A National Strategy to
REDUCE FOOD WASTE
at the Consumer Level
Barbara O. Schneeman and Maria Oria, Editors
Committee on a Systems Approach to Reducing Consumer Food Waste
Board on Environmental Change and Society
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Food and Nutrition Board
Health and Medicine Division
A Consensus Study Report of
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
This activity was supported by contracts between the National Academy of Sciences, The Walmart Foundation (Award # 42515787), and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (Award # DFs-18-0000000011). Support for the work of the Board on Environmental Change and Society is provided primarily by a grant from the National Science Foundation (Award No. BCS-1744000). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-68073-8
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-68073-5
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/25876
Library of Congress Control Number: 2020947025
Additional copies of this publication are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu.
Copyright 2020 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. A National Strategy to Reduce Food Waste at the Consumer Level. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25876.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Marcia McNutt is president.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering. Dr. John L. Anderson is president.
The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to advise the nation on medical and health issues. Members are elected by their peers for distinguished contributions to medicine and health. Dr. Victor J. Dzau is president.
The three Academies work together as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The National Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine.
Learn more about the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine at www.nationalacademies.org.
Consensus Study Reports published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine document the evidence-based consensus on the study’s statement of task by an authoring committee of experts. Reports typically include findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on information gathered by the committee and the committee’s deliberations. Each report has been subjected to a rigorous and independent peer-review process and it represents the position of the National Academies on the statement of task.
Proceedings published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine chronicle the presentations and discussions at a workshop, symposium, or other event convened by the National Academies. The statements and opinions contained in proceedings are those of the participants and are not endorsed by other participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies.
For information about other products and activities of the National Academies, please visit www.nationalacademies.org/about/whatwedo.
COMMITTEE ON A SYSTEMS APPROACH TO REDUCING CONSUMER FOOD WASTE
BARBARA O. SCHNEEMAN (Chair), University of California, Davis (Retired)
CAIT LAMBERTON, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania
LAURA C. MORENO, University of California, Berkeley
RONI NEFF, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
RICHARD E. NISBETT, University of Michigan (Retired)
JENNIFER J. OTTEN, University of Washington School of Public Health
BRIAN E. ROE, Ohio State University
CHRISTOPHER M. SHEA, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
TAMMARA SOMA, Simon Fraser University
GAIL TAVILL, Packaging & Food Systems Sustainability Consulting LLC
ROBERT B. CIALDINI, Arizona State University
TOBY WARDEN, Board/Program Director
ANN L. YAKTINE, Board/Program Director
MARIA ORIA, Senior Program Officer
ALICE VOROSMARTI, Associate Program Officer
TINA M. LATIMER, Program Coordinator
BOARD ON ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE AND SOCIETY
KRISTIE L. EBI (Chair), Professor, Rohm & Haas Endowed Professorship in Public Health Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle
HALLIE C. EAKIN, Associate Professor, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
LORI M. HUNTER, Professor of Sociology and Director, Population Research Program, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado Boulder
KATHARINE L. JACOBS, Director, Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions (CCASS); Professor and Specialist, Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, University of Arizona
MICHAEL ANTHONY MENDEZ, Assistant Professor, School of Social Ecology, Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy, University of California, Irvine
RICHARD G. NEWELL, President and CEO, Resources for the Future
ASEEM PRAKASH, Professor, Department of Political Science, Walker Family Professor for the College of Arts and Sciences; Founding Director, Center for Environmental Politics, University of Washington, Seattle
MAXINE L. SAVITZ, Retired, General Manager, Technology/Partnership Honeywell Inc.
