Having a Compost Bin Makes You Care Less About Food Waste

A new study suggests compost bins aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

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Jan 4 2017, 2:00pm

Photo via Flickr user CAFNR

Last year saw numerous attempts to tackle food waste in the UK. And yet despite the Tinder-style food sharing apps, dumpster-dive supermarkets, and a wonky vegetable-promoting Mr Potato Head, the amount the food sector chucks is still staggering. Food waste charity Love Food Hate Waste estimates that 15 million tonnes is thrown away in the UK every year, with 7 million of that coming from our homes.

And those figures don't look set to change dramatically any time soon. In addition to ignorance about how much we throw away each year, a new study suggests there's another barrier to cutting down how much we put in the bin: compost.

READ MORE: How Tinder Food Apps and Dumpster-Diving Restaurants Could Help End British Food Waste

The research, which was published yesterday by agricultural economists at Ohio State University, found that people will waste less food when they are educated about the environmental impact of chucking it in the bin. But if they think it's going to compost instead of landfill, most won't care about the amount they're throwing away. While composting provides benefits like soil nourishment, it still comes at a financial cost and doesn't curb food waste.

So, while you might think you're being an eco-warrior by smugly scraping your leftovers into the recycling bin, you could just as bad as the rest of them.

The Ohio State University researchers reached their conclusions by monitoring 266 participants during a meal. While the participants were eating, they were given cards with either information on the environmental harm of food waste or its financial impact. Half of each of the groups was then told that whatever was leftover on their plates would be composted or sent to landfill. After the meal, each participant's plate was weighed to calculate how much food they wasted.

Education proved to have the most profound effect on those who thought their scraps would go to landfill. Compared to those who had received the finance cards, participants who had read about harm related to food waste left 77 percent less food on their plates. They were also 39 percent more likely to eat everything. But when people thought their leftovers would go to compost, the amount chucked near enough equalled the amount left by those who were not educated about food waste harm.

READ MORE: Why It's 'Phenomenally Easy' to Solve the World's Food Waste Problem

Danyi Qi, lead author of the study, said in a press release that recycling leftovers still does not provide a sustainable solution to the food waste problem. She explained: "The trouble is that composting comes at a financial and societal cost and policymakers are striving to find ways to limit waste regardless of where it will end up."

The war on waste wages on.