Food waste campaigns have only limited impact

Food waste-reduction campaigns need to be combined with other environmental changes if they are to have a real and lasting impact.

New research from the University of Illinois reveals that food waste-education campaigns have a modest effect in reducing the average waste per diner in buffet-style or all-you-can-eat restaurants. But the effect is not statistically significant, says Brenna Ellison, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics.

“Food waste can be difficult to combat in all-you-care-to-eat settings like buffets and dining halls,” she said. “Education campaigns can be a low-cost way to make consumers aware of food waste, but they may have smaller impacts on waste behaviour.

In order to determine the impact of food-waste education campaigns, Ellison and her colleagues set up posters and signing about food waste at two dining facilities at the University of Illinois. They chose the university setting because younger consumers tend to be less mindful of waste than the average adult, so an all-you-care-to-eat dining setting on a college campus exacerbates the problem of food waste.

They found that while education is a potentially useful tool in fighting food waste, passive education alone is unlikely to be an effective intervention strategy for reducing plate waste, particularly in an all-you-can-eat dining environment.

“The campaign resulted in an increased recognition that the dining halls were invested in reducing food waste, and in an increased awareness that individual actions could make an impact on the food waste problem,” Ellison said.

“The latter could be a signal that students are moving from a state of pre-contemplation, where there is little recognition that a behaviour such as food waste is problematic, to a state of contemplation, in which the problem is acknowledged and behavioural change is considered.”

For there to be true change and action on food waste in these settings, Ellison recommends combining education campaigns with environmental changes, such as removing the flat-free pricing structure or pre-portioning food items.

Image credit: congerdesign via Pixabay

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