Preventing Wasted Food through Education & Community Engagement
Americans are wasting more food than ever before. According to a recent study, we throw away 50% more food than 40 years ago. The majority of this wasted food occurs at the consumer level. Several recent reports are quantifying the avoidable wasted food, including its economic cost and environmental impacts. For example, 20% of vegetables produced are never eaten and wasted by consumers.
Based on recent estimates, the average Saint Paul household wastes up to $96 per month in preventable food waste. And that is just a measure of the cost of purchasing that food—not including the extraordinary amount of resources it takes to grow, harvest, process, and transport food from the field to the store—which often includes a trip half way around the world that represents a significantly larger cost, both financially and environmentally.
Through a partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise) and with support from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Eureka Recycling has dug deep into questions about preventing wasted food in our local context:
- What kind of foods do we most often waste?
- What type of information, education, and messaging is motivating for people to change their habits and waste less food?
- Are there tools that are especially helpful?
- How much of an impact can we have on reducing the amount of discards that needs to be composted using those tools and information?
Using this data, social marketing tools, and the psychology of sustainable behavior, this project generated and tested tools, messages, and strategies to engage the community in wasting less food.
The tools below consolidate some of these resources and link to two new interactive web-based tools to help people waste less food.
- Sources for Information on Wasted Food (Created June 2012)
More information about the issue of wasted food in all parts of the food chain is now emerging frequently. The links are some of the sources that Eureka Recycling has found most interesting or useful as we explore the impacts and opportunities of preventing wasted food at the household “consumer” level. We have also added our newly developed program materials and resources to this list.
- Recommendations for Programs to Reduce Food Waste, submitted to Eureka Recycling by psychologist Christie Manning, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Psychology at Macalester College
- Gathering Community Input on Preventing Wasted Food
As a nonprofit community-based organization, Eureka Recycling strongly believes that the most successful waste-reduction programs (that result in the most effective behavior change) address the specific values, interests, and needs of the community for which the program is being designed. We believe the best way to get that information is to listen to community members, and this report details some of our experiences and recommendations.
- Using Waste Sorts to Learn About Preventing Wasted Food
For a waste sort to help us learn about preventable wasted food, a different level of detail is needed than in a typical waste sort that examines composting or recycling. These recommendations were generated from the lessons learned through successes and shortcomings of our own initial waste sorts looking for information about preventable wasted food in the trash in three communities in Saint Paul, Minnesota. For more information on waste sorts in general, see Eureka Recycling’s report on Best Practices in Public Space Recycling (pages 26 & 27).
- Creating tools
In our initial pilot, we tested a wide variety of tools all aimed at helping residents of Saint Paul reduce the amount of food they waste at home. As a result of direct feedback from participants, we focused on further developing two of these tools in multiple formats: A-Z Food Storage Tips, and an interactive Meal Planner, both available on our composting website, www.makedirtnotwaste.org. These were clearly the most widely used tools, and participants felt they were the most effective.