Research / Monday, 15 January, 2018

Waste Not Want Not: Food Waste Papers Make Popular Reading


Two papers on food waste by Professor William Young, Co-Investigator of the Consumer Data Research Centre, were among the most downloaded from Resources, Conservation and Recycling Journal at the end of 2017, suggesting a renewed interest in issues surrounding sustainability and responsible consumption among food industry customers.

The result of a collaboration with supermarket giant Asda exploring its customers’ food shopping habits, the research has led to several useful applications by Asda, for example:

The most notable success of the application of the research was the finding that customers who applied the in house recommendations saved an average of £57 a year by reducing their food waste. The research and its applications were discussed at a parliamentary reception, in June 2016, hosted by MP Hilary Benn. For more on this, see here.

The first paper is ‘Bringing habits and emotions into food waste behaviour’. This research project set out, in partnership with Asda, to explore the relationship between habits and emotional determinants and food waste behaviours. Using a combination of the theory of planned behaviour (TPB), the theory of interpersonal behaviour, and the comprehensive model of environmental behaviour, the research project created a set of questionnaires sent to 172 Asda customers over 14 months. Collating the answers found, unusually, that participants who experienced more negative emotion when thinking about food waste actually intended to reduce their waste but instead ended up wasting more food. The project highlighted the importance of taking emotions and intentionality into account when it comes to consumer food waste behaviours.

In the second paper, ‘Can social media be a tool for reducing consumers’ food waste? A behaviour change experiment by a UK retailer’, the premise that social media can be a key influencer of people’s behaviours was interrogated by collaborating with Asda to mount a campaign which encouraged reduction in food waste among Asda customers across Facebook, e-newsletter and its print magazine. The results indicated that use of social media in positive messaging campaigns was no more compelling than use of other media and thus called into question other studies which have privileged social media as a key influencing tool.

Professor William Young, who is Co-Director of the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, contributed to both papers. Professor Young’s research focuses on developing theoretical frameworks and applied tools that understand and change consumer behaviour with a view to increasing sustainability and reducing environmental impacts caused by consumption.

On working with Asda he said: “Working with a large scale retailer like Asda, and its millions of customers, has been an invaluable experience. Not only have we come away with real, measurable insight from shoppers but we’ve also seen the direct correlation between our recommended actions and tangible behavioural change.”