A Western PhD candidate has found London households throw away $600 worth of food a year — about $12 a week. 

Paul van der Werf is a PhD candidate in Western University's department of geography and works in the Human Environments Analysis Laboratory. In May and June, van der Werf conducted a food waste survey with 1,700 households, asking questions related to what leads to food becoming waste.

“Food becoming waste is really an inefficiency in the system," van der Werf said. "One way or another, we buy it, it's good and we choose not to eat it. My research is really focused on avoidable food waste or food that could have been eaten at one point … even an apple or piece of bread.” 

He also ranked three motivators to potentially reduce food waste in the survey: money, environmental impact about social impact like food security.

“The monetary piece really motivated people more so than environmental impacts and social impacts and it’s not that people don’t care about that, they really do, we all have to reach into our wallets and buy whatever food that is very immediate,” van der Werf said. 

He then took that data and created a food waste reduction tool kit that focuses on food literacy to better understand how to reduce food waste and save money.

The project found five ways people can reduce waste are: 

1. Plan meals ahead of time.

2. Make a grocery list and stick to it.

3. Store food properly.

4. Prepare just enough food. 

5. Eat those leftovers.

For some of the households, they were given toolkits and their food waste before and after was analyzed. The toolkits included a fridge magnet, post card with food waste reduction tips and information about education website foodwaste.ca, a grocery list pad, freezer stickers and a containers designed to maximize shelf life of fruits and vegetables.

He is still analyzing the research but says that there is some indication of a positive difference.

“What I want people to be able to do is to not put that much thought in to it and sort of focus on something that they do put a lot of thought into. People do focus on trying to manage how much money they spend, and a lot of those behaviours are ultimately automatic,” van der Werf said. 

van der Werf challenges people to reduce 50 per cent of their wasted food so they could put that money back into their pockets and use 10 per cent of those extra earnings to donate to people in need.

"We live in a country where some people are fortunate enough to be able to buy enough food and in some cases, too much, and throw it out," van der Werf said. "Others are food insecure, and we need to do something about that."