September 29th is designated as the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. It is estimated that approximately 14% of food produced in the world is lost between harvest and retail, while an estimated 17% of total global food production is wasted. Saving just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted around the world could help feed more than 800 million people who are living in hunger as well as fight climate change (International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, 2022) as food loss and waste are responsible for ~ 8 -10% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contributing to climate change (UNEP, 2021).
“Food loss and waste greatly undermine the sustainability of our food systems as when food is lost or wasted, all resources used to produce it — including water, land, energy, labor, and capital go to waste. It also negatively impacts food security and food availability and contributes to increasing the cost of food (International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, 2022).”
In 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was established to defeat hunger in the world and they have made strides towards achieving this, including meeting up in December 2019 to collectively establish a day for the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, of which September 29 was chosen. The FAO and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) drive the observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. With an estimated 91.6 million tons of food thrown away every year, China is the country that wastes the most food, followed by India with 68.8 million tons (International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, 2022).
“In the wake of how Covid-19 disrupted food systems, President Xi Jinping launched the “Clean Plate Campaign” to tackle consumer food waste in China. Apart from signifying the importance of food waste as a national issue, it reflected the growing recognition that a significant amount of food waste comes from consumers’ leftovers (Makov et al., 2020) (Wang et al., 2022).” “The UNEP food index estimates around 931 million tonnes of food waste was generated in 2019, 61% of which came from households, 26% from food service, and 13% from retail. This suggests that 17 percent of total global food production may be wasted (11 percent in households, 5 percent in food service, and 2 percent in retail) (UNEP, 2021). “
To investigate whether macro-level interventions implemented in staff cafeterias can help reduce food waste in the workplace and further facilitate pro-environmental behaviors in the household, researchers in Macau, China collaborated with a business specializing in measuring food waste through smart technologies, and a large hotel-casino chain in the hospitality sector in Macau.
“To measure the effects of environmental framing and anthropomorphism in the workplace, the researchers employed a difference-in-differences (DID) design where, in all the cafeterias, they gave fortnightly feedback on the reduction of food waste, and introduced environmental framing and anthropomorphic cues into the feedback in some of the sites. Anthropomorphism is defined as attributing human-like characteristics to non-human objects (Epley, Waytz, & Cacioppo, 2007)… Indeed, previous research shows that anthropomorphic cues boost pro-environmental behaviors like waste-sorting (Ahn, Kim, & Aggarwal, 2014) and that anthropomorphism increases consumers’ intentions to buy misshapen [i.e., imperfect] food products (Cooremans & Geuens, 2019; Shao, Jeong, Jang, & Xu, 2020). (Wang et al., 2022).”
The study design is summarized in Fig. 1 (Figure 1).
In control site A, researchers planned to provide food waste feedback in rounds 1-5, but only managed to do so in rounds 3-5, as there was a one-month delay in installing the Winnow Sense system (smart bins) in site A due to logistical difficulties. In treatment site B, food waste feedback was given for all 5 rounds, while additional posters about the environmental benefits of reducing food waste were added in rounds 3-5. The same food waste feedback and environmental messages were given to treatment site C with the only difference that images (e.g., food, trees, and the globe) were anthropomorphized (see Figure 2 for exemplar posters) (Wang et al., 2022).
During the study, three staff cafeterias in different hotels received smart bins and fortnightly informational feedback on the amount of food they wasted. The researchers varied the type of feedback each site received to investigate if it can be communicated more effectively in some ways: feedback in site A solely illustrated how much food was wasted, whereas they framed feedback with environmental information without and with anthropomorphic cues (e.g., where the food icons had faces) in sites B and C respectively.
In addition to actual food waste data, the researchers collected an online survey of staff after the interventions were trialed. This combination of metrics enabled researchers to examine if actual food waste data corresponded with self-reported levels of effort to save food at work, and if there were any unintended impacts on efforts to reduce waste at home. The survey, importantly, also allowed them to identify micro-level psychological determinants (e.g., environmental identity, motivations, and beliefs) for saving food at work and home to analyze how they might interact with the macro-level contextual spillover effects (Wang et al., 2022).
