A new report from NORSUS reveals that the younger generation (under 30 years old) reported the most significant reduction in edible food waste in 2023 and is no longer the worst culprits. In a time when everything is becoming more expensive, and food budgets are getting tighter, there may be a natural explanation for this, as more people understand the connection between using up food and saving money.
Every year, Matvett and NORSUS conduct qualitative surveys to gauge the behavior and attitudes of Norwegians regarding edible food waste. The results are based on self-reported food waste and not on what is actually discarded, which is assessed through waste composition analyses.
This year's results show that consumers report wasting three percent less food compared to the previous year. It is particularly expensive food items like meat and fish that are wasted less, leading to a 10 percent reduction in the economic value of food waste. Bread and bakery products, fruits and vegetables, as well as liquid dairy products and beverages, are the items most frequently discarded, and most of what is thrown away is either unused or partially used.
Young people under the age of 30 used to be the biggest food wasters, but this year, they reported the most significant reduction in food waste and are no longer 'worst in class'. Although the oldest group (over 60 years) still wastes the least, self-reported food waste has increased from 2022 to 2023 for those over 60 years and for those between 40 and 49 years, who are now the biggest food wasters.
Who is wasting what and why?
People who live alone tend to waste more liquid dairy products and more unused or partially used food compared to other household types. Families with children waste more pasta and meal leftovers. The main reasons for food waste include forgetting food in the refrigerator or elsewhere, food having a short shelf life or being of poor quality at purchase, and purchasing too much food. Overbuying is often linked to consumer packaging being too large, miscalculating the required amount, or forgetting what is already at home.
The amount of self-reported food waste per person is also related to individual income: food waste follows a U-shaped curve, where those with lower incomes waste slightly more than those with moderate incomes, until a turning point where food waste increases with income. The survey also shows that those who regularly harvest, hunt, grow, or fish their own food report wasting less than others, while those who frequently use take-out services report wasting more.
The way forward
Aspects such as food quality, packaging sizes, and measures or nudging to help consumers make responsible choices in critical food waste moments and maintain control and order are areas that the food industry and authorities should further work on to reduce food waste.
More specifically, this could include:
- The food industry developing and utilizing new technology and innovations to improve product quality and shelf life.
- The food industry, for certain product categories, working on more flexible consumer packaging sizes (primarily applicable to bread, fruits and vegetables, and liquid dairy products).
- The food industry and other stakeholders developing new innovative digital and physical solutions (e.g., introducing 2D codes with expiration dates, smart refrigerators, storage solutions, apps, etc.) for better tracking, planning, reminders, and inspiration to consume food (push notifications).
- The food industry and authorities influencing consumer behavior in critical moments of food waste (planning, purchasing, storage, preparation, and consumption) by nudging on packaging and at the point of purchase and developing solutions to help consumers waste less.
- The government funding research and innovations to better understand how to reduce food waste and increase the rate of reduction toward 2030 and beyond.
How much can we save by not wasting food?
Updated figures indicate that an average family can save NOK 11,450 by not wasting food, and couples under 40 years can save NOK 8,065 (adjusted for price increases through August 2023).
A lot needs to happen quickly if we are to achieve our goals
According to the "Industry Agreement on Reducing Food Waste", Norway aims to halve food waste by 2030. Total food waste has been reduced by 9.5% up to 2020, with consumers among those making the smallest reductions.