Master thesis research proposal: How do daily household practices affect food wastage? Empirical insights from 100 Dutch households in the context of the 100 100 100 campaign

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  • Name: Robert Orzanna

  • Title: How do daily household practices affect food wastage? Empirical insights from 100 Dutch households in the context of the 100 100 100 campaign

  • Contact:

  • Supervisor: Prof. dr. Ernst Worrell

  • 2^nd reader: dr. ir. Wina Crijns-Graus


Societal background or problem

Globally, about one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, equalling an estimated amount of 1.3 billion tons per year (Gustavsson et al., 2011). The differences between regions are enormous. In Europe and North America consumers waste around 95-115 kg/year, compared to only 6-11 kg/year in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia. These are the results of a study commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to raise awareness on the dramatic evidence of inefficient food utilisation. Not only does food wastage pose an ethical dilemma for people suffering from hunger and malnutrition, it also has significant environmental implications. Food that is doomed to be wasted has been grown without use, thus contributing to unnecessary use of fertile land, water for irrigation, and energy for agricultural production and transport, as well as for waste collection and treatment.

Scientific background and previous studies

In acknowledgement of the problem, many countries have tackled the challenge to significantly reduce food wastage in the upcoming years. Likewise, the European Commission has announced 2014 as the year against food waste. In the Netherlands, the government aims at reducing food wastage by 20% in 2015 (Ministerie van Landbouw, 2010). However, as two comparable studies from 2010 and 2013 have shown, on a household level there was no significant reduction in food wastage. In comparison to 48kg of the avoidable fraction that had been thrown away in 2010, in 2013 the avoidable fraction still amounted to 47kg per year (van Westerhoven, 2013; van Westerhoven, 2010).


Identification of the gap in literature

The aforementioned studies estimated the amount of household food wastage for different municipalities in the Netherlands. However, those have several shortcomings. van Westerhoven (2013) mostly analysed households living in low-rise buildings without a Diftar scheme1, but groente-, fruit- en tuinafval (GFT) collection and the use of mini-containers. Analysing the effect of different building and waste collection infrastructure is of particular importance. Therefore, including more households from high-rise buildings and diftar scheme might reveal new insights into food wastage occurrence with regards to housing and waste collection infrastructure.


Furthermore, yet little work has been done to translate the Dutch household wastage figures into the environmental impacts regarding water spoilage, fertile land use and CO_2 emissions. From the factsheet issued by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2013, a study by Mileu Centraal had been cited that expressed each kilo of wasted food as 1.3 litre wasted gasoline (Milieu Centraal, 2013). However, the study is not publicly available and can thus contribute to a limited extent to new scientific insights on food waste implications.

Lastly, since existing strategies of governments and organisations have not proven to lead to any significant reduction of food wastage between 2010 and 2013, this research seeks to contribute to effective strategies that address behavioural change towards food wastage reduction.

In acknowledgement of the prevailing shortcomings, this research aims at responding to the following three main questions:

  1. How do daily household practices affect food wastage?

  2. What are the environmental effects of food wastage produced by Dutch households?

  3. How can households be stimulated to waste less food?

The first question addresses the environmental effects of wasted, thus non-utilised, food on unnecessary water and land use, as well as CO_2 emissions resulting from energy use for various process along the food supply chain. Providing accurate estimates requires detailed data on the different food categories that have significantly different environmental impacts, e.g. meat in comparison with vegetables.

The second question aims at contributing to a better understanding of the underlying reasons for food waste occurrence. It will be investigated what the relationship is between daily, recurring activities of household members and food waste occurrence. Furthermore, it will be analysed which of these activities have an enforcing (diminishing) influence, e.g. shopping planning behaviour, mode of transportation typically used for shopping, etc.

The last question tries to address strategies by which households can be stimulated to reduce their food waste. Design experiments will be performed that focus on best practices and nudges that were proven to work in other contexts (Liebig et al., 2014; ???, 2012). Gaining a deeper understanding of households’ daily practices is likely to provide further insights that can help contribute to a better understanding under what circumstances food wastage in households occurs. Households have different options to dispose food leftovers which has different implications for the environmental effects and thus the requirements of the waste collection and treatment infrastructure.

  1. Diftar is a differentiated tariff scheme based on the polluter pays principle from economics. Households’ subjected tariff is based on the amount of produced waste (m^3 or kg).