In 1973, Dr. Bill Rathje and his students at the University of Arizona began what was to become a two decade long investigation into American consumer waste habits. An archaeologist by profession, Rathje decided to adapt traditional archaeological methods and apply them to contemporary archaeological situations. This provided a platform for improving the understanding of what was really happening with, amongst other forms of waste, food at the consumer household level. The Garbage Project was able to study consumer behaviours directly from the material realities they left behind rather than from self-conscious self-reports of surveys and interviews. Using the same rationale, this study developed a profile of the packaged and processed food consumption in three regional Victorian municipalities. The main findings identified that consumers were limited to the food retail opportunities closest to their home and that they took greater care to wash out recyclables if they were placed in the recycling bin compared to the same item placed in a kerbside landfill bin. There was also an apparent lack of understanding about appropriate food storage and buying for purpose, especially with regard to the volume of the item they purchased, which appears to result in partially used recyclable containers being put in the kerbside landfill bin. By understanding the nature of the packaging and food that has been thrown away, it is possible to develop a narrative around what people understand about food purchasing practices, longevity, storage and how they use it at home. This in turn can assist community engagement and education around nutrition, meal planning and purchasing as well as community waste education.
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