Save the Food, San Diego! EcoChallenge

Households are the largest contributors to the food waste stream—at 43%, they easily outsize waste generated from commercial kitchens, distributors, and producers. While consumer education campaigns have been identified by national food waste think tanks as one of the most effective strategies to reduce food waste, few interventions have documented their impact on household level food waste behavior.

In October 2019, the San Diego Food System Alliance launched the Save the Food, San Diego! EcoChallenge, an innovative social competition engaging individuals and households in food waste tracking challenges through a dynamic, online platform. In partnership with six of San Diego’s largest employers and institutions—Qualcomm, SDG&E, University of San Diego, California State University San Marcos, County of San Diego, City of Chula Vista—the EcoChallenge recruited close to 900 participants and tasked them with weighing, recording, and tracking their household food waste over a period of 15 months. While food waste like veggie scraps, leftovers, and coffee grounds were being weighed, the Alliance deployed a robust consumer education campaign to participants through emails, newsletters, and social media posts. Topics of focus for the campaign included meal planning, smart grocery shopping, proper food storage, and zero waste cooking.

By the end of the program, EcoChallenge participants achieved a 38% reduction in household level food waste as compared to their baseline food waste levels. Qualitative survey data collected from participants found that 90% of survey respondents reported an increased awareness of food waste and that they are implementing strategies they learned from the EcoChallenge to reduce their food waste. The EcoChallenge program not only demonstrated the efficacy of consumer education campaigns on behavior change, but also supports future program development engaging individuals and households.

Sarah Feteih is the Program Manager of Wasted Food Prevention at the San Diego Food System Alliance. With a Masters in Social Work, Sarah applies her experience in social services with a passion for food justice, to developing innovative wasted food prevention programs that meet the needs of the community.

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