The authors found that there were significantly greater reductions in food waste in the treatment sites than in the control site. More specifically, they reported that “a combination of multiple interventions achieved the best results in food waste reduction, such that the treatment site C which received the environmental feedback with anthropomorphism saw the most salient reduction in food waste during and after the campaign. Theoretically, this work takes forward past research on anthropomorphism and food consumption (Cooremans & Geuens, 2019; Shao, et al., 2020), and shows that anthropomorphism can reinforce the effects of environmental feedback in eliciting waste-reducing behaviors (Wang et al., 2022).”
Based on these results, the researchers concluded that, “food waste feedback provided together with environmental footprint information and anthropomorphic cues jointly contribute to reducing food waste at work and can have positive spillover effects on food saving behaviors as well as other waste-reduction actions at home.” The authors also concluded that these results help advance the emerging field of multi-level interventions in managing consumer food waste behaviors (Wang et al., 2022).
Below are some simple action steps from Today’s Dietitian to reduce food waste at the household level (share these tips with your family members and friends):
Ask for smaller food portions. Serve smaller portions of food at home or share large dishes with friends and family at restaurants.
• Love your leftovers. Instead of throwing leftovers away, use them as ingredients for the next day’s meal. In addition, store leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer within two hours of preparing a meal.
• Create a shopping list and stick to it. Plan ahead for food purchases to prevent from buying too much food during a shopping trip.
• Become a meal planner. Track and plan what you will eat each week before heading to the store. That way, you’ll know exactly what ingredients to buy to create meals and avoid buying food you don’t need.
• Buy ‘ugly’ (imperfect) fruits and vegetables. Some food retailers and farmers’ markets sell irregularly shaped fruits and vegetables and those with small bruises or discoloration. If this produce goes unpurchased, some of it will be discarded as waste. Also, Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods offer sustainable food delivery services using misfit or imperfect produce. Learn more at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/misfits-market-vs-imperfect-foods
• Check your refrigerator. Set your refrigerator temperatures between 34˚ and 41˚ F (1˚ to 5˚ C) for maximum freshness and shelf life.
• Don’t overfill the refrigerator with food. The refrigerator will use less energy, and you will be less likely to waste food they don’t eat.
• Practice the “first in, first out” rule. Rotate the older food items in their fridge and cupboards from the back to the front, so the most recently purchased items go to the back.
• Understand dates on food packages. Know the difference between “use by,” the date by which a food should be eaten, and “best before,” the date indicating that the food’s quality is best before that date.
• Turn waste into compost. Compost is organic material you can add to the soil in your outdoor and indoor gardens to help plants grow. It helps soil retain moisture, decreases the need for chemical fertilizers, lowers methane gas emissions from landfills, and provides other benefits. You can begin by setting up a bin for food waste that can include fruit and vegetable peelings, but they’ll need additional components to complete the process. Visit www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home for more information.
• Donate surpluses. Give surplus food to those in need. Contact food banks/food pantries and faith-based organizations in your communities and donate food (McCullum-Gomez, 2020).
International Day of Food Loss and Waste, September 29, 2022. National Today. Available at:
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021. March 2, 2021. Available at: https://www.unep.org/resources/report/unep-food-waste-index-report-2021
Wang F, Shreedhar G, Galizzi MM, et al. A take-home message: workplace food waste interventions influence household pro-environmental behaviors. Resources, Conservation & Recycling Advances, 2022;15, 200106, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rcradv.2022.200106. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2667378922000438
McCullum-Gomez C. Food waste, climate change, and hunger. Today’s Dietitian. June/July 2020. Available at: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/JJ20p36.shtml
Lorencz, K. Misfits Market vs. Imperfect Foods: Which Sustainable Produce Delivery Service Is Best? Healthline. May 17, 2022. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/misfits-market-vs-imperfect-foods