MICHAEL P. VANDENBERGH, Professor and David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair in Law, Vanderbilt University Law School
JALONNE L. WHITE-NEWSOME, Senior Program Officer, The Kresge Foundation
CATHY L. WHITLOCK, Professor of Earth Sciences, Montana State University
ROBYN S. WILSON, Associate Professor of Risk Analysis and Decision Science, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University
TOBY WARDEN, Board Director
FOOD AND NUTRITION BOARD
SHIRIKI KUMANYIKA, (Chair), Research Professor and Chair, Council on Black Health, Department of Community Health and Prevention, Dana and David Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University
RODOLPHE BARRANGOU, Todd R. Klaenhammer Distinguished Professor in Probiotics Research, Department of Food Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, North Carolina State University
JULIE A. CASWELL, Professor and Chair, Department of Resource Economics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
KATHRYN G. DEWEY, Distinguished Professor, Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis
ROSS A. HAMMOND, Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Social Dynamics and Policy, Brookings Institution
ALICE H. LICHTENSTEIN, Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy and Senior Scientist, Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University
MICHAEL C. LU, Dean, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley
BERNADETTE P. MARRIOTT, Professor, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Medical University of South Carolina
R. PAUL SINGH, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Food Engineering, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, University of California, Davis
ANGELA M. ODOMS-YOUNG, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
NICOLAAS P. PRONK, President, HealthPartners Institute, and Chief Science Officer, Health Partners, Inc.
A. CATHARINE ROSS, Professor of Nutrition and Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Pennsylvania State University
SYLVIA B. ROWE, President, SR Strategy, Washington, DC
BARBARA O. SCHNEEMAN, Professor Emerita, Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis
KATHERINE L. TUCKER, Professor of Nutritional Epidemiology, Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences, University of Massachusetts Lowell
ANN YAKTINE, Board Director
This page intentionally left blank.
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations of this report nor did they see the final draft before its release. The review of this report was overseen by MAXINE L. SAVITZ, retired, Honeywell, Inc., and CATHERINE E. WOTEKI, Iowa State University. They were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
Food waste occurs in multiple segments of the food supply chain; the focus of this report is on the segment comprising food wasted at the consumer level—food that was intended for human consumption but was discarded by consumers. A widely used statistic indicates that this wasted food accounts for one-third of all food purchased by consumers, yet, most consumers are not able to estimate their amount of wasted food or are likely to underestimate their amount. This waste is obviously associated with an economic cost to households, but also has environmental and social costs that may be less visible to many consumers.
Although the behavior of individuals is seen as the source of wasted food, that behavior is a consequence of various factors within the food system that, through their interactions, result in waste. Understanding what leads to this loss of usable food requires understanding the factors in the food system that impact an individual’s personal behavior and facilitate this waste. In particular, wasting food is accepted within the current food system. This report, then, poses the question of how the food system could be modified to change attitudes and habits and motivate consumers to reduce the amount of food they waste. To address this question, it was necessary to look beyond what happens at the household level to the drivers that result in the overacquisition of food and the choice of highly perishable foods rather than nutritionally equivalent shelf-stable options. These behaviors have consequences for decisions about storage of food, handling leftovers, and timing for utilization of perishable items among many other household decisions that can result in waste. Understanding these drivers depends
in turn on probing the factors underlying these behaviors, which include perceptions of wasted food at the household level; economic factors; and food literacy, such as knowledge about food safety, the prevalence of food myths, and information on appropriate food preparation and storage. At the consumer level, food is likely to be wasted if excess food purchases spoil or perish before they can be used, do not match food preferences, or consist of items consumers do not have the skills to prepare. In contrast, there are ways to reduce what might be wasted, such as using more shelf-stable food items (e.g., frozen or canned fruits and vegetables), improved technology for storage of food items, or food service operators creating alternative mechanisms for distributing food inventory that cannot be used as originally planned.
