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Food Waste In Denmark and Sweden - Understanding Household Consumption Practices to develop Sustainable Food Care

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FOODWASTE (Food Waste In Denmark and Sweden - Understanding Household Consumption Practices to develop Sustainable Food Care)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2018-03-31

It is estimated that between 30 and 50 % of all the food that is produced for human consumption ends up getting wasted. This project addresses the problem of food getting wasted, focusing mainly on questions to do with how this happens. More specifically, the project puts an emphasis on how everyday life concerns, material environments and technologies impact consumers' wasting and non-wasting practices. While consumers, their hopes and wishes, background, intentions and attitudes may be relevant for elucidating sentiments about food and waste, a focus on what consumers do provides us with concrete examples of how good (and bad) practices may be further strengthened and cultivated. In this sense, the project represents an effort to think beyond the individual consumer, and include supermarket strategies, storage technologies, recycling facilities, consumption techniques and the different kinds of materiality of foods as what comes to play a role in food waste and food saving.

Thus, the project is an attempt to also highlight the notion that consumers and their behavior are not the only possible factors when food gets wasted. If we wish to reduce food waste, then, efforts must be made in various places along the food supply chain, in retail, and in recycling and waste management. It is not enough to inform and educate consumers.

The project contributes to an understanding of food waste that factors in the problems in reducing food waste on the one hand, and highlights the possibilities for realizing less wasteful practices, on the other hand. As such, the project both puts into question the current emphasis on individual consumers in waste policy and campaigns, while attending to how consumers develop creative ways of developing their own anti-wasting practices.

The overall objectives of the project are: 1) to gain insight into how consumers in Denmark and Sweden handle their food in everyday life, how they use it, waste it and/or avoid wasting it; 2) develop an original theoretical repertoire that enables the framing of pertinent questions and helps to conceptualize the insights gained; 3) develop innovative ethnographic methods which make it possible to research relevant household practices and to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ practices; 4) contribute to developing food care techniques that help to avoid food wasting.
The work has involved ethnographic and qualitative research with consumers in the Oresund region. Consumers' shopping practices, their household routines, food storage capacities and techniques and their wasting have been researched and analysed in order to articulate the concerns that consumers have when handling foods. Interviews, photo documentation and participant observations have been used as methods to generate empirical material for the project. The main results from the project show that 1) consumers do care, albeit in various ways and to various degrees, about their foods, and the potential wastage of foods; 2) when food is wasted, this happens due to many reasons e.g. lack of proper storage space, availability of foods, both in the household but also in the supermarket, other conflicting interests and concerns such as health and food safety; 3) foods and their different perishabilities play an important role in what consumers can do with them.
The project is innovative in the sense that it frames questions about food waste in relational terms, meaning it analyses food waste as the potential outcome of many different things acting (or not acting) together in a situation. The differences between different kinds of foods play a role, as does the storage capacities and kitchen equipment in a consumers' household. Waste management infrastructures, excessive food production, food packaging and retail campaigns also affect whether food gets wasted, or not. Here the project departs from analyses that suggest that food waste is above all an outcome of individuals making the wrong decisions, or having careless attitudes toward food. Instead, the project has contributed to an understanding of 1) the complexities and efforts involved in saving foods from going to waste, 2) the relational and distributed character of food waste, and 3) the importance of food's time and material composition, food's storage and handling, and other concerns that occupy consumers in their everyday life, such as food safety, money, and health.

In terms of the wider societal implications of the project, this means that efforts to reduce food waste should
1) take into account the various and sometimes conflicting complexities involved in the generation and avoidance of food waste - organic fruits, for example, go bad quicker than non-organic if not stored properly; in efforts to avoid foods from going bad, more packaging materials are used, meaning food waste is avoided, while other kinds of waste is generated;
2) analyse the role played by excessive production and retail and supermarket strategies, and the potential consequences this has on consumption and consumers;
3) highlight and cultivate those food saving and food rescuing practices that do work, rather than focus on those that do not
Fridge interiors
Saved foods
Leftovers for lunch
Organic bananas