Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Reduce your food waste!

By: Brianna La and Bridget McCracken

Why care about food waste?

The goal of this project was to inform people about the global impact of food waste and to promote change in their households when it comes to buying, eating and wasting food. Not only is food waste a growing environmental issue, the amount of food wasted is equivalent to $1 trillion USD yearly (FAO, n.d.). Food waste is an increasing problem that affects everyone worldwide; according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, around 1.3 billion tonnes of food produced for human consumption is wasted each year (FAO, n.d.). One of the primary issues of food waste is the creation and reinforcement of the anaerobic environment (Paritosh et al., 2017).  This means that when food waste piles up, oxygen cannot reach the food to break it down, eventually creating greenhouse gases. So while composting is better than throwing your food waste in the garbage, it still creates harmful emissions in such large amounts.    

  While this is a global problem, our target audience was university students.  As university students ourselves, we constantly see other students buying food items in bulk or on sale with the aim of saving money; but in reality, much of this food ends up going to waste. Additionally, as of present, the University of Warwick does not offer composting facilities, meaning the food waste students create goes straight to garbage landfills. The lack of food waste awareness and the means to compost is noticeably absent in the university residences.  To reach our target audience, we created a Facebook page with valuable information on the impact of food waste, and offers tips on how to help the issue. Content on the page includes engaging questions, tips, videos, as well as links to additional resources.  To introduce our Facebook community to the issue, we created a short video on the implications of food waste.  To promote our page, we created visually appealing posters with a QR code leading to the Facebook page and shared them around the community. This allows members within our community to get involved in the food waste problem as they can use their Smartphones to scan the code to learn more. 
The Reduce Food Waste Facebook page

The QR code and poster displayed in the community

To begin, we focused primarily on five persuasion techniques. This includes: The theory of planned behaviour, the mere exposure effect, the foot-in-the-door, the consequence template and the implementation intention. 

Theory of Planned Behaviour

A key aspect of our project was to provide various solutions or helpful ideas to which university students could use to reduce their food waste. The theory of planned behaviour states that the likelihood of a certain behaviour occurring is highly dependent on the person’s attitudes towards it, their behaviour control and the subjective norms surrounding it (Ajzen, 1991). In this case, students will only work towards reducing their food waste if they are motivated to, they see reducing food waste as an easy task or one without much difficulty to complete, and if they feel societal pressure to reduce their food waste. 

To achieve this, our project includes clear statistics that highlight that this issue is present everywhere and most importantly, it directly affects them. By demonstrating that wasting food is a problem that occurs in their own households, we are increasing their motivation to partake in this cause. Not only is food waste a major environmental problem, it is an incredibly expensive issue that has clear solutions. For example, students who are already on a tight budget, can learn from the information provided that buying food simply because it is on sale is never a good idea. There are several ways in which students can reduce their food waste that have little impact on their overall life; therefore, working towards wasting less food does not require a lot of effort. Further, as more awareness is raised about food waste, there is an increasing pressure to buy only what one needs. As society is beginning to understand the detrimental consequences of food waste on the environment and the amount of money wasted on uneaten food, there are more social expectations in reducing food waste.


Another technique used to draw attention and interest towards the issue at hand is through familiarity.  When a cause or statement becomes familiar to a person, if often becomes their most easily accessed opinion on the topic and therefore said person holds that same perspective on the issue (Weaver et al., 2007). By putting up posters with statistics on the effects of food waste, we are making people aware of the issue, demonstrating familiarity through the mere exposure effect. The poster also leads viewers to the Facebook page, working as an advertisement.  We also gained familiarity through repetition throughout our blog, as studies have shown that hearing the same message from one source multiple times is as persuasive as hearing the same message from multiple different sources (Weaver et al., 2007). While the posts on the Facebook page provide different information and techniques, they all back the message to be mindful of food waste habits.  


