When it comes to food waste, the humble householder is the biggest offender - throwing out an estimated 40 per cent of the food they buy.
That's the equivalent of two in every five bags of groceries - about 2.7 million tonnes of food - going straight into household bins each year.
A new study by researchers from RMIT's Centre for Design and Societyhas found planning meals is crucial to reducing household food waste, regardless of socio-economic status.
The study, which looked at how and why household food waste is generated, has the potential to change the way we think about buying and binning food.
Commissioned by Banyule City Council and The Melbourne Metropolitan Waste Management Group, the Districts, Lifestyles and Avoiding Food Waste study mapped the week-long cycle of household food waste in 24 households across Ivanhoe, Greensborough and Heidelberg West.
It is estimated about 50 per cent of household waste in council garbage bins is food that has been thrown out, with fresh fruit, vegetables, pre-prepared meals, bread and cereals the most common items thrown out each week.
By looking at how households buy, store, prepare and dispose of food, lead researcher Associate Professor Karli Verghese and her team found poor planning was the main reason food was binned.
"Understanding food waste is more about shifting the everyday practices of buying, cooking and storing food that generate waste and less about what is being put in the bin," Associate Professor Verghese said.
Buying more food than needed, poor storage, spoiled food, expired use-by dates and forgotten leftovers were other reasons food was thrown out.
"Education programs should emphasise this, as well as not falling into the trap of purchasing store specials or buying extra when it is not needed," she said.
By understanding how households deal with food waste, the study - which complements research in Sweden and the United Kingdom - aimed to inform council programs on behaviour change.
To do this, the research team looked at economic, environmental and social factors, investigating lifestyle and consumption patterns such as planning and buying habits and the way participants took stock of the fridge.
A food audit then showed what was wasted during the week.
Giving participants the opportunity to record their daily activities, practices and actions resulted in many households becoming more aware of their actions, Associate Professor Verghese said.
Banyule Mayor, Councillor Craig Langdon, said the findings would help the council tailor education programs to reduce food waste across Banyule's 51,500 households.
"One of the surprising aspects of the study was that there was little difference between the three suburbs, which indicates food waste is a universal problem," he said.
As a result of the study, Banyule Council is developing a self-awareness kit for residents to allow them to understand and monitor and reduce their food waste.
"It is estimated that households waste approximately $1,200 of food each year," Councillor Langdon said.
"By implementing education programs that help households reduce food waste, it's a win-win for residents and council with not only financial savings but a better environmental outcome with less rubbish going to landfill."
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