Research Highlight: The Rest to Go Please
New study assesses attitudes and behaviors in Lebanese households that impact food waste.
Discarded food makes up a large portion of the waste that ends up in Lebanon’s overflowing landfills each year. The frustrating part about that for scientists, policy figures and residents of the country is the fact that the problem is almost totally preventable.
A new study by Department of Natural Sciences faculty aims to shine a light on the causes of the problem so that experts can find a way to combat it.
The paper, “Attitudes and Behaviors Shaping Household Food Waste Generation: Lessons from Lebanon,” is the result of a collaboration between Assistant Professor of Nutrition Lama Mattar, Associate Professor of Food Science and Technology Hussein Hassan, and faculty from the American University of Beirut. It was published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.
The main objective of the study was to assess household attitudes and behaviors that shape food waste in Lebanon in order to tailor community-based interventions, said Dr. Mattar, who specializes in community nutrition at LAU.
The study, launched in 2016, collected samples from 1,264 households across Lebanon’s five governorates. Undergraduate nutrition students were involved in data collection.
The results of the team’s research showed that variables such as employment status, educational attainment, the number of people in a household, and income level impacted the amount of food wasted per family.
“Our study showed a positive relation between the number of householders and the food waste volume,” Dr. Hassan said. “It may be that the more house occupants, the more food is prepared and the more likely to be left after cooking,” he explained.
Social behavior also affects the amount of food wasted, Dr. Mattar said, noting that dining out frequently leads to more food waste, as restaurants have to toss out anything uneaten at the end of a meal, and because when people eat out, food they already have at home is more likely left to spoil.
Similarly, the study found a correlation between higher education levels and food waste. “Because those with more education have a higher income, they go out more, tend to buy more, throw away more. They do not perceive wasting food as losing money,” she explained.
One of the more positive findings was that, compared to people in Lebanon’s urban areas, those in the rural areas tend to waste less, which the authors attribute to a resourceful culture of reusing leftovers.
Among the behavioral impacts on the amount of food individuals waste, the study found that those “who report a feeling of guilt when throwing away food are more likely to eat everything prepared, which reflects a reduced wasteful behavior,” Dr. Hassan said.
Aside from assessing the collected data, the study offers a set of recommendations that households can follow in order to limit food waste, such as launching community-based interventions. “At the beginning, such an intervention can take place at the level of restaurants and big supermarkets,” Dr. Mattar said. In addition, the government needs to implement a system to empower food banks and non-governmental organizations to collect clean, uneaten food for those in need.
The government also has a crucial role to play at the household level, Dr. Mattar said, and suggested launching nation-wide awareness campaigns, which have proven effective in countries such as Egypt. These can include classes to teach people simple recipes for leftovers and how to portion their meals using measuring instruments.
The researchers are now in the process of disseminating the results of the study, so that policymakers can start building on the findings.
Culturally, Dr. Hassan called for strategies that would raise awareness about food waste “coupled with motivating individuals to decrease it” through education related to household routines.
Dr. Mattar added, “We need to instill a sense of responsibility in the population, including making it culturally acceptable to ask for a doggy bag at restaurants.”
In the end, saving food is up to us.
Tips to reduce food waste at home:
- Don’t buy food just because it’s on sale
- Don’t make a new meal each day
- Always prepare a list before going grocery shopping
- Cook with leftovers
- Use the older products first
- Store fruit and vegetables in a cool place, especially in the summer
- Put freshly made food that will not be eaten in the freezer
- Ask for your leftovers to be packaged to go at restaurants – and then make sure to actually eat them!