In our behavioural economics module we held an essay writing competition. The brief was to come up with a practical way of changing behaviour in Leicester towards a more sustainable future. We are delighted to say that the winner is …. drum role please … Edmund Grey. Here is the submission in full.
The preservation of our environment is a growing issue at the moment. To emphasise the importance of positive environmental change, the 2018 special report given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned humankind that there were less than twelve years left before the damage to the climate would be irreversible. To avoid this irreversible stage, we must make changes.
Factors that lead to poor environmental health
Many factors cause environmental health to deteriorate. A few factors would be: car pollution, littering, energy usage and food waste. In this proposal, the focus is on food waste as it is a massive issue which could definitely be influence by behavioural economics. Encouraging people to waste less food would not only help the environment, but also help the issue of people going hungry. This issue is particularly prevalent in Leicester, with homelessness a real problem.
Why is food wastage bad for the environment?
When we waste food, we don’t only waste the good food that could’ve been eaten. We waste: the energy used to transport the food around the country and the world, the energy used in the process of making that food, the land that was used to grow or make that food. These losses all have opportunity costs, not to mention the packaging that is used that will damage the environment.
Food wastage is responsible for around a quarter of man-made greenhouse gases, and these gases are responsible for climate change. This is because when food degrades it releases methane, which is 25 times worse for trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
When wasting less, we can allocate the food more effectively, meaning we may not need as many production factories across the world, so land could be used in different ways, avoiding the detrimental impact of building the factories.
Statistics from 2018 show the average UK household disposes 6.6 million tonnes of food every year, when 4.5 million tonnes of that is still edible. When considering how much each household in the UK wastes a year, Leicester produces a considerable amount of unnecessary methane.
How to decrease food wastage
One way to reduce wastage would be the creation of strict shopping lists which could stop consumers overbuying. Another way could be educating people on the impact of food waste on the environment and educating consumers about the meaning of best before and use by.
My main focus will be on encouraging the purchase of fruit and vegetables that are not perfectly-shaped. Vegetables that are not the “normal” shape are often discarded before they even reach the supermarket as supermarkets don’t accept them. This is a huge factor in food waste, as 20%-40% of UK produce is wasted before it leaves the farms.
The wastage of produce that is imperfectly-shaped could be reduced using behavioural techniques. The behavioural factors would need to be involved when encouraging people to buy the imperfectly-shaped products, as most people would assume they are bad as they are not commonly sold.
To encourage people to buy odd-shaped products the authority bias, anchoring bias and the framing bias could be used.
How to test in Leicester
By contacting a farmer, I believe it would be achievable to buy some fruit and/or vegetables that would never make it to the shops.
Then asking chefs in Leicester to verify the quality of these products in an interview. This interview could be emailed to Leicester residents or quotes could be taken and put onto posters encouraging the purchase of these goods. This would be an implementation of the authority bias and would work well as people will trust a chef’s word when regarding food, especially a local chef if they’ve enjoyed food at the chef’s restaurant.
Then the goods could be sold at a Leicester Market stall along with perfectly-shaped products. On one table to perfectly-shaped goods, and on another the odd-shaped goods.
As the odd-shaped products would otherwise be thrown away, they should be purchased at a cut rate, meaning they could be sold at the market for less than the perfectly-shaped products.
When placing both sets of the product next to each other, it is easy to implement the framing bias with signs for their prices, as customers are likely to be drawn towards the cheaper price. This is helped by the authority bias as customers may not question why the products are cheaper on one table than the other. The framing bias could be used effectively with a big sign showing the offer.
The anchoring bias could be used in conjunction to these biases by writing on a sign the price difference and making it seem like a reduction/sale. This could be done as essentially the products on the tables are the same, just different shapes (e.g. both tables have carrots from the same farm of the same variety). Therefore, the odd-shaped products could have a sign saying their previous price (the price on the other table) and their new price.
Once this has been done, the disposed goods at the farm can be compared to the levels before the experiment, and the difference can show how much less methane is being released into environment.
If the proposal goes ahead, people would most likely choose the odd-shaped goods over the perfectly-shaped ones. There would be sales of both, but more would buy the odd-shaped ones than without the behavioural techniques. This would cut the amount of odd-shaped goods that farmers throw away. If the farmers then found themselves with excess of the perfectly-shaped goods, they could produce less overall to combat this. Therefore, farmers would waste less produce as Leicester would be consuming what would’ve been thrown away for poor reasoning. As less food would be wasted by farmers, less methane would be released into the atmosphere.