Foodservice Composting Crowds out Consumer Food Waste Reduction Behavior in a Dining Experiment

Pressure mounts to address food waste, which deprives hungry people of needed nutrition, depletes resources used to produce food, and accounts for substantial greenhouse gas emissions during production, distribution and disposal. Composting, and other food waste recycling technologies that divert food waste from landfills, mitigate the environmental damages of food waste disposal and grow in popularity. We explore whether consumer knowledge that the environmental damage created by their food waste will be mitigated undermines personal food waste reduction behavior. Subjects in a dining situation are randomly assigned whether or not they receive information about the negative effects of landfilling food waste and whether they are told that uneaten food from the study will be composted or landfilled. We find that providing information about the negative effects of food waste in landfills significantly reduces both the propensity to create any food waste and the total amount of solid food waste created when compared to control subjects. However, if subjects are also informed that food waste from the study will be composted, the propensity to create food waste and the amount of solid food waste generated is similar to control situation which features neither a reduction nor a recycling policy. This suggests a crowding out effect or informational rebound effect in which promoting policies that mitigate the environmental damages of food waste may unintentionally undermine policies meant to encourage individual consumer food waste reduction. We discuss key policy implications as well as several limitations of our experimental setting and analysis.

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JEL Codes:
C90; Q18; Q53

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2020-10-28

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