Report on the Preliminary Research

This report sets out the results of Phase 0: Preliminary research: Desktop research and Stakeholder Engagement, completed Feb — April 2016. (Read more about the whole project.)

Download the report: LFHW Background research report v1.0 FINAL

Summary: Key Research Findings


  • Few precedents exist for Australian-specific resources or projects that have assisted organisers and stallholders to avoid food waste
  • No current farmers market-level initiatives or resources were identified that target food waste avoidance by either stallholders or consumers.
  • The majority of past projects and existing resources are designed for large events/festivals in the UK. Resources generally cover the management of all waste with small sections on food waste focused primarily on recycling of food waste only and secondarily on food rescue.
  • Only a couple of identified projects targeted farmers markets, these focused specifically on managing surplus food through food rescue and other means.
  • Festival organisers are building participation in waste initiatives into stallholder contracts.


  • Stallholders, particularly those who grow their own fresh produce, consider “food waste” to only be food that ends up in landfill. Food that is diverted from landfill to reuse or recycling is not considered “waste”.
  • Using the word “waste” has negative effects on engagement, either because of its connotation of non-use (i.e. landfill), or because it engenders feelings of guilt/shame. More effective language may include “lifecycle of food”, “fate of food”, “surplus food”.
  • The distinction between avoidable and unavoidable food waste is difficult to communicate to stallholders. Using ‘edible’ and ‘inedible’ is easier to convey.
  • Organisers think about organics recycling holistically: collapsing avoidable and unavoidable food waste plus compostable food packaging/serving ware into one category.

Volumes of food waste

  • Market organisers believe there is very little stallholder or consumer food waste at farmers markets (though they feel consumer waste is greater than stallholder waste).
  • The majority of stallholders believe they don’t create food waste (avoidable or unavoidable).
  • Visual inspections of farmers markets bin appear to confirm perceptions, revealing only limited food waste, much less than found in other areas of the food retail and hospitality sector.
  • Some small amounts of avoidable food waste are created across the full lifecycle of stallholder food products, i.e. including pre- and post-stall. These differ depending on the type of food product/stall.

Main sources of avoidable food waste

  • All stallholders may be affected by unforecasted severe weather – with less customers comes the potential for more waste.
  • Fresh produce (for sale or input into processed goods) is sometimes (though rarely) bruised or damaged during transport/handling by stallholders.
  • Stalls selling processed/packaged food goods sometimes have leftover samples or sample remnants.
  • Hot food stallholders at festivals may generate more avoidable food waste if they are not aware of direct competition for their food product at the same festival.

Reasons for limited food waste

  • Stallholders are very small businesses who can’t afford to waste food – the majority stated “it makes good business sense to use all food/ingredients”.
  • Stallholders are so small that demand usually exceeds supply, so there is rarely excess food leftover.
  • Stallholders tend to be very experienced, they know exactly how much is needed (either through formal or informal ‘tracking’). Only a few stalls have casual untrained staff.
  • Large proportion of food stalls sell packaged/processed goods with long shelf life (6+months), so the majority of edible food will not spoil quickly if unsold.

Barriers to food waste avoidance

  • Stallholders are very time-poor and under pressure: this was the biggest barrier.
  • Market organisers and stallholders perceive that food rescue is not an appropriate or reliable channel for surplus food.
  • As organisers are time-poor and lack specific funding, they are unable to address food waste in a targeted manner – there are already existing initiatives to manage food waste (such as food donation or composting) and to address the general sustainability of their events (such as goals like zero waste).

Solutions to food waste

  • Most stallholders have fine-tuned their product selection and stock quantities to bring just the right amount of product to market.
  • Most stallholders have fine-tuned their infrastructure to ensure that food does not spoil while on display for sale.
  • Many stallholders of both perishable and packaged/processed goods often have additional channels for on-selling surplus, including other markets or retail/wholesale businesses.
  • Fresh produce stallholders generally either give away small surplus to customers, other stallholders, staff or take home to eat themselves.