The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) and dozens of Central Ohio organizations joined forces in 2018 to identify a shared set of strategies for cutting food waste in half in the region by 2030, including the creation of the Save More Than Food (SMTF) campaign, which uses public outreach channels to provide information on food waste prevention and diversion. To better understand how the SMTF campaign impacts residential food waste and how to guide communities on effective implementation of the campaign, SWACO sought and received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to partner with the City of Upper Arlington, Ohio, and the Ohio State University to study how food waste awareness, attitudes, knowledge, and volumes changed after implementing the SMTF campaign in Upper Arlington during the spring of 2021.
“To evaluate campaign effectiveness, household food waste was measured before and after sharing SMTF campaign materials with Upper Arlington residents,” explain the authors of a journal paper reporting on the findings of the study. “Food waste was measured through self-reports gathered via survey and through physical assessment of household waste collected curbside; the survey also measured respondent awareness, attitudes, and knowledge about food waste. To adjust for factors besides the campaign that could affect food waste (e.g., seasonal trends), the difference over time for those households known to receive the full complement of SMTF campaign materials was contrasted against the difference over time from two control groups: Upper Arlington households that received fewer SMTF campaign materials and households surveyed from around the United States who received no SMTF materials. The SMTF campaign led to a 23% reduction in the amount of wasted food reported by Upper Arlington respondents compared to a 29% increase reported by the national control group during the same period, representing a statistically significant 52% net reduction in food waste generation attributable to the campaign. The curbside audit of household food waste revealed a statistically insignificant 21% reduction in overall food waste and a significant 30% reduction in inedible food scraps going to the landfill after campaign implementation, though these reductions were unrelated to the differential exposure to SMTF campaign materials across Upper Arlington treatment groups.”
In the recommendations section of the paper, the authors explain that “contrary to common belief, changing attitudes or knowledge about a topic is not always a necessary step for shifting behavior.” Providing simple and convenient solutions or nudges, e.g., access to three food waste drop-off sites in Upper Arlingtoon, can be enough to influence resident behavior especially if there is a pre-existing positive sentiment about the new behavior. This observation helps explain the 30% reduction in inedible food scraps in the trash carts while seeing a statistically insignificant reduction in overall food waste. The recommendation: “Develop and deliver campaign materials that focus on changing behavior recognizing interventions need not always involve changing awareness, knowledge or attitudes.”
Download Evaluating the Effectiveness of the “Save More Than Food” Campaign in Changing Food Waste Awareness and Behaviors in Upper Arlington, Ohio Households, written by Brian Roe, Andrew Booker, Jane Karetny, Kyle O’Keefe, Katy Rees, Lucy Schroeder, and Yiheng Shu at this link.