A targeted study of food waste in Australia has found that the practice persists even among those who aim for a sustainable lifestyle.

While broader research indicates that about a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or thrown away, co-authors Hongbo Liu (Anhui University, China) and Breda McCarthy (James Cook University, Australia) focussed on the motivations of a particular segment of the food market: those who self-identify as supporting sustainable living.

Almost a third (29.1%) of those surveyed reported that they wasted more than ten per cent of their food in a regular week, with the highest waste reported being 30 percent or more.

“While we didn’t identify any who could be described as highly wasteful, those levels are significant in a group that supports sustainability,” Dr McCarthy said.

“This might be explained partially by what is often called the green gap, which is the discrepancy between people’s expressed values and their actions.

“By looking more closely at what motivates food waste in this particular market segment, we hoped to better understand what might influence them, and others, to reduce that waste.”

The 334 people surveyed were predominantly female, relatively affluent, and well educated.

The researchers identified six distinct market segments:

  • freshness lovers
  • vegetarian and organic food lovers
  • recycle/reuse advocates
  • waste-conscious consumers
  • label conscious/sensory consumers
  • food waste defenders

“Our sample included food savers, who work consciously to reduce waste, and also worry about the cost of food wastage,” Dr McCarthy said.

“However, we found that higher-income families who claim to be waste-conscious, but have young children and frequently eat out, are more likely to waste food than others. They made up the medium waste group, wasting more than 15 per cent of their food.

“This supports the findings of more broad-ranging studies which found that eating out, takeaway food and convenience foods all relate to higher waste, partly because portion sizes aren’t always matched to requirements. Having young children, who might require different meals, has also been linked to higher levels of waste.

“What we found interesting is that those connections persist, even in households with a declared commitment to sustainability.”

The researchers suggest that chefs and influences might play a role, in helping households to manage their food shopping, meal planning and using leftovers.

“A campaign against eating out is unlikely to succeed, but the message of ‘Fridays for eating out, Saturdays for shopping’ might help families to reduce their shopping list if they’re eating out regularly,” Dr McCarthy said.

“Parents and children might also respond to a reminder of the environmental cost of growing, transporting, preparing and then trashing food.”

The potential messaging varies for the segments identified.

“Freshness lovers are likely to welcome information on how to store food to maximise freshness, while fans of organic food could be reminded of the cost of wasting produce that comes at a premium price.

“At the other end of the scale are the food waste defenders, a group which includes those who will argue that it’s better to bin food than to gain weight. Information on storage, portion planning and cooking with leftovers is likely to be welcome there.”

The research is published in the current issue of Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics.