Seeding Food Innovation - Awarded Project 2017

Food Systems Lab at the University of Toronto:
Evaluating the Efficacy and Innovative Potential of Food Waste Awareness Campaigns

Project Description

Food waste is a major global issue affecting the entire food supply chain. It is estimated that anywhere between 30% and 50% of food produced for human consumption is wasted globally. In Canada, it is estimated that $31 billion dollars’ worth of food is wasted annually; the true cost of which is actually closer to $107 billion when wasted water, energy and other resources are taken into account. To address this problem, household food waste awareness raising campaigns have been a popular approach implemented by municipalities to inform the public and spur action.

The Food Systems Lab will undertake a study to determine if, how and when awareness campaigns can be a meaningful tool to address the food waste issue. The Lab seeks to better understand the efficacy of awareness campaigns in motivating food waste reduction, determine factors that would result in behavioural changes, and identify innovations that can be incorporated into food waste awareness campaigns by policy makers, industry and civil society.

The research will measure the efficacy of food waste awareness campaigns by testing three campaign approaches to a total of 360 households in the City of Toronto:

  1. Informational – receiving tips on reducing food waste at home via email or mail;
  2. Community Engagement –receiving a food waste reduction toolkit with a personalized explanation and invitation to neighbourhood workshops; and
  3. Gamification – playing a web-based game that awards points for various food waste reduction challenges. We will also have one control group which will not be exposed to any of the three campaigns.

Relevance to the field of food innovation

While informational and community outreach campaigns have been implemented for food waste reduction before, this is the first time gamification will be tested. Gamification is a behavioural change tool that applies game elements and design in non-game contexts. Common motivations that are pitched for reducing food waste are often monetary savings and environmental sustainability, which may attract some households, but are not a high priority for others. Gamification can be a way to engage households that are less engaged in food waste issues by using other motivators such as earning reward points or winning a competition.

Anticipated outcome

Considering the significant funding spent by governments, and industry on campaign initiatives, it is crucial to determine factors that motivate consumers to reduce food waste. By testing and tracking the progress of different food waste awareness campaign approaches, the findings from this research will enable evidence-based interventions and strategies.


Dr. Virginia Maclaren

Virginia Maclaren holds a PhD in Regional Science from Cornell University and is a Registered Professional Planner in Ontario. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography & Planning at the University of Toronto. Dr. Maclaren’s area of expertise lies broadly within the field of waste management, » More Info

Dr. Tammara Soma

Tammara Soma is a Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Joseph Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Doctoral Scholar whose doctoral research investigates the factors that influence urban household food consumption and food wasting practices in Indonesia. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Planning in the » More Info

Dr. Rafaela Gutierrez Peppineli

Rafaela F. Gutierrez is a Social Scientist with a PhD in Science and Technology Policy from Institute of Geosciences, UNICAMP, Brazil. Since 2005 she has been studying and advocating waste policies with a focus on improving the socio-productive inclusion of waste pickers. Dr. Gutierrez is experienced researcher with » More Info

Ms. Belinda Li

Belinda Li is an Environmental Engineer at Tetra Tech with the Solid Waste Planning Team. She consults with various levels of government and large institutions on planning and implementation of long-term strategies and waste reduction programs, with a focus on food waste. She has completed projects across » More Info

Ms. Tamara Shulman

Tamara Shulman is the Team Lead of Solid Waste Planning at Tetra Tech. She has over 20 years of experience in waste reduction and diversion program planning, implementation and assessment, with expertise in organics management and food waste prevention. Her work spans a range of settings, from NGOs to » More Info