Preventing Wasted Food in Your Community: A Social Marketing Toolkit
On this page:
- About the "Preventing Wasted Food in Your Community: A Social Marketing Toolkit"
- Why Reducing Wasted Food Is Important
- Who Should Use this Toolkit
- What Social Marketing Is and How it Can Be Used to Encourage Behavior Change
- About the Campaign and Materials
- How to Download the Customizable Campaign Materials
The "Preventing Wasted Food in Your Community: A Social Marketing Toolkit" is a resource for states, territories, local governments, Tribes, and nongovernmental organizations who want to start a behavior change campaign to prevent food waste in their communities. It is designed to be used by governments and NGOs to assist their constituents in reducing wasted food in the home. The toolkit includes a planning process that uses social marketing principles to ensure communities are tailoring the campaign to their individual needs.
The toolkit walks you through the steps to design a behavior change campaign in your community. It moves beyond an education/awareness campaign by identifying barriers people may have in reducing their food waste and highlighting motivators that help overcome those barriers. The toolkit offers an implementation and evaluation plan. It also includes wasted food prevention campaign materials created by municipalities and organizations that are available for use and customization by any community.
- Read through the toolkit (pdf)(1.7 MB).
- Find out how to download the customizable campaign materials.
EPA estimates that in 2018 in the United States, more food reached landfills and combustion facilities than any other single material in our everyday trash (24 percent of the amount landfilled and 22 percent of the amount combusted with energy recovery). Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that in 2010, 31 percent or 133 billion pounds of the 430 billion pounds of food available at the retail and consumer levels was not eaten. In 2019 alone, EPA estimates that 66.2 million tons of wasted food were generated in the food retail, food service, and residential sectors. At the individual level, that is 164 pounds of food wasted per person each year in households.
But there are solutions to this issue, and reducing wasted food has social, environmental, and economic benefits.
Wasted food is a social problem: USDA estimated that in 2021, 10.2 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during the year. When we waste food, wholesome, nutritious food goes to landfills instead of feeding people.
Wasted food is an environmental problem: When food is wasted, it also wastes the resources – such as the land, water, energy, and labor – that go into growing, storing, processing, distributing, and preparing that food. Once wasted food reaches landfills, it produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, preventing food from going to waste can cut down on the nearly eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions attributed to wasted food.
Wasted food is an economic issue: USDA estimates that at the retail and consumer levels in the United States, food loss and waste was worth $161 billion dollars in 2010, or about $1,500 for a family of four. Households stand to save money by wasting less food.
Learn more about why sustainable management of food is important.
Who Should Use this Toolkit
This toolkit is designed for use by states, territories, local governments, Tribes, and NGOs.
The goal of the toolkit is to provide communities with a framework for planning and implementing effective wasted food prevention campaigns as well as customizable campaign materials. If you’d like more detailed information about the planning process to help you plan your campaign, you can access EPA’s online social marketing training modules. If you have any questions about this toolkit, contact SMMFood@epa.gov.
One challenge that may be present in your community is that community members may not be aware of the issue of food waste, or ways that their personal behavior can make a difference. Social marketing is a discipline that seeks to change behaviors for the good of society, communities, and people. To create meaningful, sustainable behavior change, social marketing uses research-informed strategies to overcome the barriers that are preventing specific behaviors by providing people with personal, relevant motivators to act. It identifies benefits to the audience of changing their behaviors, and the motivators that are most likely to overcome barriers and spur change.
This toolkit intends to move your community from awareness about wasted food toward action to prevent wasted food, by providing guidance on developing a social marketing campaign and customizable materials that will spur behavior change. The graphic below illustrates the behavior change continuum.
On this continuum, awareness is a necessary first step before behavior changes can be addressed. If people are not aware of an issue, they are unlikely to engage with specific behavior change messages. Once they are aware and have a level of understanding, then there is a need to create personal relevance for them by helping them understand that they have potential to reduce the amount of food they waste. After this understanding is established, specific behavior changes (differentiation) can be promoted. The campaign can help spur initial behavior changes where the audience tries behaviors for the first time. Hopefully people have a good experience (satisfaction), leading them to establishing habits. Eventually, as more people practice wasted food prevention behaviors, the campaign can build loyalty and trust with audiences acting as advocates for the behaviors and influencing each other to create social norms.
The following agencies generously granted permission for their campaign materials to be used and customized by any U.S. state, territory, local government, Tribe, and NGO, and granted permission to EPA to facilitate access to these materials. Thanks to:
- Hamilton County R3Source.
- NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
- Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
- Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio.
- StopWaste, Alameda County, California.
EPA is providing these campaign materials to support states, territories, local governments, Tribes, and NGOs who are committed to educating the public and driving behavior change to prevent wasted food. Mention of or referral to commercial products or services, and/or links to non-EPA sites does not imply official EPA endorsement of or responsibility for the opinions, ideas, data, or products presented at those locations, or guarantee the validity of the information provided.
If you’re planning to use campaign materials in this toolkit, here are some guidelines to follow:
- While five agencies provided a set of campaign materials for use by partners across the U.S., we recommend that you choose one campaign to implement in your community. This way your campaign will be more consistent and cohesive across communication channels.
