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Survey finds Kiwis throwing away more food – New Zealanders urged to do more to tackle growing food waste problem

Survey results at a glance:

  • New Zealanders are wasting more of their food than a year ago with the estimated percentage of household food waste rising to 13.4 per cent from 8.6 per cent previously.
  • With food waste increasing, the estimated value of food waste per New Zealand household has ballooned to a whopping $1520 per household per year. Nationally, this equates to an eye-watering $3.1 billion of wasted food.
  • Despite the jump in waste, Kiwis’ attitudes towards food waste remain largely similar to a year ago.
  • Kiwis who are ‘always’ exhibiting positive food waste behaviours like planning meals and freezing leftovers are wasting vastly less food than those who ‘never’ do – saving themselves hundreds of dollars each year.
  • The proportion of food wasted by Kiwis differs markedly across age groups, with younger New Zealanders wasting a significantly higher proportion of their household food spend than older Kiwis.

Kiwis are being urged to do more to tackle New Zealand’s growing food waste problem following the release of the 2022 Rabobank-KiwiHarvest Food Waste Research which has found a marked increase in New Zealand’s estimated household food waste over the past 12 months.

Key trends 2022

In the past 12 months

The latest survey found the average New Zealand household reported wasting 13.4 per cent of the food they bought each week – significantly up on the 8.6 per cent recorded in the 2021 survey. This jump comes despite surging food prices which have further increased Kiwis’ weekly food spend and these two factors in combination have pushed the estimated value of food waste per Kiwi household to $1520 per year.

At a national level, this equates to a total $3.1 billion of estimated wasted food – enough to feed the entire population of Hamilton1 for a year.

Rabobank partnered with food rescue charity KiwiHarvest in early 2020 as part of the bank’s wider commitment to work alongside its rural customers to support sustainable food production and its global vison around global food security. Rabobank has commissioned research examining Kiwis’ food waste habits since 2017, with the two most recent editions (2021 & 2022) of the research in collaboration with KiwiHarvest.

Rabobank New Zealand Chief Executive Todd Charteris said the results of the latest survey of around 1500 Kiwis were a big surprise given estimated food waste had decreased across recent surveys.

“We’ve been tracking Kiwis’ food waste over the last five years, and during this period we’ve seen a downwards trend in the proportion of food New Zealanders estimate they waste. So we were genuinely surprised to see food waste jump so significantly in the latest survey,” he said.

“As with last year, the survey found ‘wasted money’ was Kiwis biggest deterrent to wasting food and, with the cost of living continuing to rise, we’d anticipated this might act as a catalyst for food waste to decrease even further in 2022.

“On the contrary, we’ve seen the exact opposite and over the last 12 months it’s evident that Kiwis’ food waste habits have taken a turn for the worst.”

With the survey finding little change from last year in New Zealanders’ attitudes towards food waste, their reported food behaviours, or the key reasons they throw food away, Mr Charteris said, it was difficult to identify a clear cause for the jump in estimated food waste.

“But what is clear is that, for many Kiwis, there remains a major disconnect between their food waste attitudes, and the actions they’re actually taking in their own homes to reduce waste,” he said.

“The survey findings highlight there are many New Zealanders who are making a concerted effort to limit food waste, but also a large number who are either unaware of the harmful impacts of food waste, or just unwilling to modify their behaviours to tackle the problem. And finding ways to move those in this group towards meaningful action will be crucial if we’re to see the amount of food wasted across New Zealand reduce in the years ahead.”

Food waste attitudes and reported household food behaviours consistent

In line with the 2021 results, 80 per cent of respondents in the latest survey said they care about reducing food waste (from 82 per last year), with 70 per cent (unchanged) saying it annoys them when they see other people wasting food and 52 per cent (from 47 per cent) saying they want to learn more about how to reduce food waste.

Similarly, there was only minor movement from 12 months ago in reported food waste behaviours. Ninety-three per cent of Kiwis said they ‘sometimes’ or ‘always’ use a shopping list (unchanged from last year) with 92 per cent saying they ‘always’ or “sometimes’ plan meals in advance (from 91 per cent) and 87 per cent saying they ‘always’ or “sometimes’ freeze food that doesn’t get eaten (from 86 per cent).

Despite little change in attitudes and behaviours overall, the research was able to shed some light on some of the bad food habits that are becoming increasingly common in New Zealand households and have contributed to increased food waste.

“An alarming 53 per cent of Kiwis in the latest survey said they’d thrown away unopened food in the last 12 months – up from 42 per cent last year,” Mr Charteris said.

“And when we dug a bit deeper into this, we found that eight per cent of this group said they were throwing away unopened food on a weekly basis — up from five per cent last year — with a further 36 per cent of this group saying they do this either fortnightly or monthly.”

