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Zero Waste Scotland joins university project to study effects of lockdown on household food waste

Researchers from the University of Leeds and two leading environmental organisations - Zero Waste Scotland and WRAP - will examine food waste during and after lockdown periods and develop interventions to support sustainable consumer behaviour

15 Jan 21

During the first national lockdown of 2020, self-reported levels of food waste in the UK fell by 34 percent, the sharpest fall on record. 

While self-reported levels of food waste did increase from this low point in the following months, careful food shopping and creative cooking contributed to this initial fall. 

Now a new national research project has been set up to understand that positive change, and to use those insights to help citizens to waste less food when the pandemic ends.

Researchers from the University of Leeds and two leading environmental organisations - Zero Waste Scotland and WRAP - will examine food waste during and after lockdown periods and develop interventions to support sustainable consumer behaviour. 

The 18-month research project has been awarded funding of £328,000, including a grant of £268,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said:

“The findings from this collaborative project will help us to understand how lockdown has changed our relationship with food, and the ways in which we can all tackle waste at home. We must do all we can to prevent food waste.

“When we waste food, we also waste the huge amounts of energy and associated carbon emissions from growing, transporting, refrigerating and packaging the food, and when we send wasted food to landfill this causes more harmful emissions. So, we’re looking forward to working with the University of Leeds and WRAP on this project, to better understand how to win the fight against food waste.”

Dr Gulbanu Kaptan, associate professor of behavioural decision making at Leeds University Business School, is leading the research.  

She said: “Research published by WRAP shows significant changes in behaviour and a reduction in the self-reported level of food waste in the first national lockdown period. While we understand some of this behaviour, we want to broaden our knowledge of why the changes came about, and how we can build on this to help people prevent more food going to waste in future. 

“We are particularly interested in the determinants of behaviour: for instance, what impact do our emotions have on wasting food, and what are the personal goals and values around how we buy and eat food?”

The project will develop interventions to help support households in wasting less food. To support this, around 1,500 people from across the UK will take part in a survey looking at how they choose, store, manage and cook food. Approximately 30 people will also take part in more detailed interviews and later be asked to keep household diaries of food waste.

Tom Quested, lead analyst at WRAP, co-investigator of the project, said:

“WRAP is delighted to be part of this project. We have the opportunity to learn from the considerable changes we have seen during 2020 to help support UK citizens to minimise the amount of food that they waste. The findings from the research will be used by WRAP’s teams developing behaviour-change interventions and our Love Food Hate Waste campaign.”

The research is led by Dr Gulbanu Kaptan, Professor Kerrie Unsworth and Dr Sally Russell (all University of Leeds) and Dr Tom Quested, WRAP, with support from Zero Waste Scotland.

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Notes For Editors

For more information about the project, please contact: Guy Dixon, Media Relations, Leeds University Business School - 07954 277 539 or g.dixon@leeds.ac.uk 

To contact the Zero Waste Scotland press office, please contact:
Sophie Thirkell, PR Project Manager (maternity cover), Zero Waste Scotland  
Mobile: 07966 284095  
Email: sophie.thirkell@zerowastescotland.org.uk  

About Zero Waste Scotland

Zero Waste Scotland exists to lead Scotland to use products and resources responsibly, focusing on where we can have the greatest impact on climate change.  

Using evidence and insight, our goal is to inform policy, and motivate individuals and businesses to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy.  

We are a not-for-profit environmental organisation, funded by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund.

You can keep up to date with the latest from Zero Waste Scotland via our social media channels - Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn
The Scottish Government is the Managing Authority for the European Structural Funds 2014-20 Programme. For further information visit the website or follow @scotgovESIF.

About the University of Leeds

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 38,000 students from more than 150 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. We are a top ten university for research and impact power in the UK, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, and are in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings 2020.

Additionally, the University was awarded a Gold rating by the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework in 2017, recognising its ‘consistently outstanding’ teaching and learning provision. Twenty-six of our academics have been awarded National Teaching Fellowships – more than any other institution in England, Northern Ireland and Wales – reflecting the excellence of our teaching.

About WRAP

WRAP is an environmental charity that works with governments, businesses and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used sustainably. It’s the charity leading The UK Plastics Pact (a world first) as well as Love Food Hate Waste, the Courtauld Commitment, the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, Textiles 2030 and Recycle Now.

WRAP works collaboratively and develops and delivers evidence-based, impactful solutions to reduce the environmental cost of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the plastic packaging we use. Founded in 2000 in the UK, WRAP now works around the world and is a Global Alliance Partner of The Royal Foundation’s Earthshot Prize. Read Our Plan for a Sustainable Planet - the blueprint for a waste-free world by 2025, and what we’ll do to get there.

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