Less waste during lockdown

A quarter of the Dutch consumers wasted less food during the COVID-19 lockdown.
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This conclusion is based on a sample of 1500 consumers, studied by researchers from Wageningen Food & Biobased Research in collaboration with the Voedingscentrum (Nutrition Centre) completed a survey between 8 and 17 May on their food wasting behaviour during the lockdown and before.

If people eat at home and spend more time cooking, they more readily use left-overs

Gertrude Zeinstra, researcher at  Wageningen Food & Biobased Research

‘A little over a quarter (26 per cent) of the respondents indicated they wasted less food than before the lockdown’, says Gertrude Zeinstra, a researcher at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. The majority, some 70 per cent, wasted as much food as previously, and some 5 per cent stated they wasted more. The researchers found several possible explanations for the fact that a quarter of the respondents wasted less.

Better planning and more time

Forty per cent of the participants said they went grocery shopping less frequently during the lockdown. ‘Moreover, they planned their shopping better’,  Zeinstra states. ‘Over a quarter made shopping lists, and a third less frequently succumbed to impulse buying. Also, more products with a long shelf-life were bought, such as canned vegetables, pasta and semi-baked bread.’

Repeating this study when everything has reverted to normal will prove valuable: are these COVID-19 induced changes permanent?

The closed cafés, restaurants and company catering prompted people to eat at home more frequently. Over 28 per cent indicated they cooked more often, and 27 per cent tried new recipes. Moreover, 21 per cent spent more time preparing meals. Zeinstra: ‘If people eat at home more frequently, spend more time cooking and trying new recipes, they are better able to use left-overs, which may explain the lower amount of food waste.’

It also appeared that 20 per cent of the participants were better aware of their supplies, possibly because they spent the lockdown organising the fridge. The study also showed that unexpected events, which are a major cause for waste, occurred less frequently for 30 per cent of the respondents during the lockdown. Zeinstra: ‘Last-minute plans to go out for diner, for example, or a friend staying for diner which results in ordering in, as your left-overs serves only one.’

Shelf-life

Zeinstra is partly surprised by the results. ‘We had expected two outcomes. On the one hand, the supermarkets were faced with shortages, and we expected increased awareness when grocery shopping. On the other hand, there was panic buying, which could result in people hoarding more than they needed. There is no telling what the long-term effects may be. Will people eventually consume the products with a longer shelf-life they hoarded? Or will these products eventually be tossed out?’

The researchers intend to use these insights to develop interventions to change consumer behaviour. ‘We note, for example, that using a grocery list reduces waste, and that those who spend more time cooking and are more flexible in using recipes are better able to utilise left-overs. Repeating this study when everything has reverted to normal will prove valuable: are these COVID-19 induced changes permanent?’

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