Mr Charteris said reducing this type of wasteful behaviour and pushing Kiwis towards more positive food use habits had the potential to vastly reduce household food waste.

“For example, when we compared survey respondents who said they ‘always’ use a shopping list versus those who say they ‘never’ do, we found that those who “always” do were wasting $1491 less per year on food. Similarly, those who said they always think about portion size when preparing food were wasting $1562 less per year than those who never did,” he said.

“From embracing leftovers as an ingredient, to regularly planning our meals and thinking about portion sizes, if we all make small changes, together, this can have a huge impact.”

Food waste across the generations

Mr Charteris said improving habits among younger New Zealanders was one obvious priority, given this group continued to waste significantly more than their counterparts in older generations.

“Those in Gen Z (born 1995 onwards) estimated they wasted an astronomical 28.2 per cent of their weekly food spend in the latest survey, with this significantly higher than last year (16 per cent) and also well above the proportion wasted by Kiwis in older generations,” he said.

The survey found this jump came despite those in Generation Z flagging some of the negative impacts of food waste among their most pressing concerns when looking out across the next decade.

“We asked respondents to rank their key concerns over the next 10 years and found ‘climate change’ was the second most significant concern after ‘cost of living’ for those in Gen Z, with ‘dealing with rubbish and waste’ coming in fifth,” Mr Charteris said.

“And with this being the case, there appears to be a really strong case for more food waste education targeted at younger New Zealanders which ties in some of the key issues important to them.”

While the survey found those in Generation Z were the most wasteful, it also found Kiwis across other generations were estimating they wasted more food in 2022. Generation X estimated they wasted 16.2 per cent of their weekly spend (from 12 per cent), Generation Y were up to 10.1 per cent (from 6 per cent) and Baby Boomers climbed to 8.3 per cent (5.0 per cent previously).

The survey found males were significantly more wasteful than females (16.5 per cent versus 10.4 per cent), while urban-based respondents were more wasteful than their counterparts located in rural locations (14.7 per cent versus 10.7 per cent).

With estimated food waste having increased from a year ago, KiwiHarvest founder Deborah Manning said building Kiwis’ awareness and understanding of food waste would continue to be a key focus area for the organisation.

“In addition to the work we do rescuing food and re-distributing it to needy communities, we are also building on our food waste awareness and education programme by speaking at schools and other community groups such as Rotary and Lions clubs,” she said.

“We will also be attending events like the Auckland Food Show and other public expos over the coming months, as well as joining Rabobank at their marquee during the National Fieldays in late November.

These events will help us to educate the public on food waste levels in Aotearoa and share easy tips and tricks that they can adopt to reduce food waste in their own home.”

What’s being wasted and why?

Vegetables, bread and fruit continue to be the three most frequently wasted food items, with these cited as the ‘most wasted food’ by 41 per cent, 26 per cent and 24 per cent of survey respondents respectively.

Meat was wasted far less frequently, however, there was an uptick in the number of Kiwis saying poultry was the most regularly thrown away item, jumping to four per cent from just two per cent last year.

When asked why they were throwing away food, the two major reasons cited by New Zealanders were ‘food going off before you can finish it’ (50 per cent) and ‘food going off before it’s use or best-before date’ (34 per cent).

“These remain the two key reasons for wasted food, however in this survey, we also saw a jump in the percentage of New Zealanders (23 per cent) who identified ‘food not being as good as expected when you bought it” as another key factor for throwing food away,” Mr Charteris said.

About the Survey

Rabobank partnered with KiwiHarvest in 2020 as part of the bank’s wider commitment to work alongside its rural customers to support sustainable food production and its global vison around global food security. The Rabobank-KiwiHarvest food waste survey was first conducted in April 2021 with the findings released in June last year. The 2022 Rabobank/KiwiHarvest Food Waste survey was administered by independent research agency KANTAR and involved interviews with 1509 New Zealanders between April 4 and April 18, 2022. Data collection was nationally representative to ensure that results could be used to measure New Zealanders attitudes and behaviours.

1 Based on national average of annual food spend, national claimed average percentage of food wasted and the number of New Zealand households.

Rabobank New Zealand is a part of the global Rabobank Group, the world's leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 120 years’ experience providing customized banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 36 countries, servicing the needs of about 8.6 million clients worldwide through a network of close to 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank New Zealand is one of the country's leading agricultural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the New Zealand food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 30 offices throughout New Zealand.

Media contacts:

David Johnston
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Rabobank New Zealand
Phone: 027 477 8153

Denise Shaw
Head of Media Relations 
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: +612 8115 2744 or +61 2 439 603 525