Food waste debate is ripe for consumption

New research shows that public attitudes do not need to be a barrier to increasing household food waste collections. Natan Dorn reveals all

Readers may well have a list of answers at the front of their minds as to why household food waste collections remain sporadic in the UK. Local authorities in many areas struggle with the practical considerations of increasing the coverage of such collections.

In addition, issues of cost will no doubt be framing all decisions at local government at the moment and for the next few years. But some may assume that public attitudes are also one of the main barriers to increasing household food waste collections.

Our research at the Fabian Society indicates that this does not have to be the case. The results of a survey we conducted with YouGov in August 2012 showed that 60% of people thought that food waste was a problem that merited interventions from both government and businesses. This number rose to almost 70% when people were provided with information about the climate change impacts of sending food waste to landfill.

This demonstrates two things. First, that we are not a nation of callous food wasters unmoved by the thought of wasting good food. Second, that when people are provided with some of the information that drives policy makers in government and business to be concerned, they too become concerned to the point of wanting something done about it.

These findings can be harnessed to build support for initiatives such as increased household food waste collections. This was further illustrated by the research findings. When our survey asked people what the best policies for dealing with food waste were, they often involved things that required little effort from consumers: examples included increased education about food in school and feeding more food waste to livestock.

But when a separate group of people were provided with information about the climate impacts of food waste, the increase of more accessible food waste collections bins saw a 7% jump to make it one of the most popular policies for reducing the impact of food waste.

So how do local authorities that are looking to build support get the message out? Our research demonstrates that the most trusted sources of information about food waste were overwhelmingly our friends and families, which is perhaps not that surprising.

However, the findings further showed that campaign groups and information on product packaging were also trusted sources of information. This indicates that successful public awareness campaigns about food waste will not only target resources into peer-to-peer channels, but also seek to build partnerships with campaign groups and manufacturers.

On a national level, this is one of the reasons why it is encouraging to see a corporation such as Unilever use the product packaging (PG tips in this case) to provide people with information about what to do with their food waste. Imagine if all manufacturers moved to provide such information.

Local authorities also have an important role to play. Providing waste collection infrastructure is of course a vital part of the local government toolkit in this regard, but we should not lose sight of the impact that can be had through better communications.

Talking to people about the reasons for acting in the first place will mean that support for investment in the necessary infrastructure as well as demand for campaigning groups and businesses to be involved will only increase.

This in turn can drive lasting support and attachment to the infrastructure and norms around food waste collections. That is how good local policy endures.

Natan Doran is senior researcher at the Fabian Society

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