Spaghetti soup: the complex world of food waste behaviours

There is growing awareness of the positive impact of reducing the amount of wasted food on greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, food and water security, and land use. 

In developed nations, food waste generated in homes is a large contributor to the total amount of food waste. The behaviours and practices associated with this waste prevention (and waste generation) are complex for a number of reasons: food waste is the result of multiple, interacting activities and this leads to separation between the activity and their consequences. 

These behaviours are usually performed for reasons unrelated to waste prevention and have both a marked habitual element and a pronounced emotional component. Furthermore, the prevention of food waste has less ‘visibility’ to other people (e.g. neighbours) than many other pro-environmental behaviours (e.g. recycling), and therefore social norms around ‘waste’ play a reduced role compared to more ‘visible’ activities. 

This paper discusses insights into these behaviours from research funded by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and its partners in the UK. It discusses how these insights have been used in the development of a successful public-engagement campaign, which has been influential in the recent reduction in household food waste. These insights are also discussed in light of commonly used behavioural models, highlighting that many of these models are not designed for multiple, complex behaviours. 


November 2013 Update

WRAP published new estimates on how much food and drink is disposed annually from UK households in November 2013. The breakdown of avoidable food and drink waste has been updated along with the associated value and environmental impact figures. Go to: