the household level alongside programs like ‘kerbside’ recycling.
What types of strategies are involved in educating consumers to reduce food waste? (eg. educational, policy, regulatory, infrastructural, incentives etc.)
A combination of interventions has been adopted in Australia to educate people about the benefits of reducing food waste. Educational messages focus on a number of key aspects of the food waste problem. Consumers are informed about the financial effects of throwing away food. Baker, Fear, and Denniss found that about 85% of Australians are motivated to reduce food waste by the need to cut financial spending on unconsumed food (8). This exceeds those motivated by the need to protect the environment or give to charity.
Educational messages also centre on environmental protection. Consumer education on the environmental effects of discarded food will motivate them to adopt less wasteful behaviours. Therefore, consumer education can help people understand the link between environmental degradation and food waste. Educational campaigns have also targeted shoppers. Shoppers are advised to plan their meals and shopping list, which have been shown to reduce food waste (NSW Government). This involves collaborations with grocery stores. Consumer education also aims to improve people’s kitchen skills regarding food storage, labelling, safety, and suitable quantities for consumption. Besides education, regulatory strategies are being undertaken in countries, such as the UK, whereby the major retailers are required to conduct education campaigns to reduce wasteful consumption.
What are some of the problems or risks that may emerge in educating consumers to reduce food waste and how might they be overcome (i.e. Food retailers represent a major barrier to implementing effective food waste policies)?
Educational approaches to prevent food waste must involve partnerships involving the government, the major supermarkets, suppliers, and producers. However, some problems may hamper the role of these partnerships in preventing food waste. First, profit considerations may prevent retailers from conducting educational campaigns, such as the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ program, from teaching consumers to plan their purchases in order to reduce food waste (NWS Government). However, incentives can motivate them to run these programs.
Banning plastic shopping bags is also a problem. Retailers’ provision of plastic bags encourages unplanned shopping, which increases food waste (Baker, Fear, and Denniss). Besides food waste, plastic bags are associated with environmental pollution. Retailers may be unwilling to avoid giving free plastic bags, as this will reduce hurt their markets. Nevertheless, equipping people with suitable kitchen skills and knowledge on food disposal will help reduce home consumption and change their sociological perspectives on food (Evans 431). Thus, consumer education should aim at transforming domestic practices relating to food consumption as opposed to targeting food retailers.
Baker, David, Josh, Fear, and Richard, Denniss. What a waste: an analysis of household expenditure on food. Canberra: The Australia Institute, 2009. Print.
Evans, David. Blaming the consumer—once again: the social and material contexts of everyday food waste practices in some English households. Critical Public Health 21.4 (2011), 429–440.
Hamilton, Clive, Richard, Denniss, and David, Baker. Wasteful Consumption in Australia, Discussion Paper Number 77. Canberra: The Australia Institute, 2005. Print.
NSW Government. Food waste avoidance benchmark study. Sydney: EPA, 2011. Print.
Pearson, David, Michelle, Minehan, and Rachel, Wakefield-Rann. Food waste in Australian households: Why does it occur? Locale 3.1 (2013), 118-32.
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