To determine why people waste significant amounts of food, University of Western Ontario (Canada) PhD candidate and environmental consultant Paul van der Werf is conducting a study about food waste in London households.
Working on his doctoral research, Werf is attempting to understand why people throw out vast amounts of food and is looking for solutions to curb the waste. Werf believes that the study results will not only reveal environmental implications, but also financial and social ones.
"When I'm looking at intervention, all I want to do is reconnect people to what's always very important. Your resources are really important to you. That's the thrust of my messaging and research," he said. "It's less about managing waste, but more about preventing it from happening. It's not about food waste. People aren't managing their food properly—so food becomes waste. How do we change our thinking?"
In his research, Werf observed the amount of food wasted and the cost of the food wasted in select London households. Additionally, Werf looked at what those numbers meant in terms of greenhouse gas implications and explored how much that amount could potentially go toward helping to feed individuals in need.
"I'm trying to do it ground up, to develop strong, evidence-based calculations of what's going on, and from there, develop some interventions, strategies or actions we can use to help people reduce the food that becomes waste," Werf said. "It's a management issue; it's a personal issue that speaks to everyone."
Werf discovered through the study data obtained so far that a combination of discarded leftovers and untouched expired foods made up roughly 30 percent of the waste in the participating London households, costing each household $600 annually. That translates to 0.6 acres of lost agricultural production or 323 meals per year that could feed the hungry, according to Werf.
"Food and organic waste makes up about 30-35 percent of waste in London. The city does have a couple of good backyard compost programs and might have a green-bin program at some point. My research will help them maybe identify how that might be shaped," he explained.
"A key benefit is scoping out what we need to do with food," Werf said. "Do we put a program in place to discourage people from putting food in the garbage? Do we provide people with better ways or tools to manage food? Maybe we give them an incentive, or at least appeal to them by saying this is costing a lot of money. We have one part of the population who is prosperous, who has enough money to buy food and dispose food. On the other hand, we have people who have to go to a food bank. If we were able to reduce waste by 50 percent even, and save money, might you be able to contribute some of that saved money to people who don't have it?"