War on waste: A tale of two cities

From edible cities to plastic pollution – two RMIT experts share their thoughts on sustainability issues across two continents.

Waste is one of the burning sustainability issues, with big impacts across the globe.

More than 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted around the world every year, and sharing, including food sharing, is increasingly being identified as one transformative mechanism for sustainable cities.

Melbourne was ranked as the third most active food-sharing city by SHARECITY, a global project that explored the sustainability potential of urban food sharing.

Researchers compiled a database, which covered 100 cities in 44 countries and revealed a wide variety of food sharing activities, including community, verge (nature strip), school and backyard gardens, through to food swaps, “permablitzes” and online food sharing services, such as RipeNear.Me

As part of an international team, RMIT Europe Research Fellow Dr Ferne Edwards conducted research on food sharing examples in Melbourne and Barcelona for the project.

She is now a leading researcher on urban governance and network infrastructure in Barcelona for the H2020 EdiCitNet project, based in Barcelona, and works across 10 cities to establish an international edible cities network.

Edwards said food sharing was experiencing a renaissance in cities around the world.

“The benefits of food sharing include revaluing food from waste, supporting social inclusion, and reclaiming underused spaces in the city, where people’s actions can intersect with other sharing, food and social movements to form ‘food-sharing ecosystems’,” she said.

“Food is an excellent connector – it provides a focus point where people can interact and relate to each other while supporting sustainable cities by reducing waste and revaluing resources.

“All these studies reveal that there are many inspiring urban food activities happening throughout the world.

“With so many diverse urban food sustainability models to choose from, everyone can be involved to help connect them back to nature, to their food and to each other.”

In Vietnam, another researcher is fighting the war on a different type of waste: plastic.

RMIT Vietnam marketing lecturer Dr Nguyen Anh Thu, an expert in the application of zero waste in Vietnam, said plastic waste was a mounting problem in the rapidly industrialising and increasingly consumerist country.

It was estimated that between the country’s two largest cities – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – around 80 tons of plastic waste was thrown away every day.

“The Vietnamese government has initiated social marketing campaigns to raise consumer awareness of plastic pollution and reduce consumption – but changing consumer behaviour is not easy,” Anh Thu said.

Her work is focused on examining consumer behaviour towards plastic pollution and eco-friendly packaging, as well as understanding consumer perceptions of littering and waste treatment. 

“The biggest challenge in my studies is collecting primary data on consumer behaviour because it’s often product-specific, person-specific and situation-specific,” she said. 

“Many factors can affect whether consumers make eco-friendly decisions.”

She said that before we can successfully encourage pro-environmental behaviour, such as buying eco-friendly packaged food products, stopping littering and minimising waste, we need to fully understand these factors.

“Motivating sustainable consumption must involve building awareness of environmental issues, developing supportive communities and promoting meaningful actions,” she said.

Story: Jasmijn van Houten

To read more about RMIT’s commitment to sustainability, view the latest Sustainability Report.

Originally published on RMIT News