A quantitative and qualitative study of retail food waste in New Zealand
Background: With an estimated one-third of the global food supply going to waste, it is crucial that the quantity of wasted food is reduced. Target 12.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals aims to halve per capita global food waste at retail and household levels by 2030. Three steps have been suggested to achieve this goal: target, measure, and act. Measurement of food waste is necessary in understanding the scale of the problem and to identify areas for intervention. Little is known about the quantity of food wasted in the retail sector, and there is no publicly available data for New Zealand. In order to ‘act’, barriers to food waste reduction need to be overcome. Gaining insight into what motivates retail staff to reduce food waste and the barriers that prevent reduction is an important step to inform targeted interventions that will reduce retail food waste. Objective: To measure the quantity of retail food waste in New Zealand, to identify key motivators and barriers for retail food waste reduction, and to draw comparisons to data on food waste collected by New Zealand retailers. Design: A quantitative and qualitative study of 16 supermarkets in four urban centres. The general study design followed a three-component methodology used by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in the United Kingdom to measure retail food waste, which included: onsite food waste audits, semi-structured interviews, and analysis of existing food waste data. Method: Onsite food waste audits were carried out in both Countdown (n=8) and Foodstuffs (n=8) supermarkets located in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Food waste generated over a 24-hour period in each store was sorted, weighed and recorded. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with key retail staff at each supermarket (n=16) and thematic analysis using the NVivo qualitative analysis software was conducted to identify usual waste behaviours, motivators, and barriers associated with in-store food waste reduction. Data provided by each retail body was also used to understand usual food waste patterns. Results: Complete quantitative data was obtained from 11 of the 16 supermarkets audited. Estimates for retail food waste in New Zealand amounted to 13 kg/capita/year for all food waste and diverted product (i.e. all food not sold or utilised at a retail level including food waste and food donated to charities and as animal feed), 5 kg/capita/year for food waste only (i.e. food waste directed to landfill, protein reprocessing and compost) and 3 kg/capita/year for food waste sent to landfill. A total of 77% of all discarded food measured in onsite audits was diverted from landfill (i.e. donated to food rescue charities, as animal feed, protein reprocessing and compost). Of this, approximately 46% was donated for animal feed, 15% was donated to food rescue organisations, 14% was directed to protein reprocessing, and 1% was composted. Of the 23% of food waste sent to landfill, the largest contributors were dairy products, bakery, and meat and fish. Of all food measured in onsite audits, fresh vegetables accounted for 27% of discarded product, followed by bakery (23%), meat and fish (19%), fresh fruit (17%), dairy (6%), staple foods (i.e. household grocery items such as oats, pasta, flour and tinned foods) (3%), non-dairy drinks (2%), and all other remaining food categories (2%). Qualitative interviews with 16 retail staff identified the following motivators for encouraging food waste reduction: protecting the environment; making profit; caring for the community; and doing the ‘right’ thing. The key barriers identified to food waste reduction included: training and education; food safety concerns; quality standards; waste diversion avenues and capacity; and lack of available resources. Comparisons between audit data and food waste data recorded by retailers were only possible for one store; audit data and store reported data had similar total quantities of food waste. However, due to the different methods of collecting food waste and missing data it was not possible to draw these comparisons for other audited stores. Conclusions: This study provides baseline data for the quantity of retail food waste produced in New Zealand. The effectiveness of future food waste reduction initiatives in the retail sector can be measured against this baseline data. Waste reduction initiatives should focus on reducing food waste at the source, as well as diverting dairy, bakery, and meat and fish away from landfill. Successful initiatives are likely to incorporate the environmental protection and profit driven motivators for food waste reduction identified by retail staff, and overcome the significant barrier of training and education.
Advisor: Skeaff, Sheila; Mirosa, Miranda
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Human Nutrition
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Food waste; Retail food waste; Sustainability; Waste; Food sustainability; Human Nutrition; Food; Food Science; Environment; Food rescue
Research Type: Thesis