In order to bring more awareness and self-reflection to the problem of food waste, we used the foot-in-the-door technique. According to Freedman and Fraser, the foot-in-door technique is compliance without the associated pressure to comply. This technique works on the basis of feeling obligated after getting involved (1966). A person is more likely to agree to a bigger task or request after already completing a smaller task for someone else. In relation to our project, we considered watching a video posted to our Facebook page as a small task in comparison to the second. So, we initially asked members to watch the video and after, we asked them to participate in our Facebook page’s discussion. We implemented this technique by beginning with smaller, more simpler requests that did not require much effort to complete, then started to make bigger requests. This includes posting short videos and quick links they could click to further their interest in the issue. Then, we prompted some online discussion in which members were able, and more willing, to contribute to questions posted that day. Some posts asked members to talk about the methods they use to help reduce their food waste and others included helpful ideas they could use, both of which received positive feedback. 

Consequence Template

The consequence template uses fear as a tool to influence people into action by highlighting the potential negative effects of inaction (Tannenbaum et al., 2015). This persuasion technique was used many times in Facebook community when discussing the causal relationship between food waste and climate change.  According to the Harvard School of Public Health, even a small increase in global temperature can lead to dangerous environmental impacts such as flooding, population displacement, disruption to the food supply and an increase in infectious diseases (Bernstein, 2009). These statistics evoke a strong sense of fear as they directly affect everyone, regardless of where they are in the world. They also establish a link between food waste and environmental and health risks, which use fear to influence people into action.

Implementation Intentions

One of our main focuses was to encourage implementation intentions within our Facebook community. An implementation intention is a specific plan used to achieve a goal by outlining a strict schedule and certain behaviours in order to achieve that goal (Gollwitzer, 1999). This was introduced through a post explaining the importance of meal planning at the beginning of every week or before people grocery shop for the week. The post includes important information on how to meal plan and provides other resources available for additional help. For example, we recommended that readers plan their meals before they grocery shop using a chart or phone application. The importance of meal planning is to reduce the amount of money spent on food that may or may not be eaten, therefore reducing the amount of food wasted. 

A second implementation intention was to use an “eat soon” bin in the fridge. With this idea, a family can keep a bin in the fridge that contains food that will expire or go bad soon. This is to help organize what food is near its spoiling date and can also indicate to the family what they actually eat and what they do not. To illustrate, if a parent consistently  sees bananas in the “eat soon” bin, then perhaps they realize that no one in their family eats bananas and they will stop buying them. This is different from throwing it out in the week since it does not establish that clear pattern that the parent needs to see when it comes to their family’s food habits. We outline the ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ of using the implementation intentions.

The 'eat soon' bin in use

Food waste is a serious problem that requires immediate attention. It is a personal and public concern that has dangerous consequences for current and future generations. Through the use of our Facebook page, our posters displayed around our community and several persuasion techniques, we hope to garner more awareness about this pressing issue.


Ajzen, I. (1991). The Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179–211.

Feldscher, Karen. (2011). Greenhouse gases pose threat to public health.  Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health. 

Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: the foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4(2), 195–202.

Gollwizter M., Peter. (1999). Implementation Intentions. American Psychology. Vol. 54. No. 7, 493-503.

Key facts on food loss and waste you should know! (n.d.). Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations  Retrieved April 12, 2018, from /save-food/resources /keyfind ings/en/

Paritosh, K., Kushwaha, S. K., Yadav, M., Pareek, N., Chawade, A., & Vivekanand, V. (2017). Food Waste to Energy: An Overview of Sustainable Approaches for Food Waste Management and Nutrient Recycling. BioMed Research International, 2017.

Tannenbaum, M. B., Hepler, J., Zimmerman, R. S., Saul, L., Jacobs, S., Wilson, K., & AlbarracĂ­n, D. (2015). Appealing to fear: A meta-analysis of fear appeal effectiveness and theories. Psychological bulletin, 141, 1178.

Weaver, Kimberlee, Garcia M., Stephen, Miller T., Dale, Shwarz, Norbert. (2007). Inferring the Popularity of an Opinion From Its Familiarity: A Repetitive Voice Can Sound Like A Chorus.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 92, No. 5, 821-833.

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