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| be Waste Wise | September 21, 2023

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Appetite for reduction? Behaviour change and food waste

Appetite for reduction? Behaviour change and food waste
The live broadcast of this panel is over



Selected comments and tweets. You can still tweet with #foodwaste #2014gdw

  • Stop_Food_Waste: Most people already know it’s wrong to waste food and they feel bad about it. Local interventions with small groups to enable peer to peer activities are more effective than mass communications

    TurnipSapiens: It’s been said that food wastage is symptomatic of systemic problems in conventional food systems. Do you think this is also true of household food waste?

    jonathan: I recently read about a survey that indicated that people respond to impacts if the impact affect their health rather than “just” being detrimental to the environment. we might need to highlight the generation of food waste, but its seems that we have to make the impact personal, and possibly include more of a health component (and i’m sure economic).

    Stop_Food_Waste: As well as minimising their own food waste, retailers have a significant role to play in educating consumers on what they can do to reduce the food they waste through better information on packaging, etc. 



This panel was sponsored by Wheelabrator Technologies

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Maxine Perella curated the entire Food Waste theme. She structured panels and suggested panelists.

Craig Dsouza prepared the survey which helped choose our topics for discussion


Appetite for reduction? Behaviour change and food waste

At a consumer level, food waste is a global issue that begins at home and as such, it is an ideal contender for testing out new approaches to behaviour change. The behavioural drivers that lead to food being wasted are complex and often inter-related, but predominantly centre around purchasing habits, and the way in which we store, cook, eat and celebrate food.

Consumer behaviour is a huge priority area in particular for industrialised nations – it is estimated that some western societies might be throwing away up to a third of all food purchased. The rise of cheap food and convenience culture in recent years has compounded this problem, with few incentives or disincentives in place at producer, retail or consumer level to address this.
While it is likely that a number of structural levers – such as price, regulation, enabling measures and public benefits – will need to be pulled together in a coherent way to drive progress on this agenda, at a deeper level there is a pressing argument to explore the psycho-social perspectives of behaviour change.

Individual or collective behaviours often exist within a broader cultural context of values and attitudes that are hard to measure and influence. Simple one-off actions such as freezing leftovers or buying less during a weekly food shop do not necessarily translate into daily behaviour patterns. For such motivations to have staying power, they must become instinctive acts, aligned with an immediate sense of purpose.

The need to consider more broadly our behaviours and how they are implicated in such issues must not stop at individual consumers, but extend to governments, businesses and NGOs if effective strategies are to be drawn up.


  1. In affluent countries people buy more food and cook more food than they need. Why is this? Is enough work being done to understand the underlying dynamics behind this?
  2. Lets look at an example of how our motivations conflict – the wish to avoid wasting money or good food may be overshadowed by a desire for convenience because we lead busy lives. We might have good intentions but we fail to act on them. Are we mentally capable of prioritising such concerns when confronted with immediate life challenges?
  3. How do we start shifting collective human behaviour to address the international challenge of food waste? What’s a useful starting point?
  4. Is the concept of ‘voluntary environmentalism’ relevant enough for today’s consumer given many feel powerless in the face of climate change?
  5. Given that our behaviours are rooted in a complex network of psychological and social dynamics – does the environmental movement have the right skills to drive this agenda? Where might be it be useful to collaborate across different industries or disciplines?
  6. Is there a greater need for choice-editing to make it easier for consumers to exercise sustainable purchasing decisions in the food products they buy?
  7. Should producers and retailers be made more accountable with regards to the overselling or surplus creation of food products? Do voluntary agreements on waste prevention (e.g the UK’s Courtauld Commitment) go far enough?
  8. What role can technology play in assisting with behaviour change, particularly when it comes to kitchen appliances or waste disposal units?
  9. Lastly, how do we make it realistic for people to change their habits? (This might be a price issue, a labelling issue or an availability issue for instance)


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