Understanding and Reducing Consumer Food Waste

Photo of Dr. Toby Warden

Dr. Toby Warden

National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine

FFAR award amount   $336,000

Year Awarded   2019

Total award amount   $673,000

Location   Washington, DC 20001

Matching Funders   Walmart Foundation

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

What Challenge Is This Research Grant Tackling?

Reducing consumer food waste at the consumer level can lessen food insecurity, improve diets, save consumers money, mitigate climate change and raise awareness about the value of food.

Consumers’ food habits are driven by their social networks, the media, the food marketing industry and government policies. Thus, efforts to reduce consumer food waste must involve changes across the entire food system, social networks and the media – not just individual habits.

To better understand consumer food waste, we invested in a National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (National Academies) study to identify how consumers behave toward food and opportunities for system changes. The multidisciplinary, expert committee conducting the study, chaired by University of California, Davis Professor Emerita Dr. Barbara O. Schneeman, examined existing data, information and research on consumer food waste.

The resulting report includes recommendations that institutions – such as industry associations, schools and government agencies – can implement to help consumers reduce their food waste.

Why Is This Research Important?

Each US consumer wastes, on average, a pound of food every day. Food waste is not only a financial loss, but it also creates a loss of nutrients and a loss of the inputs that went into growing the food.

Reducing food waste offers significant benefits:

Environmental benefits

  • Reducing greenhouse gases from rotting food
  • Protecting valuable production resources

Farmer benefits

  • Reducing spoilage by better targeting markets
  • Saving human resources in the form of farm labor

Retailer benefits

  • Reducing financial loss from spoiled products

Consumer benefits

  • Saving money and time and reducing food insecurity
  • Developing healthier eating habits.

Research Details

The National Academies committee’s holistic approach to understanding the causes of food waste identified interventions that state and federal governments, the food industry, commercial entities, nonprofit and volunteer organizations, educational institutions and foundations can implement to encourage responsible food decisions.

The committee’s objectives included:

  • Reviewing the existing data, information and research on consumer food waste, including assessments of effectiveness for past and current and reduction efforts.
  • Making actionable recommendations for research directions and food waste reduction strategies.
  • Identifying implementation strategies to reduce wasted food at the consumer level.
  • Examining food system modifications that can change attitudes and habits. For example, the committee considered what motivations and tools help consumers reduce their food waste.

Matching Funders

How the Research Supports Our Mission

Our Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area focuses on reducing food waste to increase food security. This research provides a clear action plan for institutions to help consumers waste less.

Additionally, the committee worked across disciplines, business, government and other sectors to develop a national strategy to reduce food waste. The collaboration aligns with our goal of convening stakeholders to generate results that benefit farmers, consumers and the environment.

 

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