It looks like it is all about money. "In terms of changing personal behavior, having to open up your wallet every week and realizing you have to pull less money out for groceries is a key motivator," said Paul van der Werf, an adjunct geography professor and environmental consultant in Western University's Human Environments Analysis Laboratory (HEAL Lab) in London, Ontario.
The study, Reduce Food Waste, Save Money: Testing a Novel Intervention to Reduce Household Food Waste, was published in the journal Environment and Behaviour.
For the study, researchers compared the waste habits of two groups: a control group that went about their normal habits, and another group that received a small kit and emails repeating the simple message, "Reduce Food Waste: Save Money."
Researchers also provided households with fridge magnets, grocery-list pads, freezer labels and emails with the same message. The result of the reminders was a 30% drop in avoidable food waste sent to the curb.
When asked about what motivated them—whether the environmental effect, the social impact or the cash they saved—respondents said the money motivation consistently fed their enthusiasm, according to van der Werf.
People have a tough time visualizing what 125 kilograms, or about 275 pounds, of avoidable food waste per household per year looks like, van der Werf said. But when they hear the amount of money they might have spent on other things, people pay attention.
"Money savings is physically tangible. You physically spend it. The environment is big and nebulous, and we may not know how to do that," he said.