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Three Essays on the Economics of Food Waste
Qi, Danyi, Qi

2018, Doctor of Philosophy, Ohio State University, Agricultural, Environmental and Developmental Economics.
Approximately 40% of food produced in the United States is lost or wasted, while 12.7% of the U.S households were food insecure at least some time during the year 2015. Hence, in 2015, the United States announced the first ever national goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030, and on the heels of this announcement, the United Nations adopted a similar objective as part of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to halve per capita food waste worldwide at the retail and consumer levels by 2030. Efforts have been made to reduce food waste worldwide since then, however, the progress towards the 50% reduction goal is stagnant or regressed. Consumers are responsible for most food loss and waste in the U.S., racking up almost 90 billion pounds annually, or 20% of the U.S. food supply. Hence, addressing consumer food waste is one of the potential keys to achieve the ambitious national goals. The current intervention efforts show that consumer food waste is difficult to curb and food waste policies may alter not only food waste behaviors but also other food related decisions, e.g., food selection and intake decisions. Therefore, it is critical to explore the likely impacts of food waste reduction initiatives on consumer food selection, intake and waste and anticipate potential market and behavioral responses so that policy priorities can be set.
In the following three essays, I analyze how consumers respond to food waste reduction policies and compare the effects of different policies based on consumer adjustments. I find that the perceived costs and benefits of wasting food are most likely to be heterogeneous among consumers; hence consumers’ responses to changes in the costs and benefits induced by food waste reduction polices are also likely heterogeneous. Hence, to be more efficient, food waste reduction policies should discriminate among consumers based on their own characteristics and their elasticities to the cost and benefit of changes. When the cost of food intake is reduced by lower food waste rates and higher efficiency, rebound effects will arise in response to food waste reduction policies and engineering estimates of likely food waste reductions overstate realized reductions due to rebound effects. Initiatives that reduce waste rates in supply chain links upstream from the consumer (pre-consumer initiatives) yield stronger rebound effects than initiatives that reduce consumer food waste rates. I estimated informational food waste rebound effect in a dining experiment. I find that food waste policies change both food waste behaviors and food selection and intake behaviors. Information about food waste help diners reduce food waste, help foodservice managers reduce operation costs associated with food procurement, and help hunger relief agencies source more unserved food. While nutritional advocates may feel relieved that food waste interventions did not change total food intake in the short term, some may worry that consumers could develop a habit of cleaning their plates that might transfer to other settings.
Brian Roe (Advisor)
Elena Irwin (Committee Member)
Allen Klaiber (Committee Member)
137 p.

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