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Research reveals confusion over habits that drive food waste

More understanding is needed of the behavioural changes required to reduce waste, says CRC

Most Australians see food waste as unavoidable and fail to understand how they might be contributing to the problem, a Cooperative Research Centre study has found.

A national survey of more than 5,200 people conducted by the Fight Food Waste CRC revealed that most underestimated the amount of food they threw out each week by at least two-thirds.

More than 60 per cent disposed of leftovers in their household general waste bins and only 25 per cent had a compost bin or worm farm for food waste disposal.

Steven Lapidge, the CRC’s chief executive, said the study showed that although 76 per cent of participants were strongly motivated to reduce food waste, they did not understand the behavioural changes required.

“This is the first time in Australia we’ve had such a significant study into household behaviours and motivations toward food waste and it highlights the disconnect between consumer perceptions and reality,” he said in a CRC statement.

“The Australian government’s 2019 national food waste baseline report found that Australians waste 298 kilograms per person per year, with approximately one-third of that occurring in the home.”

Lapidge said the baseline report found that Australian households created 2.5 million tonnes of food waste annually, which was around 4.9kg each week. However, survey participants estimated that they threw away, “for example, just 1.4 slices of bread per week and just one cup of vegetables or herbs”.  

The CRC survey aimed to identify behaviours that contributed to food waste and to show the complex nature of the problem.

“Food waste in the home arises through hundreds of food purchasing, planning, shopping, storing and food disposal behaviours which are performed by individuals over a period of days, weeks and months. Food waste is also affected by broader influences and factors, from household size and make-up to food prices and social norms,” the CRC report says.

The survey also found that participants were confused about how best to store foods, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, to avoid waste. Vegetables and herbs were the most common food waste item (47 per cent), followed by bread (46 per cent) and fruit (33 per cent).

“Further research is needed to better identify the gap between self-reported food waste quantities and actual food waste volumes generated in Australian homes, as well as the barriers and opportunities to changing food waste behaviours to reduce waste,” the report says.