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Discussions over Dinner

Conversations around food-wastage habits and perceptions.

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People hesitate to go past the ‘use by’ date 

  • We interact with different products in different ways when they go past their use-by date. 
  • When dairy is past its use-by, we investigate it; looking at the consistency, pouring it, smelling it, tasting it. We are more willing to give the use-by date some leniency when we can confirm whether it is safe to eat.
  • Conversely, our reactions to meat (cooked and raw) and cooked rice is consistently cautious. Because we can’t easily confirm the safety of these food products by smell or observation, and due common perceptions and circulated ideas around cooked rice and meat foods, we all throw these products out even if they are close to their use-by date.
  • The ideas and interactions we have with food is largely influenced by the society and socio-economic group we live within, as well as the individual family attitudes we are brought up with. Our grandparents interact with old food products very differently from us; anecdotes from group members indicate our willingness to throw out food in comparison to older generations who lived through economic hardship.
  • As well as broader societal context influencing food waste decisions, our own family attitudes also influenced how we see things like composting, re-using leftovers and how we prioritise the use of food items that are close to going off.

Food Planning is key!

  • People start out with good intentions, but then become too busy to make use of all the fresh food they buy
  • Planning takes time and effort; most people don't prepare shopping lists 
  • Social/work commitments take precedence over meal/shopping planning 
  • It is difficult to make accurate estimates – particularly when food portion sizes don’t always reflect the number of people eating. One member of our group lives alone and thus frequently has excess food from multi-serve packets, resulting in food wastage. 

Restricted portion sizes for single households

  • Existing portion sizes for most food items available in the supermarket are not friendly to single-person households. In most cases, you have to buy a whole loaf of bread, a pack of cherry tomatoes; which of not consumed in time, gets wasted as there are not enough people to eat it. 
  • Careful meal planning and batch cooking is required to remedy this – making sure that single meal sizes are used – but this solution is too time consuming for many busy people. Other problems also arise around pre-packaged single-serve food items, significantly increasing packaging and thus landfill.

Lack of adequate knowledge in dealing with trash 

  • A major theme that emerged from the research was the majority of food waste went straight to the trash.  An alternative to trashing food is to compost it but for city apartment dwellers access to composting facilities and the lack of motivation (if you don’t have a garden to fertilise what do you do with it?) make it difficult to do.  There are composting systems for apartment dwellers and in some suburbs public composting facilities available but they are not well publicised. Better education around composting generally but particularly apartment composting would be beneficial – not only how to compost but what to do with it after.

How might we get people to become more emotionally engaged with reducing food wastage? 

  • There is a lack of culinary education: meal planning, cooking, conservation and preservation of food.
  • "I have a busy week at work and never being able to find the time to cook the carrots I brought. I feel guilty to throw it out but I don't know what to do?"
  • It is important to provide consumers a proper education focused on preservation, conservation, how to using the entire product. When consumers are aware of food waste, all the cooking technique will be the tools for them to start practice reducing food waste, explore cooking to the next level, have fun and make a diverse range of everyday meals.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

There is a general cavalier attitude towards food in general, combined with a voracious appetite for takeaway food and eating out. The plethora of choices Sydney-siders have at hand further motivates this behaviour. Younger segments (18-35) in particular are prioritizing convenience and instant gratification over planning and organization. And they’re wasting a huge amount of food in the process!

Tell us about your work experience:

We are a group of social entrepreneurs skilled in areas as diverse as marketing, finance and technology, passionate about the cause relating to reducing food wastage.

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  • An OpenIDEO Outpost or Chapter

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That is a very good point on planning for shopping and cooking. And it can be tricky to estimate depending on how many people you cook for. It could be valuable to see how different countries educate their consumers on food preparation.