Did your family belong to the Clean Plate Club growing up? "Waste not, want not" can be a deeply ingrained message for some people, including when it comes to food. Even so, Americans wind up tossing more than half of what we buy to eat.
New research from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign may offer an individual solution, though. The school was looking for ways to cut down on dining hall waste — almost 15,000 lbs of it each week.
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"There is a great deal of energy, water and labor that go into the refrigeration, preparation, transportation, and serving of this food that is wasted as well," said university administrator Thurman Etchison. "If that were not enough, there is also the wasted energy, labor, and water that go into disposing of that food. The food we waste costs us more per pound than the food that is eaten."
The fix was simple: The dining hall changed the shape of the students' plates. While using slightly smaller oval-shaped plates instead of circular ones, students took about 25 percent less food — and they weren't going back for seconds any more than usual.
Zero-waste advocates will caution against buying new things to shop yourself out of your consumption habits. Still, sometimes changing your own habits come from tricking your brain as much as commitment or willpower. (We can even make our food taste better with some of these little free changes.) Even if you're not in the market for new plates, it's worth considering how something as simple as a table setting can influence how much you toss.