European Approach for Reducing Consumer Food Waste: Putting Insights in Practice

Chapter From

The Proceedings of the Workshop on"Reduction of Food Loss and Waste"Vatican City, 2020Scripta Varia 147ISBN 978-88-7761-115-4

Edited by

Joachim von Braun, Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo & Roy SteinerIn partnership between the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Rockefeller Foundation

By: Toine Timmermans, Stephanie Wunder, Erica van Herpen

Wageningen University and Research, The NetherlandsEcologic Institute, Germany

1. Enacting policy to drive food waste reduction

With an estimated contribution of 53%, the consumer is the primary contributor to food waste across the food chain in higher income countries (Stenmarck et al. 2016). Considering that a large amount of this waste could be avoided, the urgent need to change consumer behaviour is evident. Reducing consumer food waste and policy interventions to support this effort is therefore a key area of the EU project REFRESH, within which this report was developed. Reducing food loss and waste can help meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, contribute to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and sustainably feed the planet by 2050. A Global Action Agenda was composed by a group of global experts in 2019 to help reduce food loss and waste and achieve SDG 12.3. This action agenda included 10 “scaling interventions” designed to take the approach and to-do list to scale (Flanagan, 2019). A follow-up report explores these 10 “scaling interventions”, one being to shift social norms (Hanson, 2019). Leveraging the latest findings of behavioral science, the report engages grassroots campaigns, social media, religious communities, and others to make “wasting food” as unacceptable as littering now is in many countries.

2. Influencing factors of consumer behaviour

The factors that cause consumers to waste food are complex. Often food waste is a result of conflicting goals, such as convenience, taste, and saving money. Consumer food waste behaviour is determined by the following:

– Consumers’ motivation (including attitude, problem awareness, and social norms around wasting food),

– Consumers’ opportunity (including time availability, access to technologies, and having the quality and quantity of food), and

– Consumers’ ability (skills and knowledge) to control or change food waste-related behaviour.

Socio-demographic aspects such as age, gender, income and household size are also correlated with food waste as they influence motivation, ability and/or opportunity, but do not play a causal role. A visualisation of the theoretical framework is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: igure 1. Visualisation of a theoretical framework of Causes & Determinants of Consumers Food Waste (modified by van Geffen, 2016).

REFRESH results of a survey in four countries with 3354 households shows that the awareness of the consequences of wasting food was not correlated with food waste levels, meaning that it did not show a significant influence (van Geffen et al. 2017). Social norms though have a clear influence, i.e. the more strongly consumers believe that others such as family members and friends waste food, the more food they waste themselves. Also, “busy lifestyles” and the prevalence of unforeseen events strongly influences food waste levels: Consumers who more often encounter unforeseen changes in their schedule tend to waste more food. It also shows that households with less food waste tend to exhibit five household food management practices: planning of food shopping and use, less impulse buying, maintaining overview of the food in stock, precisely determining the amounts of food when cooking, and using leftovers. Injunctive norms refer to what others think you should do (i.e., whether others disapprove of you throwing out food).These types of norms have little or no effect on the amount of household food waste (Stefan, van Herpen et al. 2013). In focus group discussions about household food waste, the topic of so- cial norms did not emerge explicitly (van Geffen et al. in press), which is likely because people tend to underestimate the effects of social norms on their own behaviour. In a cross-country survey on household food waste, descriptive social norms (i.e., whether you think that others waste food) had the strongest influence on the amount of food waste (van Geffen et al. 2017).

3. Policy instruments to influence consumer food waste

Policy instruments that exist to influence consumer food waste can be clustered into five categories:

– Information and awareness raising campaigns

– Regulation

– Economic instruments

– Nudging/change of consumer’s choice architecture and

– Voluntary Agreements.

These instruments are often used in combination. Within the EU, the most often used instrument so far is public campaigns that have been designed to provide information that increases awareness on the negative impacts of food waste. However, there are only very few studies that have evaluated the extent to which these activities actually reduced or prevented food waste. Meta-analysis of pro-environmental behaviour experiments though have shown that intervention strategies that only provide information are the least successful (Osbaldiston and Schott 2012).Therefore, the common assumption that providing information is sufficient to induce behavioural change is not supported by the evidence. Policy makers should consider interventions based on regulation, economic instruments and nudging approaches. Where necessary, these approaches should be supported by carefully designed campaigns drawing on the latest insights from research.

3.1. Social norm campaigns

Research suggests that it could be helpful to design, implement and test campaigns that aim to influence social norms. Social norm campaigns exploit the tendency of individuals to conform to what they perceive those around them think or do. Therefore, there is an opportunity to shape behaviour by giving people information about the behaviour or attitudes of others in the population, carefully selected to maximise adoption of positive behaviours. When (re)designing campaigns, policy makers should also consider using positive rather than negative messages, as research has shown messages that blame consumers for waste tend to have backfiring effects.

