2018 has been another year that has seen increasing attention to the food waste problem. There has been a concerted effort to promote prevention actions to raise awareness of the types of behaviours that are causing food to end up in the bin. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign continues to provide useful advice such as checking the temperature of your fridge, how to plan and make food last longer and go further. The supermarkets have also made pledges by signing up to a new food waste reduction roadmap and a government-funded pilot scheme. However new research has questioned whether awareness campaigns on their own are sufficient to adequately prevent food waste at the level needed. This suggests the need to rethink and reconsider current approaches.
Campaigns principally focus on the individual by disseminating information such as practical advice and guidance to educate consumers in waste saving strategies. Whilst these are welcome there is limited evidence that they can achieve the wide spread change needed. A report by the University of Manchester explains how consumers can be stuck or ‘locked in’ to unsustainable actions whereby they know their actions have having a negative impact, they know what they should be doing and have the desire to change but this fails to take place. My own PhD research has shown how our daily routines and habits hold an influential role in shaping and configuring our food practices and can limit consumer’s ability to implement waste prevention strategies.
To a certain extent, the ineffective nature of campaigns can be linked to the approaches taken in research. Traditional consumer behaviour approaches focus on the individual, their attitudes, values and motivations which are held cognitively. Whilst these are important factors to consider, questions have been raised around how present the intentions to avoid unsustainable behaviours are during the on goings of every day. Research has noted an attitude-behaviour or value-action gap whereby consumer’s attitudes towards an issue like food waste do not reflect their actual lived behaviour.
An alternative approach has come to light that instead of solely focusing on the individual, also takes into account the material and temporal aspects of people lives. Food waste can be seen as a result of a number of food ‘practices’ such as shopping, storing, managing, preparing, cooking and disposing of food. Research is therefore reconfigured whereby the focus is how these practices unfold in the context of wider factors that govern our lives. These might include: the rhythms of school, work and leisure commitments; the interpersonal relationships within households; or our interactions with devices, appliances and the viscerality of food. Food waste therefore moves away from being seen as several individual decisions to place items in the bin, and as being embedded in the prevailing organisation of our everyday lives.
Written by Jordon Lazell, Research Assistant, Faculty Research Centre for Business in Society, Coventry University who will be speaking at the 2019 Food Waste Conference. Thank you for your contribution.
To find out more information about our upcoming tackling food waste conference click here.