“One in four people admits to buying more food than is needed, said a new survey” (1 in 4 Buys More Food Than Needed: Survey, Samantha Boh).
A forthcoming, well-intentioned campaign by the National Environment Agency (NEA) – which will use posters and educational videos to “compare the cost of food wastage and what the money could be spent on otherwise” (ST, Nov. 21) – is unlikely to engender much change in a consumerist society which has grown accustomed to both the convenience and abundance of food products. Curiously, although the NEA and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) have acknowledged in a joint statement that “the awareness of food wastage [in Singapore] is high”, they have still decided to launch their awareness campaign.
In addition, their poll also found that 90 per cent of respondents conceded that food wastage is a waste of money, and 80 per cent are bothered when they waste food. Be that as it may, these sentiments do not appear to have translated into more tangible actions. Will a new awareness campaign necessarily galvanise more Singaporeans, and to what extent?
What is also less clear is how different the new campaign will be, vis-à-vis endeavours in the past. The emphasis was on “customised educational materials on how to reduce food wastage at home”, but the changing of mind-sets or behaviours on a large scale is notoriously difficult. Perhaps more information should be provided on how effective previous programmes have been, and how the NEA and AVA intend to address challenges. Was it the channels, which implies the need to use new media or focus on younger children in schools? Or was it the messages or materials which did not resonate with the target audience?
More insights can be gathered through the poll, assuming the sample was nationally-representative. For instance, the campaign could be customised based on demographic distribution, if bigger or higher-income families are more predisposed to food wastage. Beyond the households, the NEA and AVA could determine the age-groups which are more environmentally-conscious, since 77 per cent of respondents thought they should reduce waste to improve the environment. Greater lock-in can be achieved if a national movement compels individuals to make small changes to their daily habits, to document and track these changes with incentives, so as to create network effects and reach more within communities.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.