COVID-19 and the effects on Dutch consumers’ food waste behaviour

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research started a research project in collaboration with the Netherlands Nutrition Centre to investigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on food waste related behaviour in Dutch households.

Food waste is a global issue. Dutch consumers waste on average 34 kg of food per person per year (2019).

Abrupt changes

The COVID-19 induced intelligent lockdown in The Netherlands started on 16 March 2020: restaurants and cafe’s closed down, catering stopped, and events got postponed or cancelled. Strict social distancing measures were implemented for shopping, and all Dutch inhabitants were advised to stay and work from home as much as possible.

The abruptly changed circumstances in our daily lives provoked and necessitated rapid behavioural change for all consumers and influenced activities related to shopping, storing, preparing and discarding food in households. For example, in the beginning of the lockdown, hoarding in supermarkets took place and empty shelves could be seen during the first 2-3 weeks. However, it was not yet clear whether COVID-19 caused changes in food management practices in households, with more or less food waste as a result.


The aim of this project was to gain insights on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis (and its quarantine & 1.5m social distancing restrictions) on the shopping, storing, preparation and food waste behaviours of Dutch households, and how these differ from the pre-COVID-19 period.

Consumer survey

1500 consumers completed an online survey on food waste related behaviours before and during COVID-19 intelligent lockdown measures in The Netherlands. The survey was developed based on the Motivation-Opportunity-Ability framework of the REFRESH project and contained questions about various aspects including planning, buying, preparing and storing behaviour, as well as self-reported food waste. The survey was completed in the period 8-17 May 2020.

Results consumer survey

The results of the survey showed that 26 per cent of respondents indicated to waste less food at home, and the majority indicated to have equal amounts of food waste. The reduction in food waste for this group of consumers can be explained by better planning of shopping (increased used of shopping lists, more long shelf-life products, less impulsive buying), increased amount of time spent on meal preparation and fewer leftovers, a better overview of what’s in stock, attention for expiry dates and fewer unexpected events.

The insights from the survey regarding the underlying mechanisms under extraordinary circumstances can be useful for guiding behavioural change under post-COVID-19 conditions.