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Trashing New Zealand: A critical evaluation of food waste management discourses in New Zealand and their implications for sustainable development

Food waste is an issue that transcends state borders and governments increasingly recognise as imperative to address. However, in New Zealand, this concern has not necessarily translated into adequate political commitments on the part of both central and local government to reduce the generation of food waste production. In fact, New Zealand has one of the highest levels of municipal waste production per capita amongst the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (OECD, 2018). It is estimated that the annual value of food waste produced in New Zealand is approximately NZD $1.8 billion. More fundamentally, the issue of food waste with its implications for environmental, social and economic sustainability, poses a significant challenge to New Zealand’s commitment to the United Nations sustainable development goals. This thesis examines dominant food waste discourses by researching food waste policy and practices in New Zealand. It draws on an analysis of documents and in-depth semistructured interviews to study policies at the national level and undertake a case study of a local food waste programme. The research focuses specifically on the discourses that inform food waste action in New Zealand and how the way in which food waste is positioned affects food waste reduction efforts. This study uses a discourse analysis approach to analyse the principal waste document of New Zealand, the Waste Minimisation Act. This approach, grounded in the work of Fairclough, allows for a critical study of both written and spoken text. Applying this method reveals the way in which food waste is conceptualised in New Zealand by exposing the framing and dominate discourses that privilege certain waste disposal and responsibilities over others. A case study methodology was used to underpin this research. This method allowed for comparisons between central government representations and awareness of food waste and those that existed within a very waste-conscious community where food waste reduction is a priority. Alongside the discourse analysis and case study, a sustainable development framework of analysis was developed to evaluate the dominant food waste discourses that were identified by the analysis. This study contributes to scholarship on food waste minimisation and management in New Zealand by identifying how dominant food waste discourse influences political efforts aimed at food waste reduction. The findings show how little food waste features on the political agenda of central government, which, in turn, hinders what can be achieved at the local level. This study underscores the need for a central government-led, long-term vision for a comprehensive food waste policy that targets all actors involved in the food chain, in order to reduce the amount of food disposal sent to landfill.
Type of thesis
Hetherington, L. E. (2019). Trashing New Zealand: A critical evaluation of food waste management discourses in New Zealand and their implications for sustainable development (Thesis, Master of Environment and Society (MEnvSoc)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13186
The University of Waikato
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