Did you finish all of your Thanksgiving leftovers this year? If so, you are in the minority of people. All told, Americans wasted around 305 million pounds of food this Thanksgiving , and while that number is especially high due to the nature of holiday consumption, even on a normal day households are the greatest source of food waste in the US. In fact, 37% of all surplus food is generated by consumers, for reasons ranging from spoilage and concerns about date labels, to fear that something has been left out too long or simply not wanting leftovers. While not understanding proper food management is a big cause, much of the food waste coming from consumers occurs because of decisions made by other actors throughout the supply chain. When it is all added up, individuals are responsible for about 50% of food waste, making it a critical area for action.
That is why ReFED was excited to see Champions 12.3 release a new guide on what key stakeholders in the food system can do to help consumers reduce their food waste. It is the result of a long process, as World Resources Institute and others gathered input in various ways.
Highlights of the report:
- More than a third of food is lost or wasted annually worldwide. This amounts to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and more than $1 trillion in financial losses.
- Consumer food waste occurs at the retail, food service, and household stages of the food supply chain and accounts for 17% of global food production (61% households, 26% food service, and 13% retail) (UNEP 2021). Recent estimates suggest that household food waste accounts for a large share of consumer waste regardless of a country’s GDP.
- Recognizing the urgent need for strategies addressing consumer food waste, Champions 12.3 brought together in June 2021 food waste experts from around the world, including many with behavioral change expertise, for a workshop to generate promising strategies based on experience and evidence.
- This guide organizes the content generated from this workshop into categories for five key actors in the food system: policymakers, food businesses, non-food businesses, nonprofits, and educators/other influencers. It then provides actions they can take to help address consumer food waste.
- There is no single solution which will result in sustainable behavior change to reduce household food waste. Initiatives should consist of partnerships between the different actors and should be evidence-based, using an appropriate behavioral change model wherever possible. They should use a combination of raising awareness together with practical tips and tools to increase “ability” and “opportunity” to reduce food waste.
- The guide has sought to illustrate the approaches using real life examples. However, there are still only a small number of examples of behavior change approaches being used with consumers where the impact and effectiveness has been properly evaluated. This guide can therefore only be a starting point. More examples are needed, especially from the global South.
- The evidence suggests that changing consumer behaviors is not easy. Simple awareness raising is not enough. It is important to understand the drivers for food being wasted at a household level, and real change requires a mix of interventions that target specific behaviors. This will best be achieved by a partnership of actors in the food system working together.
If you want to know more, you can download the full report from Champions 12.3. You can also review over 40 modeled solutions to reduce food waste – including how to reshape consumer environments to nudge consumers towards wasting less food – on ReFED’s Insights Engine.