ReFED’s Roadmap to 2030: Reducing U.S. Food Waste by 50% was designed to provide food businesses, funders, policymakers, and more with a framework around which to align their food waste reduction efforts. It outlines seven key action areas with related solutions to prevent, rescue, and recycle food at risk of going to waste. Each month in our special “Following the Roadmap” series, we’ll dig deep into one of the key action areas to explore why waste occurs – and what can be done about it.
Reshape Consumer Environments
Households are the greatest source of food waste in the US, making this a critical area for action. In fact, 37% of all surplus food is generated by consumers, for reasons ranging from spoilage, concerns about date labels, fear that something has been left out too long, to simply not wanting leftovers. While not understanding proper food management is a big cause, much of the food waste coming from consumers occurs because of decisions made by other actors throughout the supply chain.
Action Area Overview
Reshaping consumer environments means driving consumers toward better food management and less waste by creating shopping, cooking, and eating environments that promote those behaviors. There’s also a big opportunity to shift our overall culture to place more value on food and to make sure that people truly understand the implications of food waste for our environment, economy, and more. Retail, foodservice establishments, and homes are environments where the narrative around food purchasing, consumption, and management can be shifted. In dining environments, solutions that encourage less wasteful consumption patterns can include offering smaller portion sizes, using smaller plates, or removing trays in efforts to minimize consumers taking more than they will eat. In shopping environments, solutions include integrating meal planning support into customer assistance or creating promotions that don’t promote over-purchasing. More broadly, awareness and education campaigns are an important solution to help shift our culture towards greater appreciation for our food and the resources that went into it.
Impact of Solutions Adoption
ReFED’s analysis shows that solutions that reshape consumer environments can reduce food waste by 7 million tons each year, as well as cut greenhouse gas emissions by 34 million metric tons and save more than 1.6 trillion gallons of water. The cost to implement solutions is $1.4 billion per year, but this can result in an annual net financial benefit of $27.4 billion.
Nearly two-thirds of the prospective funding for reshaping consumer environments draws from Corporate Finance and Spending, as businesses stand to benefit from branding and improved reputation through improving their customers’ food management habits. Private Equity and Venture Capital can help further the innovation of in-home food management technologies that help consumers manage their food better, ultimately leading to less waste.
However, despite this being one of the most impactful action areas to fight food waste, the return on investment is mostly derived from societal good and can lack direct financial return. Especially for those solutions that drive the most impact but require a significant investment to work effectively at changing behaviors, like a consumer education campaign, government sources may be the most appropriate capital provider.