Promoting Consumer Habits that Reduce Food and Water Waste in Colorado

College of Health and Human Sciences

Food Science and Human Nutrition



(Arapahoe, Eagle, La Plata)

Primary Topic:

Natural Resources and Sustainability

Other Topics:

Food and Agriculture

Lead Mentor:  

Kimberly Cox-York

Research Integrity Officer, Assistant Professor

Internship Overview:

Two critical problems currently facing Coloradans are the growing volume of food waste sent to landfills and the shrinking availability of water resources but, collectively, consumers have tremendous power to address both issues. Research has shown that more food reaches landfills than any other single material in our everyday trash and it not only takes up limited space but also creates multiple environmental concerns by contributing to excess greenhouse gases, odors, and contaminants that may leach into soil and water systems. Water resources in Colorado are in jeopardy and protecting theses resources as well as reducing consumer use is needed to ensure water is available for agriculture and community needs. As Colorado’s land-grant university, CSU is charged with sharing solutions that empower state residents to address emerging community issues. Raising awareness and sharing practical ideas that many consumers are already implementing has the potential to produce significant impacts. A state-wide survey would be used to gather and prioritize practical ideas for reducing household food and water waste. Survey findings would be used to inform a social media campaign (Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram posts), one Live Smart blog article, one Family Matters newsletter article, and resource lists to be shared on Food Smart Colorado. This information would become part of a Reducing Household Food and Water Waste Toolkit which would be available to Extension personnel for sharing across Colorado. CSU Extension provides a model network for integrating consumer education with practices to reduce environmental impact and encourage behavior change.

Goals, Scope and Objectives:

The goal of this internship is to gather, organize, and help disseminate practical ideas for Colorado consumers to reduce household food and water waste. CSU Extension is not broadly addressing these issues and related information is currently housed on different webpages on the Extension website or not available at all. Additionally, there are wide discrepancies in services available between rural and urban environments, for example commercial composting services are often unavailable in small communities. The primary objective will be to develop a Qualtrics survey targeted to Colorado consumers in communities of all sizes to gather information related to 1) their current food waste and water use habits; 2) what practices they have implemented to reduce food waste and water use; 3) and what information they would like to receive to help adopt better habits related to minimizing food and water waste. The scope is limited to consumer food and water waste but there is potential in future years to build on this idea and add information related to improving overall consumer shopping and retail procurement habits, reducing packaging waste, and reusing household goods rather than discarding them.

With which stakeholder group(s) will the intern work?

The most important stakeholder group will be the public because we are asking for their input and guidance to ensure resulting suggestions shared with Coloradans are suitable and achievable. In disseminating the state-wide survey, the intern will work with Extension professionals at various county offices. In addition, the intern will work directly with the faculty and Extension mentors to become familiar with previous research and Colorado data related to food and water waste. The intern will conduct phone interviews with identified Extension representatives in all five state regions to learn more about region-specific water and food waste issues. For gathering background information, the intern will have opportunities to speak with contacts at state and federal agencies, for example the Colorado Department of Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency office in Denver.

What student learning outcomes do you anticipate and what are the opportunities for professional development?

The student intern will have opportunities to conduct a search of pertinent literature, interview Extension professionals located in all regions of Colorado, help develop the Internal Review Board research application including survey questions, develop new technical skills related to collecting and analyzing data. The student will work with faculty and county agents to learn about outreach education considerations when designing social media messages and online materials using the graphic design platform, Canva. The work outlined in this proposal encompasses the four aspects of the land grant mission: research, education, extension and service. Over the course of this project, the intern will have opportunities to interact with professional educators and be involved with turning a concept into educational outreach materials that can provide valuable information to consumers for many years to come.
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