Using the lessons of lockdown to reduce household food waste

During the first national lockdown of 2020, self-reported levels of food waste in the UK fell by 34%, the sharpest fall on record – a rare bright spot in the pandemic.

While self-reported levels of food waste did increase from this low point in the following months, careful food shopping and creative cooking contributed to this initial fall.

Now a new national research project has been set up to understand that positive change, and to use those insights to help citizens to waste less food when the pandemic ends.

Researchers from the University of Leeds and two leading environmental organisations - WRAP and Zero Waste Scotland - will examine food waste during and after lockdown periods and develop interventions to support sustainable consumer behaviour.

The 18-month research project has been awarded funding of £328,000, including a grant of £268,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.

Dr Gulbanu Kaptan, Associate Professor of Behavioural Decision Making at Leeds University Business School, is leading the research.  

She said: “Research published by WRAP shows significant changes in behaviour and a reduction in the self-reported level of food waste in the first national lockdown period. While we understand some of this behaviour, we want broaden our knowledge of why the changes came about, and how we can build on this to help people prevent more food going to waste in future.

“We are particularly interested in the determinants of behaviour: for instance, what impact do our emotions have on wasting food, and what are the personal goals and values around how we buy and eat food?”

The project will develop interventions to help support households in wasting less food. To support this, around 1,500 people from across the UK will take part in a survey looking at how they choose, store, manage and cook food. Approximately 30 people will also take part in more detailed interviews and later be asked to keep household diaries of food waste.

Tom Quested, Lead Analyst at WRAP, co-investigator of the project, said: “WRAP is delighted to be part of this project. We have the opportunity to learn from the considerable changes we have seen during 2020 to help support UK citizens to minimise the amount of food that they waste. The findings from the research will be used by WRAP’s teams developing behaviour-change interventions and our Love Food Hate Waste campaign.”

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “The findings from this collaborative project will help us to understand how lockdown has changed our relationship with food, and the ways in which we can all tackle waste at home. We must do all we can to prevent food waste.”

“When we waste food, we also waste the huge amounts of energy and associated carbon emissions from growing, transporting, refrigerating and packaging the food, and when we send wasted food to landfill this causes more harmful emissions. So, we’re looking forward to working with the University of Leeds and WRAP on this project, to better understand how to win the fight against food waste.”

The research is led by Dr Gulbanu Kaptan, Professor Kerrie Unsworth and Dr Sally Russell (all University of Leeds) and Dr Tom Quested, WRAP.


For more information contact: Guy Dixon, Media Relations, Leeds University Business School - 07954 277 539 or