Knowledge for better food systems

Study: smaller plate sizes in buffet-style restaurants reduce food waste

The authors of this study looked at the impact of measures introduced by Scandinavia’s largest hotel chain to reduce food waste.  Plate sizes were reduced while signs were also posted encouraging customers to help themselves to food more than once (ie. signalling that they didn’t have to overload their plates the first time because they could always come back for more): the effect of these measures in combination was a 20% reduction in food waste.

The reference and abstract are as follows: Kallbekken S and Sælen H (2013).  ‘Nudging’ hotel guests to reduce food waste as a win–win environmental measure, Economics Letters 119 325–327

They show that two simple and nonintrusive ‘nudges’ – reducing plate size and providing social cues – reduce the amount of food waste in hotel restaurants by around 20%. The results are statistically significant. They are also environmentally substantial as food waste is a major contributor to climate change and other forms of environmental degradation. Given the magnitude of the contribution of food waste to global environmental change, it is surprising that this issue has not received greater attention. The measures reduce the amount of food the restaurants need to purchase, and there is no change in guest satisfaction, making it likely that profits will increase. The measures thus constitute potential win–win opportunities.

You can access the paper here (subscription access only).  A short YouTube video reporting on the findings can be found here.

For info, the ‘nudge’ concept is articulated in a best-selling book by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (or see Wikipedia for a summary) and is the favoured approach to behaviour change adopted by the present UK government.

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