The COVID-19 pandemic emerged as the committee was finalizing this report. We realized that the evolving situation associated with this crisis illustrates many of the strengths and vulnerabilities of the current food system that impact the issue of food waste. Food has been lost before reaching the consumer as a result of disruptions in the transportation system, the food service sector, and the labor force responsible for food production and processing, as well as the loss of income for many households. These disruptions have resulted in the destruction of crops and other commodities because they cannot be harvested and utilized as well as food distribution systems that were not prepared for the rapid changes in utilization by various sectors. It is the committee’s hope that lessons learned about the management of food availability during the pandemic can be used by those to whom the recommendations in this report are addressed and that this time also constitutes a teachable moment that provides opportunities to change behavior. For example, media articles on understanding date labels have been published to help consumers avoid wasting safe, usable food based on those labels alone, and the crisis has given many households the opportunity to be more in touch with food and develop a better understanding of its use and household preferences. Such awareness can be a step toward reducing food waste. Although some might argue that the issue of wasted food has reduced importance during this crisis, the economic cost of such waste to consumers should not be ignored. Although the recommendations in this report were not developed to respond specifically to this crisis, they can be helpful in reducing this cost to consumers.
In developing this report, the committee was challenged by the limited availability of evidence-based strategies for reducing food waste. These existing strategies are focused primarily on building awareness and motivation so as to increase intent to reduce food waste rather than providing consumers with the opportunity and ability to change their behavior with respect to wasted food. However, initiatives to change consumer behavior in diverse areas ranging from energy and water conservation to weight
management provided the committee with insight into the elements of effective strategies. By leveraging this total knowledge base, it is possible to design and evaluate promising strategies; however, monitoring and long-term evaluation will be necessary to learn what is effective and why.
The committee’s conclusions and recommendations are not targeted simply at consumers but encompass the importance of action by multiple stakeholders, including government at all levels, nongovernmental organizations, commercial entities, nonprofit organizations, volunteer organizations, educational institutions at all levels, and foundations. Actions taken by these various stakeholders can give consumers the motivation, opportunity, and ability to reduce food waste. The report highlights the federal initiative Winning on Reducing Food Waste because certain coordinating activities are essential to catalyze efforts at other levels within the system. At the same time, however, it is abundantly clear that to be effective, programs must be tailored to local or regional conditions; accordingly, each of the pathways discussed in the report identifies roles for actors at all levels. By recognizing the importance of all of these stakeholders, the report illustrates addressing food waste at the consumer level, requires considering all the factors within the food system that result in such waste to identify solutions that can give consumers the motivation, ability, and opportunity to reduce this waste at the household level.
In developing this report, the committee received valuable input and outstanding support from several sources. We benefited from the information and insights presented at our public meetings and appreciate the participation of numerous presenters in these sessions (more detailed information on the presenters can be found in Appendix A). We were assisted by the very able work of Maria Oria (senior program officer, Food and Nutrition Board, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine), who was instrumental in the management and development of the report; Alice Vorosmarti (associate program officer, Food and Nutrition Board), who carefully amassed the articles, reports, and related resources that the committee accessed for its work; Tina Latimer (senior program assistant, Board on Environmental Change and Society [BECS], National Academies), who helped with all logistical needs, Jose Mendoza-Torres (senior librarian, National Academies), who conducted in-depth literature searches; Alexandra Beatty (senior program officer, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education [DBASSE], National Academies), who improved the organization and formatting of the report; Toby Warden (board director, BECS, National Academies) and Monica Feit (deputy executive director, DBASSE), who provided valuable input on managing and completing the committee’s statement of task; and Ann Yaktine (director, Food and Nutrition Board) for her support for and encouragement of this project. We also wish to express our appreciation to the study sponsors, the Walmart
Foundation and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, for their foresight in understanding the importance of this topic in the context of the food system.
Finally, as chair of the committee, I am personally grateful to my fellow committee members for their commitment to the committee’s work, including analysis of a large volume of material, and for their insight as to how this information could be used to develop a strategy that would respond to the committee’s statement of task within a demanding time line. By exhibiting respect for the opinions of their fellow committee members, working to find common ground, and providing constructive input on drafts, they have developed a strategy, documented in this report, that reflects the analysis and insights of the committee as a whole. It has been a pleasure to work with and learn from the entire group.