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Waste Reduction

Want to reduce food waste in your home

Food waste is a major contributor to climate change. Food waste is responsible for more than 5 percent of Australia’s emissions. This does not include the emissions generated by activities such as farming or transport that are required to produce the food.

The home is one of the biggest sites for food waste. Each year, Australian households waste about 2.5 million tonnes. This is equivalent to A$2,000-$2,500 per household per year.

There’s good news. Today, our Australian first research identified six of the most effective ways to reduce food wastage. These relatively small changes combined can make a huge difference.

Australian households waste up to $2,500 of food every year. Shutterstock

What we did

Household food waste is a problem that’s complicated and influenced by a number of factors. Consumers have no control over some elements, like food types, packaging size, and safety standards. Some everyday behavior is easily changed, like buying too much or forgetting food in the back of your refrigerator.

We wanted to understand the complexity of household food waste. Our research was conducted in collaboration with Australia’s leading food rescue organization, OzHarvest, to identify and prioritize evidence-based measures to reduce the amount of food Australians waste.

We consulted Australian and international literature and conducted online workshops with 30 experts to compile a list of 36 actions for reducing food waste. The 36 actions are broadly divided into planning, shopping, storing at home, eating, and cooking.

We realized that this was a lot of information to take in, and most people would not know where to begin. We then asked national and international experts in food waste to rate the behaviors according to their impact on reducing food wastage.

More than 1,600 Australian homes were also surveyed. Participants were asked to provide information about the following:

Mental effort is the amount of planning and thinking involved.

How much does it cost to do the behavior (financial efforts)?

Household “fit” (effort required to adopt the behavior based on the different schedules and preferences of the family members).

Mental effort was the biggest barrier for consumers to reduce food waste.

Read more: What a simulated Mars mission taught me about food waste

The researchers surveyed 1,600 consumers about their attitudes to food waste reduction. Shutterstock

What we Found

Our research has identified three key behaviors that have the greatest impact on reducing food wastage and are relatively easy to implement.

Prepare a meal for your family every week that includes food you need to use up.

Set aside a shelf or section in your fridge for food that needs to be consumed

Check who will be eating the meal before cooking it to make sure you cook the right amount.

Even though these steps are relatively simple, we found that few Australians had a shelf labeled “use it all” in their fridge or pantry or asked how many people would be eating a particular meal before preparing a dish.

Experts deemed a weekly meal of “use it up” to be most effective in reducing food wastage. Many consumers said they had already done this at home. However, there are plenty of opportunities for others to adopt the practice.

Some consumers are advanced players and have already incorporated the above behaviors into their routines. For those consumers, our research has identified three additional behaviors that require a little more effort.

Set reduction goals and conduct an audit on weekly food waste

Our research revealed a number of actions that, although worthwhile for many different reasons, experts deemed less effective in reducing food wastage. These actions were less likely to be taken by consumers. These actions included:

Pickling, stewing, or saucing food for later use is a great way to preserve perishable food.

Make a stock (bones, peels, and other food remnants) to freeze and use in the future

Buy food at local specialty shops (such as greengrocers or butchers) rather than big supermarkets.


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Jane S. King

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