The Scandinavian Food Waste Delusion

A small green plastic bin labelled "Food Waste. No Plastic Bags" stands on the floor outside.

writer icon Kay Lagercrantz     Patricia Valerio   |   Culture     🕐 28. Aug. 2018

An ongoing study on the perception of food waste across twenty countries has delivered some interesting results.

Out of the twenty countries surveyed, 17 countries perceive their level of food wastage to be lower than it actually is. The three remaining countries are Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In the Scandinavian countries, people believe that they are wasting more food than they actually are.

All three Scandinavian countries believe that 10% of their grocery shopping ends up as waste. In actual fact, the percentage of food wastage is just 8% in Sweden, 7% in Norway, and a mere 4% in Denmark.

Are apps the reason?
Scandinavia is home to several apps and services that target food waste. Yet, Scandinavians believe they waste more food than they actually do, despite the prominence of these apps. Or perhaps it is because of them.

Such apps place a great emphasis on social responsibility, pointing out that the amount of food wastage needs to decrease. In order to raise awareness of the need for their service, they enforce the message that humans waste a lot of food.

One such app is from a Danish startup, Too Good To Go. Also available in Norway, the app is a platform where supermarkets and food stores can list groceries that are no longer sellable, despite being perfectly edible. People can then see the food that will go to waste and buy it through the app at a reduced price.

Too Good To Go secured a $4.7 million investment in June 2018, showing that the food waste revolution is going from strength to strength.

Swedish startup Karma tackles food waste in the restaurant sector. Restaurants and cafes list themselves on the app and notify users of food that is available to purchase with a discount. Karma has just received a $12 million investment, bringing their total investment to $16.6 million.

While Karma and Too Good To Go may be market leaders, there are many other businesses cashing in on the food waste revolution.

The study on waste, commissioned by Movinga and carried out by the Discard Studies Compendium, is not focussing on which country achieves the lowest amount of wastage. Rather, it looks at the difference between what each country perceives, and the actual results. This difference is called the delusion percentage.

Perception is important. If people believe that they are already doing a good job at something, then they are not likely to try as hard to make improvements.

Canada also perceives their food wastage to be at 10%. The results show that Canadian households waste 21% of their food, giving them a delusion percentage of 11%. The only country scoring higher in Switzerland, with a delusion percentage of 13%.

While no-one is scoring a perfect 0, the Scandinavian countries also happen to have the lowest level of food wastage, together with Japan. Japanese households waste just 4% of their food, tying them in first place with Denmark. However, Japan perceives its wastage to be at 2%.

The study also looks at perceptions of clothing habits, and hoarding. Participants were asked what percentage of their wardrobe has remained unused over the last 12 months, as well as how much of their belongings remain unused since they moved to their latest home. In these two categories, the results were more varied across the Scandinavian countries.

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