3.2. Education and provision of skills

The provision of practical skills aimed at consumers should be stronger in the focus of policy interventions. These need to build on an analysis of national particularities (e.g. which food items are wasted most and why) and key target groups (e.g. young people), and be tailored to existing knowledge and skills to influence the most relevant household food management practices. Education interventions including skill development can be set out via regulation, be it for schools, university curricula or job training (e.g. curricula for cook’s education).

3.3. Feedback, prompts and personal commitments

Interventions that are not yet used very often, but can drive changes in consumer behaviour and should be tested are feedback, prompts and personal commitments.

1. Feedback refers to providing information about the frequency and/or consequences of a target behaviour, in this case the amount of food wasted.

2. Prompts are verbal or written messages that remind people of a desired behaviour, e.g. a sign at a buffet in a canteen “Come back as often as you want” or on-pack information:“Store me in the fridge”.

3. Commitment is giving a pledge to change behaviour, asking people to agree to perform a target behaviour. Signing pledges or promise cards increases the likelihood of a person performing the behaviour to which they have committed and can be linked back to people’s desire to behave, and appear to behave, consistently.

3.4. Regulation

There are relatively few ways to directly impact consumer food waste levels through regulation. Examples include regulation on date marking, requirements for packaging, or prohibition for certain practices. Also, education activities can be required through regulation, as e.g. done through both the Italian food waste law (Law 166/2016) and the French food waste law (Law 2016-138).There are also other areas for regulation that do not directly target consumers but can indirectly reduce consumer food waste and/or which depend on changed consumer behaviour. These include:

– Relaxing marketing standards: marketing standards about size, colour, shape etc. of fruits and vegetables are often highlighted as a source of food waste for fresh produce. Evidence on the amounts of waste and savings potential associated with marketing standards is though mostly anecdotal.

– Increasing availability of new products from surplus food: One barrier to consumption of products made from surplus food and secondary resources is low supply due to the administrative burden of bringing novel food products to market

– Prohibition for supermarkets to waste edible food: The obligation for supermarkets in France with a surface area of over 400m2 to establish contracts with charitable organisations to which they must donate their food surplus has received extensive media coverage.

– Requirements within public procurement regulation: The set-up of (green) public procurement rules for food provision in e.g. hospitals, school, and public canteens, can be influenced by public policy. Standards can be set e.g. related to the size portions, staff training or availability of dishes during daytime – all having an impact on food waste and providing consumers with the opportunity to reduce food waste.

– Regulation on waste collection and recycling: Waste regulation, requirements for separate waste collection, potentially combined with fees (“pay as you throw”) and recycling of (organic waste) can have an influence on how much consumers waste.

3.5. Economic instruments

Only few public approaches are known in which fees and taxes are used to reduce food waste (e.g. incentives for donating food in Italy, penalties for supermarkets wasting food in France) and research about their impact is lacking. The price of food though and its share in household income already plays a role for food waste behaviour in general. Low prices for food in relation to income are seen as a reason for overconsumption and food waste. At the same time, extensive research has illustrated that if the real cost of natural resource use and the costs of food waste for the society was reflected in prices (i.e. internalizing external costs), food prices would need to grow (Willet et al. 2019). This would in turn provide economic incentives for food waste prevention.

3.6. Nudging

The modification of choice architecture – also called “nudging” – in selecting, processing and disposing (food) waste can be used as a strategy to reduce food waste. Nudging influences behaviour through automatic cognitive processes (“mental shortcuts”) in favour of the desired outcome, i.e. they are “gently pushing” consumers in the favoured direction without forcing them. Nudges are a response to the so-called “intention-behaviour gap”.Within the domain of consumer food waste the application of nudges has just started. Nudges such as changes to plate type and size as well as portion size and availability of trays have led to reduced food waste. Learnings from healthy food nudges can be used for decisions about placing certain food products in more visible and salient places. Nudging can be particularly powerful to reduce out-of-home food waste and is therefore relevant for canteens, caterers, restaurants etc. As public policy makers also shape the food procurement of hospitals, schools, prisons etc. nudging is an important element to be considered.

3.7. Strategies and Voluntary Agreements

In the area of food waste, collaboration across the supply chain can play a big role. The starting point is that interactions across the food supply chain are generally based on contracts, not on cooperation, and food waste prevention is rarely considered in such contracts. Addressing this requires a different approach, and voluntary cooperation may be one option for doing so. Voluntary Agreements are self-determined commitments or pacts with qualitative and quantitative objectives, developed by private entities and/or other stakeholders in consultation with their signatories. They are used as alternative courses of action to traditional legislation, can be piloted by government officials, businesses or other actors, and can be used in addition to, or independently from existing legislation (Burgos et al. 2019).

