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So what actually is the food waste problem?

20th October 2017

Food scraps

The previous blog post explored some ways in which packaging may help resolve the issue of food waste. Packaging can help preserve and protect food, reducing losses before retail and enabling consumers to store fresh food longer. However, food waste is not a simple problem, and there are many factors involved. This post will discuss some of how the complexity may be manifest, but it does not delve into the extent of any issue discussed. The aim is to highlight what the complexity may be, rather than providing direct evidence for what it is.

Although packaging does have a role in solving the issue, it also has a role in creating it. The pantomime villain, the Bagged Salad, is itself an issue of packaging. Buying a bagged salad is easy and convenient and it may be that consumers assume that the product will keep despite its delicacy. Food waste could be reduced by allowing consumers to purchase what loose leaves they need, rather than providing pre-set unit sizes. However, for some ready bagged salads with multiple different leaf types, this may be a challenge.

One additional issue is cooking and time. Modern life is, for many people, exceptionally busy and making time to plan and prepare food within this is tricky. People purchasing dinner each day may easily end up with surplus food which goes to waste as they have no desire to eat it. Some of this may again be due to packaging and pack sizes, with shopping for an individual both expensive and difficult (unless you eat for two for one!). However, further issues may be the nature of demands on people’s time not allowing food preparation time.

This may be linked with a throwaway attitude, especially towards food. That so much food is thrown out suggests that this is something to which people do not object, at least on some level. A throwaway attitude, however small, may result in food being thrown away, without people wanting to change their approach to food to reduce this issue. One way in which this approach may be changes is through applying monetary values to food, but this is sometimes intangible when it’s only one pepper which is being thrown out.

Finally, a root of many of these issues is overall attitudes towards food. Food is often approached as a necessity, which it is, but on account of the range and quality of food available in countries such as the UK, it is also an immense privilege and pleasure. It is easy to waste something which is taken for granted, but much harder when that something is fully appreciated and highly valued, much like financial resources. However, it is perhaps a bold expectation that everyone values food highly, just as it would be silly to assume that everyone highly values leather chairs. In this way, our diversity and how it interacts with the world around is contributes to the problem.

This series has aimed to discuss food waste, clarify what the term refers to, and discuss why is it a problem and what may be done about it. This final post has sought to create a narrative of the complexity of food waste and its interaction with society and people. A deeper analysis of this may indeed be useful to tackle the issues, but it is likely that these issues are indeed complex and interact in unpredictable ways.