This report, developed for and in consultation with Waterwise, is one of four reports introducing a new approach to understanding the role of everyday household practices in domestic resource consumption and addressing the policy challenges this presents. To demonstrate this ‘change points’ approach this report focuses on one such topic: household disposal of fats, oils and grease (FOG). The problem of FOG in UK sewers has attracted increased attention in recent years. Industry responses focus on removing sewer blockages and reducing the FOG that enters sewers from commercial sources. However, around three quarters of sewer FOG comes from domestic sources, making household disposal a key priority for change.
Existing responses to domestic FOG can be categorised into three approaches, focusing on:
- Service provision – management of the sewer system, requiring no changes within households
- Individual decision making – seeking influence through information campaigns, the dominant approach to preventing FOG from domestic sources
- Social norms and networks – targeted initiatives to influence behaviour through intervention in ‘social context’
Here we present a fourth approach, tracing numerous ‘change points’ that occur in the process of carrying out routine household tasks (e.g. cooking, cleaning, laundry): moments in which resources are used up and waste is produced. In seeking to understand what influences these change points, and hence what successful intervention might entail, we draw on insights from social practice theory. This shifts attention from individual attitudes and behaviours to a systematic consideration of the multiple social, cultural and material factors that shape what people routinely do.
Our aim is to better mobilise this established body of academic work for practical use. In particular, we bring together evidence from what we term the ‘home practices’ literature: recent empirical research applying social practice theory, and related social science approaches, to the study of household sustainability issues. This provides a distinctive but complementary addition to existing responses to domestic FOG, emphasising connections between everyday sequences of activity and wider cultural, political, technological and infrastructural factors.
Crucially, FOG disposal does not just happen because of decisions at the kitchen sink. Rather, actions throughout the stages of food provisioning – including shopping, food preparation, cooking, dealing with leftovers, and clearing up – eventually lead to FOG entering sewers. Insights into what shapes behaviour at these change points lead to a range of implications and recommendations for policies and. Specifically they should seek to:
- Take opportunities to make infrastructures more ‘visible’, through targeted and well-timed media and customer communications
- Understand household routines in context – identifying interventions which are likely to lead to lasting changes in habit – and design interventions that fit the existing rhythms of daily life
- Appreciate diversity within and between households, learning from existing household responses to FOG, while anticipating any limits to transferability of successful initiatives
- Work with shared social norms as well as individual knowledge and attitudes
- Recognise that kitchen practices are shaped by wider systems, of food provision (supply chains, retail, etc.) and waste disposal. Interventions can therefore be targeted elsewhere, for example:
- Product innovations that reduce likelihood of FOG production
- Using retail environments and packaging as means of changing social norms
- Providing effective alternative waste fat and oil disposal infrastructures
Collaborate across sectors, recognising the interdependencies of interventions and their resource consequences