- The toolkit includes native design files for all materials, so that they can be customized by partners. We encourage customization of the materials to include your logo, branding, and to link to your website; however, we highly recommend keeping the message and overall concept intact. The messages and design were built based on research and a strong strategic framework. If you use the Save The Food materials, please keep the NRDC logo on the materials. If you use materials from the other campaigns, you can remove their logos.
- Materials provided cannot be used for commercial purposes.
About the Campaigns
Hamilton County R3Source: Wasted Food Stops with Us
This campaign launched in 2021. It was inspired by Save the Food, which alerted Hamilton County government that their residents needed more specific guidance to follow on how to reduce their wasted food. The campaign’s main audience is Hamilton County residents. The county partnered with the University of Cincinnati to research areas of knowledge that were lacking in Hamilton residents. The research found that many people were in most need of information about how to store their food properly. The current campaign has four main messages: shopping, serving, storage, and sharing. The campaign aims to provide clear, action-oriented information for residents. The information that is most popular among residents includes storage tips and recipes on how to use food efficiently and in new and exciting ways. Channels used to distribute the material are mostly online (website, social media ads, etc). Visit the Wasted Food Stops with Us website.
NRDC: Save the Food
This campaign launched in 2016 with the AdCouncil, designed by SapientRazorfish. NRDC’s materials encourage Americans to “Save The Food” by showcasing the wondrous life cycle of food and encouraging households to take action: “Cook It. Store It. Save It.” Behaviors highlighted include making shopping lists, improving storage including freezing food, and using leftovers which can help “Save The Food” and significantly reduce the over 20 pounds per month of food individuals throw away. You can find more information on the campaign's Partner Kit webpage or contact SaveTheFood@NRDC.org.
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality: Don’t Let Good Food Go Bad
This campaign launched in 2021. The campaign’s main audience is the 50% of the population who responded to DEQ’s survey as “wanting to do more about their food waste while having not yet engaged in many simple steps for reducing food waste at home.” The campaign captures attention using the pain point of wasting money and offering the message that reducing food waste will help people not waste money. The campaign uses secondary messaging about the other resources, particularly human resources, that are used to bring food to our tables. The campaign’s primary messaging highlights that each Oregonian family wastes about $1,600 a year on food that is purchased, but not eaten.
Illustrations in the campaign highlight common foods (e.g., potatoes, tomatoes) and foods connected to the state of Oregon (e.g., pears and apples). The main calls to action include reducing food spoilage through proper storage, storing food that should be consumed soon where it is most visible, and making use of the freezer. Materials were transcreated into Spanish. The channels used to distribute this campaign included traditional media (TV and streaming services) as well as social media (YouTube and Facebook). Customizable print ads were also employed and shared around the State of Oregon. To find out more, go to the Don’t Let Good Food Go Bad website or contact Elaine Blatt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio: Save More than Food
This campaign launched in 2020. The campaign’s main audience is all Ohioans in the region. The campaign had two distinct phases: awareness and behavior change. The main components of the awareness campaign were to inform residents that wasting food wastes more than the actual food product: time, money, and resources that went into producing and distributing it. The campaign’s primary messages included that Central Ohioans discard one million pounds of food waste into the Franklin County landfill daily and that the average family of four spends about $2,000 on food that is purchased but not eaten. Calls to action on how to change behavior around food waste include:
- Understanding what food date labels mean.
- Learning to use your senses to tell if food is still good.
- Storing food properly.
The channels used to distribute material included the SaveMoreThanFood.org website, billboards, paid social media ads, paid display ads, native ads (pop-ups on websites), banner ads, and multiple 30-second television public service announcements. Read more about this campaign on the Save More Than Food website.
StopWaste (Alameda County, CA): StopFoodWaste
The StopFoodWaste campaign was launched in 2016 and is ongoing (as of 2023). It was inspired by the EPA's 2016 Food: Too Good Too Waste Evaluation Report of Community Based Social Marketing campaigns. The county collected data via phone surveys in 2016 and 2018 that identified families with young children are those who waste the most food and are most receptive to change. So, the campaign’s primary audience is women and families with young children. The secondary audience was identified as schools, businesses, and Community-Based Organization partners. More recent campaign creative is being developed in partnership with CBO partners.
The campaign messaging focuses on maximizing food resources and budgets through food storage tips and using leftovers with the resulting benefits of saving money, minimizing impact on the environment, valuing food, and doing the right thing. The campaign features seasonal foods storage tips in the spring, and food and leftovers usage tips for the fall. The website features rotating seasonal tips, and insights and stories from community chef partners and community members.
Channels and tactics include paid digital advertising, out-of-home advertising, social media, sponsored content in local digital and print media outlets, email newsletters, events and community outreach, and partnerships with community-based organizations and chefs. Printed collateral, available in English and Spanish, includes the Fridge Reality Check, Shopping List, “Eat This First” signage, and the Fruit and Veggie Storage Guide (also in Mandarin). Campaign materials were created by Underground Advertising. Check out the StopFoodWaste website to learn more.
Fill out the form below to access a link to the customizable campaign materials.