By Martina Barjaková
Have you ever been on holidays in a 4- or 5-star hotel, with an all inclusive buffet? Do you remember the huge variety (and amounts) of food served there? It was probably very hard to choose from. So it may have happened that you wanted to try a bit of so many things that you ended up with a table full of food that you could never finish. And of course, the rest of your dinner ended up in a trash bin.
This is not an unrealistic scenario. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, one third of the food (corresponding to roughly 1.3 billion tonnes!) produced each year gets wasted. Only with the food wasted yearly in Europe, 200 million people could be fed. On the individual level, each person in Europe or North America wastes 95-115 kg of food per year.
Hopefully these figures are enough to say that we (humanity) have a huge problem here that we should really try to solve. And as usually happens to be the case in our (B.BIAS) articles, we argue that behavioural science may help also with this issue. Often, our eating habits are quite automatic and therefore could be changed with some clever nudges.
Taking less food in buffet restaurants/canteens
As the example at the beginning of the article illustrates, many times we waste food by taking too much of it. We eat with our eyes first.
A study conducted in more than 50 hotels in Scandinavia tried a simple nudge – telling people in a salient way that instead of taking a lot of food at once, they can visit the buffet as many times as they wish. This resulted in 20 % drop in the food wasted.
The same study tried another approach – simply decreasing the plate size – and found that reduction of the size of 1 cm resulted in 2.5 kg reduction in food waste (over 7 %). Another team of researchers tried this strategy with a sample of businessmen in Denmark and also found a significant result – 3 cm reduction in plate size led to 26 % reduction in food waste.
Another strategy, this time created by one of the winning teams of the Nudge Challenge 2017 (a student contest organised by Nudge France), used salience to inform people about how much food is being thrown away in the school canteen. They put up posters around the canteen saying how many kg of food (and how many entire meals) were wasted the previous day. This led to a decrease of more than 40 % in food wasted in just two days.
Taking food home from restaurants
Sometimes it is not up to us to choose the amount of food to be eaten, e.g. when we eat out in restaurants. Can something be done to reduce food waste in such settings?
Probably the best option is to pack the remaining food for guests to eat at home. However, in many countries asking for a “foodie bag” (doggy bag) is not the norm and people may not feel comfortable doing it.
Nudge Italia came up with a nudge to make taking food home a default. In front of each diner in a pizzeria, they put a poker-like token, coloured green on the top and red on the bottom. On each table, there was a leaflet with the caption “I DON´T WASTE” (“#IONONSPRECO” in original) explaining the meaning of the token – turned on the green side it means the remaining food will be automatically packed to be taken home. In case one does not wish to get the doggy bag, they need to turn the token to the red side. And the result? Normally only around 40 % of customers would request the doggy bag, while after the implementation of the nudge, it was 85 % of diners.
A similar idea has been tested in a restaurant in Thessaloniki by the Nudge Unit Greece, though they used only flyers distributed on the tables, raising awareness about the food waste and making salient the availability of the foodie bags. This strategy produced a 10 % increase in the demand of these bags.
Buying less food in supermarkets – something we should think about as well
It would probably be unfair to blame only restaurants, hotels or canteens for all the food waste produced. Households may also contribute to it, by buying more food than can be consumed before it gets rotten or past the expiry date.
However, this seems to be an issue that behavioural science has not tried to solve yet. Can you think of any ways of nudging people to make better (in terms of quantity) food purchasing decisions? Let us know in the comments, we will be happy to discuss with you!