Food for naught: Using the theory of planned behaviour to better understand household food wasting behaviour.

The large scale waste of food in our country is nothing new, but a new HEAL study published in the ‘Canadian Geographer’ indicates that a large portion of this waste takes place within our homes, and could be easily avoided, provided the proper incentive. The study focuses on reducing waste through the theory of planned behaviour. Planned behaviour describes our tendencies of planning before acting when important decisions are concerned, and which factors may be guiding said planning. Seeing as how food waste prevention is a matter of conscious deliberation, the theory of planned behaviour for less waste is a natural fit.

The study was held by HEAL members, Paul van der Werf, Jamie A. Seabrook, and Jason A. Gilliland, who looked primarily at avoidable food waste in households. On average, households studied were found to dispose of avoidable food waste nearly five times a week. This discovery is astonishing when considering the key word: ‘avoidable’. Were more Canadians to avoid these avoidable food wastes, the differences could be substantial. Interestingly, the biggest agent of change was more information about what is really at stake at an individual level – money!

Of the 1,263 households studied in London Ontario, over half were in agreement, rating monetary loss as the biggest deterrent to avoidable food waste. The monetary loss was always an issue for the households in question, it was only a matter of being made aware. As these findings likely reflect on a much larger scale, it was deemed that the most effective way to prevent food waste moving forward is to raise awareness of monetary loss held by the average household through avoidable food waste. The second highest rated deterrent was environmental impact.

Though preventable food waste has a considerable impact on households, both environmental and economical, it’s the lack of awareness that is found to propagate these behaviours that go against self-interest.

This work was funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The authors acknowledge Mr. Jay Stanford, Director, Environment, Fleet & Solid Waste, City of London, Ontario, Canada for assistance in distributing this survey and supplying the table of contents graphic; and Mr. Martin Zivack and Ms. Angela Piaskoski for research assistance.

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