When irrational behaviour is really rational

Game theory is sometimes criticised because people think that it doesn’t produce results that are applicable in the real world. This is often more to do with simplistic assumptions than issues with the models.

It has recently been reported that 30% of all food produced in the world is wasted. Whilst a lot of this is wasted in the supply chain a lot is also wasted by individuals and families buying more than they need and throwing some of it away. A first glance this would not seem to be rational behaviour as the individual is better off by only buying what they need and not wasting anything. But is this really the case?

In a rich country, where most of the waste occurs, people no longer shop everyday as they might have done in the past. If someone shops twice a week, spends £100 and wastes 15% of that then they waste £15. One way to reduce the waste they produce would be to shop more frequently. If an extra shop each week takes up an extra hour and a half and reduces waste to 5% then all but those on the lowest wages would be better off shopping less often and producing more waste.

The lesson from this is that sometimes thinking a little bit more deeply about people’s motivations will show that they really are acting in their own best interests even when they don’t appear to be at first.

Of course, you should still try to reduce your food waste because there are bigger issues to consider than just the financial cost. For ideas on how to reduce your waste, visit www.lovefoodhatewaste.com

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