Study reveals Czechs waste far more food than they think
Although the Czech Republic is one of the lowest generators of household waste in the European Union, its production has been gradually increasing in recent years. One of the most alarming things is the amount of food that Czechs throw out. A study by scientists from Brno’s Mendel University has revealed that they waste far more food than previously thought.
According to recent data, Czechs generate around 350 kilos of waste per person each year, which is still far below the EU average. However, a recent study carried out by a team of scientists from Brno’s Mendel University, in cooperation with the companies SAKO Brno and Green Solution, revealed that a large part of the municipal garbage consists of food that goes to waste. The research is part of a three-year- project, which aims to find ways to influence consumers to reduce the amount of wasted food in the future.
„In housing estates, people don’t have the opportunity to compost food residues or feed them to domestic animals. So all the wasted food goes into garbage cans.”
Earlier conclusions based on polls claimed that the average Czech throws out approximately 4.5 kilos of food a year. But the team of Brno scientists, who sifted through 900 garbage cans in Brno to get a more accurate picture, discovered that city dwellers actually waste 37.5 kilos of food a year. Most food waste is produced in housing estates, where people throw out over 53 kilos per person each year.
According to project leader Lea Kubíčková from the Faculty of Business and Economics at Mendel University, such an extensive survey had never been carried out before:
"We have been dealing with the issue of food waste for several years. But we found that there were no representative data available, not only in the Czech Republic, but also abroad.
"We went through various studies and found that while there are some data available on food waste in the whole food chain, there are no available data concerning food wasted in households.
"So we decided to obtain these data and carry out a survey on a sample of 900 households, which would be representative and could be applied to the whole of the Czech Republic."
The first, year-long stage of the research started last spring, during which the team analysed municipal waste from 900 ordinary "black" garbage cans from three different locations: housing estates, residential areas, and rural areas.
"We selected three types of areas, because we assumed that the content of the bins would vary, depending on the type of area. Our hypothesis was confirmed.
"In housing estates, people don’t have the opportunity to compost food residues or feed them to domestic animals. So all the wasted food goes into garbage cans.
"To the contrary, in rural areas, people have the possibility to feed the food waste to animals, and they usually have a compost in their garden, so for us it was important to have these three types of areas represented in the research."
The places where the garbage was collected were randomly selected so that the inhabitants were not aware that their street was involved in the research.
"I think people generally tend to see themselves in a better light, but also they often really have no idea how much food they throw away.”
To find out the exact amount of wasted food in garbage cans, the team members had to literally sift through the garbage, explains Mrs Kubíčková:
"We cooperated with the company SAKO, which brings the waste to one particular place, where it is spilled out in big piles and sorted by hand. It is sifted through sieves, divided into categories, and then measured and weighed."
The results confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis. People in housing estates waste far more food than in other areas, specifically 53.6 kilos per person per year.
In rural areas people waste a little over 29.1 kilos per person a year and in residential areas nearly 33 kilos.
"Indeed, our analysis showed that there were more food residues in the trash cans but it doesn’t mean that people in housing estates waste more than others. They don’t have opportunity to put the leftovers elsewhere, so everything ends up in the bins. So for us it is the best place to examine, because we can find everything in the bins."
The researchers produced very interesting data on the contents of garbage cans, but the main focus was on data concerning biological waste, which was analysed in great detail:
"Fruits and vegetables, are thrown away most frequently, together with bread and pastry. We monitored the situation throughout the whole year and we discovered that the amount of discarded waste changes according to the season. Food waste is bigger in the summer months.
"This may be due to the fact that more fruit and vegetables are consumed in the summer and as I said, fruit and vegetables are the most represented wasted food stuff. Another likely reason is that it’s harder to store food in the summer, because it is hot and the food spoils faster."
The research also shows that the amount of food people throw away is influenced by other factors, for instance sale events in supermarkets.
Since part of the research was carried out during the coronavirus lockdown, researchers could also monitor whether that had any effect on people’s consumer behaviour:
"During the lockdown, the amount of food waste was reduced. We think it’s because people didn’t shop so often. They were at home and they had more time to think about what to cook and they also had time to consume whatever was left over.
"We think that in our next research, we will probably see some increase in the amount of wasted food. During the lockdown, people started to buy lots of durable stock, such as food and pasta, and they didn’t consume it, so there is a high probability that we will find it bins in our future research."
One of the most surprising outcomes of the research carried out by the Brno experts is the fact that people don’t realize how much food they throw away and they tend to underestimate the amount of food wasted in their household. Why is that? Lea Kubíčková offers her own theory:
"I think people generally tend to see themselves in a better light, but also they often really have no idea how much food they throw away. They don’t even realize that they are doing it. They automatically throw away leftovers into the trash and don’t even think about it. "
The monitoring of waste was just one part of an ongoing, three-year project at Mendel University in Brno. One of its main aims is to find ways to influence consumers to reduce the amount of wasted food in the future:
"We want to influence people by educating them about the subject. We believe that even learning about the amount of food thrown away, for instance converted to money, could make them think twice and waste less.
"We also want to inform people about possible ways of reducing food waste, for example shopping according to plan. It is the first and easiest step in reducing food wasting. The second way is to store food correctly. And the third way is to use leftovers instead of just throwing them away."
At the end of the project’s second year, scientists from Brno’s Mendel University will sift through the municipal garbage once again to see whether their efforts have had any effect on peoples’ behaviour. During the third year they will focus on consumers’ long-term habits in terms of squandering food, concludes Mrs Kubíčková.
While Mrs Kubíčková says the introduction of bio-waste garbage cans in Czech cities might reduce waste in bins for mixed municipal waste, the main focus of their project is simply to make people throw away less food.