Television has long been recognised as playing a significant part in helping to influence behavioural change. Children’s programmes in particular are littered with recycling messages, but when it comes to mainstream content, these messages are seemingly forgotten.

With popular programmes such as the Great British Bake Off (GBBO), Masterchef, Sunday Brunch and Saturday Kitchen, broadcasters and production, companies could easily champion the issue in their programmes. It can be argued that TV, through its glossy advertising and demand for perfection, plays a part in creating food waste. Yet there is much that it could do to prevent and encourage the recycling of it.

More than six million viewers regularly watched the GBBO last year and all too often those viewers watched contestants throwing away their first attempts into a black bin bag – each time, re-enforcing the notion that food is consigned to general waste. Replacing that bag with a kitchen caddie would be a very subtle, but clear, message that this food waste is being separated for recycling and that it’s too valuable a resource to simply be thrown in the bin.

According to a report from WRAP back in 2008, households in the UK create more than six million tonnes of food waste each year. Yet, very often where councils offer a separate collection, participation is not a strong as it could be because food waste is seen as smelly, dirty and too much hassle to separate.

In reality, food waste recycling is incredibly simple to do using kitchen caddies or other worktop containers; material can be separated where and when it’s produced. The process therefore is no different – it’s just an alternative bin to the general one. Demonstrating the ease of this process in the TV kitchens of Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver would be a great way to overcome misconceptions and would encourage more householders to take up the solution where it’s available.

Such programmes can also be used to champion the reuse of food waste by talking about recipes that use left-overs or meals that can be made from off cuts, rather than consigning them straight to the bin. In the current economic climate we need more Nigel Slaters re-educating the public on how to make the most from every last bit of food they buy.

Communication is crucial in encouraging uptake and participation in food waste reduction and recycling, and TV could hold the key to getting messages out to a wider audience. This is not about preaching to viewers, but about adopting best environmental practice in programme making to support important national goals.

The power of television coverage in behavioural change cannot be under estimated. The 2012 Olympic Games were watched by 90% of the UK population. During that four week Games-frenzied period there was a 44% increase in sport participation at local authority leisure centres across the nation. More lifeguards, coaches and leisure centre staff were called in to cope with the demand.

Wouldn’t it be great if the waste industry could attribute a significant growth in food waste recycling to broadcast coverage? And report that more jobs were being created to handle the growing demands of the population? The role that TV can play in eradicating food waste to landfill is potentially very significant.

While we know there has been greater introduction of food waste recycling schemes by local authorities in recent years, what’s now critical is that there is enough supporting communications to encourage and maintain participation. This is where the TV industry needs to fully switch on its support and help drive good habits into the UK’s homes.

Dean Pearce is regional account manager at ReFood, part of PDM Group

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