What A Wasteful Day! Food Waste In The Daily Lives Of Dutch Households


About 14 percent of food purchases, or 47 kilograms per person, are thrown away by Dutch households annually. These numbers make households the single-largest contributor to food waste along the entire food supply chain, with an estimated share of 38 percent. Comparing 2013 and 2010, there is no trend apparent that indicates a reduction in household food waste. Several studies explored how the amount of food waste in households is influenced by the way how people organize their household life around the cultural practice of eating as well as their abilities to cope with unforeseen disruptions from everyday life. In this master's thesis I compare and contrast household life and the influence of everyday life for two groups of Dutch households. One group is characterized by households that voluntarily participated in the public engagement campaign "100-100-100". This campaign was not food-specific but focused on generally reducing residual household waste and improving sorting behavior. The other group is characterized by "ordinary" households in the sense that I selected them without any particular selection criteria other than to investigate daily household life. Drawing upon the results of a content analysis of 203 open-ended text responses, I found that 100-100-100 households: (1) adopted simple routines to reuse leftover products shortly after their occurrence or preserved them in the freezer for future use; (2) are characterized by people with an expressed "maker culture" and a positive attitude towards experimentation and do-it-yourself (DIY); (3) experience disruptions from everyday life in the form of well-intended food gifts and donations by friends and family members. These products are usually not part of the household's known "system" and thus introduce difficulties to utilize them. To the contrary, the "ordinary" households in my study: (a) reported far more disruptions from everyday life, that they felt, were outside their control; (b) expressed widely shared emotions of anger, sadness, dislike and discomfort attached to the act of wasting food; (c) were in many situations aware of the cause of their food waste and able to articulate preventive solutions but did not implement these in their daily household life. Contrasting the responses from both groups confirmed that fighting food waste goes beyond the responsibility of the individual household. Existing societal structures in which households are embedded need to be questioned and alternative structures be put forward to create a system that disregards the wasteful use of resources and penalizes individual over-consumption.


About 14 percent of edible food purchases, or 47 kilograms per person, are thrown away by Dutch households annually (van Westerhoven). Along the entire food supply chain, with 38 percent households are the single-largest group of wasters (Lipinski). The food thrown away by households equals 2.4 billion Euro of financial losses (van Westerhoven). Moreover, the emissions of each kilogram of wasted food equal 1.3 liters of burned petrol (Milieu Centraal).

Thus, the food thrown away per capita equals 1.33 percent of the annual CO~2~ emissions. These negative impacts on the economy and the environment had been recognized by the Dutch government. An ambitious goal has been set to reduce food waste by 20 percent in 2015 in comparison to 2009 (Ministerie van Economische Zaken). Between 2013 and 2009, however, no significant reductions had been achieved (Bos-Brouwers). This goal, therefore, is unlikely to be met by the end of 2015 if historical developments continue.

Aside this background, in my master's thesis I decided to take a detailed focus on households to understand the impediments to household food waste reductions. In my empirical research, therefore, I explored how two different groups of households negotiate with the occurrence of food waste at home, what measures they take to prevent or reduce food waste, and how everyday life situations affect and counteract intentions to not waste food.

The different constellation of the two groups allowed for an insightful contrast and comparison around the aforementioned questions. Whereas one group of "ordinary" households was not selected without any particular selection criteria in mind other than exploring daily life, the other group consisted of participants of a public engagement campaign titled "100-100-100". Through their participation, these households willingly tried to improve their residual waste sorting results and reduce their total amount of residual waste. Drawing upon the results of two waste sorting analyses, it becomes apparent that these households can be considered "frontrunners" with a far above average performance. The amount of food waste measured was, on average, 64 percent lower than that of an average Dutch household prior to campaign begin <<1>>. If the entire Netherlands were to adopt patterns of the 100-100-100 households to prevent food waste, the country would achieve 844 million Euro worth of financial savings, water savings of at least 444 liters per capita per year, and land use savings of at least 8 m^2^ per capita per year.

This astonishing performance of the participating households during the 100-100-100 campaign let me to the following questions that I will address in this work:

  1. How do 100-100-100 households organize their household life to effectively avoid food waste?
  2. How do 100-100-100 households cope wit