designer | researcher | educator

Waste Policy


Why we waste


Despite the extent of food waste in the institutional sector, efforts to reduce this waste are in the early stages. Yet universities in particular are well-positioned to lead on this issue because they have frequently adopted sustainability goals and emphasize sustainability teaching and research. Universities and many other large institutions have also become interested in more transparent food sources, providing healthier food options, and reducing their carbon footprint.


In this research I ask: What are the social and environmental influences on food waste behaviors in an institutional setting?

The existing food waste reduction strategies are primarily in the form of passive educational approaches, such as signage or voluntary programs. These reduction strategies place responsibility on individuals and communities to enact behavior change and do not address the institutional environment and the social realities that influences food waste behaviors. This research aims to demystify the transition of food to surplus and waste and reveal the structures that shape behavior in the UC Davis dining commons.


Using Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory I created attitudinal and behavioral surveys. I administered 5,000+ surveys, conducted 20+ focus groups and 20+ one-on-one interviews. The focus groups included cognitive mapping and contextual inquiry. I analyzed 700+ surveys and transcribed and analyzed the focus groups and interviews data.


Key findings

  • Wasting food is more than an act of overconsumption; it is a response to the visual and spatial environment, a by-product of established eating habits, a reaction to social dynamics, and rebuke of the existing monetary system in the dining commons.

  • There are seven types of food wasters: the Economist, the Try-a-Taster, the Foodie, the Healthy Eater, the Conscientious Eater, the Socializer, and the Habitual Food Waster.

Part of this research was used for a journal article submitted to the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition in April 2019.

Initial observational sketches (2015)

Initial observational sketches (2015)

Images designed by Sahoko Yui and Katie Stapko. Sketches by Sahoko Yui.