Upon beginning a discussion around the stereotype of a University student, there are a number of images that come to mind. We sleep all day, party throughout the night, frantically cram information the evening before an exam, and have a general carefree and insouciant attitude towards the greater issues of society. When it comes to food, we live off 2-minute noodles and otherwise have a general callous and apathetic approach to our food habits.
According to the NSW Food Waste Avoidance Benchmark Study (2009), the broad-ranging demographic of students (ages 18-24) is the single greatest contributor to food wastage in Australia, while The National Waste Report of 2010 revealed that as a whole, Australia discards an estimated 4.06 million tonnes of food every year.
Food waste is undoubtedly a widespread and growing issue in Australian society. However, this is not to say that all university students are blasé and careless when it comes to this issue. In fact, a majority of University students have a conscious awareness of their environmental impact, and as an ethical mentality is becoming more mainstream, they are beginning to take increasingly active steps to reduce their footprint.
Recent research conducted at a regional university in Australia revealed that 67% of students believe that the extent to which food waste is an issue is was great, while 27% of students felt that it was cause for a fair amount of concern. Meanwhile, not a single respondent felt that the issue was non-existent, nor did any disclose that they had never thought about it.
One respondent from the research explained that the average student is much more conscious and aware of the issue than perceived to be. “There are lots more reports on it so we’re trying to take active steps. We have the mentality and we know it’s bad to throw out food, but we need to make the step over into taking action,” they said.
It’s not just a general concern or mentality that students feel either. The majority of students are taking it upon themselves to change their food habits in order to reduce their impact. Of all respondents, only 10% said they don’t take any personal measures to reduce the amount of food they waste. 86% of students chose to regularly eat or cook with leftovers, while 73.33% write a shopping list when doing their groceries.
Yet, the dramatic change experienced for most students when moving out of home and learning to cook for themselves can perhaps be attributed their alarming positing held as the biggest wasters in Australia. Research conducted in 2009 by the Australian Institute on household expenditure on food revealed that the extent of food waste is related to both household income and the number of household occupants. The amount of food wasted increases with household income and decreases with larger household sizes. People cooking for themselves, which is most university students, waste the most.
And this is understandable, as young people are entering a completely new world and lifestyle that has previously not been experienced before in their lifetime. It’s a whole new chapter, and many are trying hard to navigate this, alongside added financial, educational, and new responsibility related stresses.
One respondent from the research conducted at a regional university this year said that breaking the long-engrained habits of their parents was one of the biggest challenges faced. “I always try my best to throw out as little as possible, but I’m not perfect. It’s been hard to break the habits that I have grown up with, such as top and tailing the carrots when it’s really not necessary”. Students felt that many people are ethically aware of the issue, yet the added stress of university life is what makes it difficult to commit to a complete overhaul of lifestyle choices.
So then, comes down to a responsibility held by the University to provide students with opportunities for education, awareness and promotion of positive food habits. 96.67% of students were unaware of any food waste related programs or events run by their university, whilst 36.66% would be either likely or very likely to attend an event should one be available.
Universities should and absolutely could be doing much more by means of delivering workshops, implementing positive habits in campus residences and generally educating their students about the far-reaching impacts of food waste. And even more importantly, promoting simple actions that they can do to change their personal habits. Students even felt that mandatory education in this area could be implemented, while social media could be used to a great advantage to connect with students and provide them with information.
All in all, the great majority of university students are passionate about the environment, and have a deep consciousness about the impacts of food waste. All that is needed now is assistance or encouragement from an external body to push them in the right direction, and help them create their path to shaping a sustainable food future.