How The Netherlands Is Reducing Household Food Waste

A catchy campaign has been effective at changing at-home behaviors.

Becky the Dutch anti-food waste mascot
Becky, the anti-food waste mascot, holds a sign that reads, "Together Against Food Waste.".

United Against Food Waste

The Netherlands is cracking down on food waste. It has launched a project called United Against Food Waste to educate people on what to buy at the grocery store, how to store ingredients properly to minimize spoilage, and when to use food before it goes bad. 

This at-home approach is effective because just over half (53%) of all food wasted in Europe is attributed to households. Of that, 15% is linked to misunderstood expiration dates, hence the importance of teaching people how to read and interpret them properly. Supermarket data reveals that the most commonly wasted foods in the Netherlands are fruits and vegetables (with potatoes mentioned specifically) and breads, pastries, and other baked goods.

United Against Food Waste's campaign includes YouTube videos featuring an animated mascot named Becky, who asks people, "How #FoodWasteFree are you?" and gives tips to help stop wasting food. She explains the difference between 'Best Before' and 'Use By' dates: It's fine to eat food after it's passed the Best Before date, though you should use your nose and eyes to ensure it's safe. When it comes to a Use By date, do not consume after the date has passed.

The campaign also encourages use of a "Yes-No Fridge Sticker," which, in the words of project coordinator Toine Timmermans, "helps consumers determine what is best stored in the fridge and what is not." Storing food properly has a profound effect on its shelf life.

Timmermans told Treehugger that public response to the campaign has been positive: "We are very pleased with the outcomes of the shelf-life campaign." He said it scored an 8 (on a 0-to-10 scale) from its main target group, which was parents with young children, and that 45% of people remembered or recognized the campaign's #verspillingsvrij (#FoodWasteFree) hashtag.

There was a designated "Food Waste Free" week in early September, in which two million people participated – an impressive number, considering that the Netherlands' population is 17.7 million. The country is united in a fight against food waste, ever since it pledged to halve national food waste by 2030, and decent progress has already been made. Research from the Netherlands Nutrition Center (that Timmermans provided to Treehugger) found that average annual household food waste shrank by 15.4 pounds (7 kilograms) between 2016 and 2019, bringing the average per-person amount of waste down to 75.6 pounds (34.3 kilograms), with fewer beverages dumped in the sink or toilet.

The Netherlands' success to date and its determination to keep improving are an inspiration to the rest of the world. Fun campaigns work; they capture attention and remind people that even small efforts can make a difference. Maybe now it's time to ask yourself Becky's question: "How #FoodWasteFree are you?" and put some of her tips to work in your own home.