4. Evaluation of interventions

Though there have been many interventions, there are only very few studies that have evaluated to what extent these activities actually reduced or prevented food waste. This lack of evidence about how effective different interventions are at preventing consumer food waste makes it difficult for policy makers to make evidence-based decisions. Also, the few examples follow different assessment methodologies, so their results are not comparable. Most importantly, monitoring and evaluation needs to be considered early in the process: i.e. developed at the same time as the planning for the intervention themselves. All too often, evaluation is only considered towards the end of the implementation phase, which is usually too late for effective evaluation. Within REFRESH, a detailed guidance document to evaluate household food waste interventions has been pub- lished (Quested 2019).

5. Integrated policies to reduce consumer food waste

Reducing food waste is an important international objective and for that reason also a central part of the global sustainable development agenda (SDG 12.3). However, the generation of food waste is not the only prob- lem in the current global food system, nor is it the only problem that is related to food and consumers. Food systems are closely linked with health impacts. Consumer demand is also connected with ecosystem health and the agricultural production system: According to UNEP global food sys- tems are estimated to be responsible for a third of degraded soils, a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions and 60% of terrestrial biodiversity loss. Many argue that the magnitude of the food waste problem is to a large degree a symptom of a dysfunctional food system. Policies against food waste therefore also need to look for synergies to achieve a more general shift towards a more sustainable and resilient food system.

6. Dutch case study, Social Norm campaign as pillar in a systemic approach at national scale

The charity SamenTegenVoedselverspilling (Food Waste Free United) is the national private-public initiative in the Netherlands to deliver target SDG 12.3, with the long-term ambition to lead the way towards a responsible and circular food consumption and production system. The design and set-up has been supported by the REFRESH project. SamenTegen- Voedselverspilling focuses on achieving impact, with the target of reducing annually 1 million tons of food waste in the Netherlands in 2030.The approach is build on 4 pillars: (1) transparency, monitoring & impact, (2) business innovation across the food sector, (3) consumer activation and behavior change and (4) changing the rules and removing (legal) barriers. A diversity of stakeholders participate in the ecosystem and commit to the ambitions, report about the progress and continuously take next steps to reduce food waste. The ecosystem holds the leading organisations: businesses (start-ups, SMEs and corporates), governments, NGOs and knowledge institutions.

REFRESH insights and policy advice on how to design effective interventions to reduce food waste at household level have been key in developing a national social norm campaign.The Dutch government launched the first national strategy to reduce food waste in 2009. A diversity of campaigns and interventions have been implemented since.The impacts of the activities are monitored. Since 2010 a national study into household food waste has been commissioned once every three years by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. In 2019 the rate of food waste per person in the Netherlands was 34.3kg: nearly 7 kilos less than in 2016, and a reduction of 29% since 2013 (Figure 2).There has been a particularly strong reduction in wastage of bread, dairy produce, fruit and vegetables, although these food types still have the greatest room for improvement.

The study doesn’t definitively show why household food waste has declined, although it does mention factors that could have played a role, such as increased attention to the issue of food waste (84% want to contribute). Dutch people’s awareness of the issue appears to be growing, they want to take action and they are being given tools to do so. By buying, cooking and storing food more efficiently, you can prevent a substantial amount of food waste. Solutions are often very simple, such as freezing bread, carefully measuring quantities of pasta and rice to use, using your own senses to check whether milk is still drinkable and storing food in the right place. Also businesses have introduced positive impact interventions and nudges, like a reduction in portion sizes.

An additional positive social norm campaign started in 2019, working with 50 influencers, with the aim to further bring down food waste levels at consumer level. In September 2019 Becky was introduced in order to bring this information to the attention of everyone in the Netherlands.

Figure 2. Reduction in household food waste in the Netherlands 2010-2019 (van Dooren, 2020).

This mascot is the face of the campaign ‘How #foodwastefree are you?’ (or ‘Hoe #verspillingsvrij ben jij?’ in Dutch). Becky gives people smart tips to help them stop wasting food. Part of the campaign is an annual Food Waste Free Week, an initiative to encourage everybody to apply Becky’s tips at home. With the national ecosystem approach and the fact that levels of food waste in Dutch households are decreasing, the Dutch are leading in the challenge to reduce food waste. More effort is needed, for the medium period and long term, building on the important observation that a food waste policy should be integrated in a broader agro and food policy.

The content described in this document is partly based on the RE- FRESH Policy Brief Reducing consumer food waste (Wunder 2019). REFRESH is funded by the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme of the European Union under Grant Agreement no. 641933.