No Waste Planet !
Banana Split Bandits: Jun Yu, Sunny Lee, Ermian Wei, Adrian Dinh
Problem and Solution Overview
The problem we are focusing on is how to reduce household food waste; food thrown away due to expiration or being unwanted. A study using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that 31.9% of the food acquired by an average U.S. household has gone to waste, and that food waste generated in the U.S. totals 125–160 billion pounds every year. Producing all this wasted food uses 3.6 million hectares of land, 180 gigalitres of water, and generates 1 million tons of greenhouse gases, not to mention the many potential mouths that could have been fed, so it is a goal shared by everyone to reduce excess food waste. The solution our team proposed specifically focuses on people who live alone. We think most grocery stores which sell bulk ingredients are not trying their best to help people who live alone to cut down their food waste. Our team’s solution helps people keep track of their food they acquired and consumed to prevent food being wasted just simply because they are forgotten. Moreover, it offers people the alternative to donate their food before expiration if they no longer need it anymore.
Design Research Goals, Stakeholders, and Participants
Our team chose the interview as the research method with survey as a complement. We conducted 4 in-depth interviews and got 35 respondents in an online survey. The target population are technologically capable adults of all ages having some cooking experience/interest and are responsible for all their meals, living alone or with roommates in houses, apartments, or dorms. We especially target young adults without much cooking experience as they tend to waste more food and most of the participants are young college students in their 20s, including some starting to learn to cook within one year. We chose this group of people because they are more likely to waste food in daily life because of inexperienced cooking skills and the lack of cooking time for school stuff. The research goal is to help eliminate food wasting by identifying the difficulty people may have for external problems( food preservation, etc.) and internal problems of users themselves(meal plan, lack of cooking time, fading enthusiasm, etc.)
Design Research Results and Themes
After we conducted our interviews and read over our survey results, we found that fresh produce and dairy products were thrown away the most often, as they always have a very limited window time for people to consume safely. Most fresh produce starts to turn bad within 1–2 weeks, and dairy products expire within 2–4 weeks. This short window time is very unfriendly to young adults who live alone and can only consume a small portion of said items within a limited time frame. Dairy products and produce were also reported to be packaged in too big of a bundle/size by our participants. Participants wished that their fresh produce could be preserved longer, so it would leave more room for further planning and consumption.
Another result of our research was that quite a number of participants reported that a big portion of their food waste came from food they had forgotten they had. For instance, they would buy a certain item, then forget about it when they put it away to store. They ended up not being able to use food ingredients before they went bad, either because they were unclear about the expiration date or totally forgot about their existence. Participants wished there could be technology to help them track their food and its freshness and to remind them to use it up before the expiration date.
Finally, we found that according to the survey, 61.1% of participants were willing to put in some work to reduce their household food waste. A smaller number of participants, 13.5%, were willing to pay some money for others to address the problem. On the other hand, we also noticed that time was the most significant barrier for participants in preventing food waste. Most people were aware of the shortcomings of food wasting and in favor of stopping. However, they lack time set aside for dealing with the food they have, which makes them unable to cook as planned and the food waste inevitable. As a result, we realized that an appropriate design that is intuitive and could help users keep on top of expiration dates is critical in this case.
As we explored options for the design of our product, themes of convenience, accessibility, and safety emerged. Our target audience for our product was people who lived alone or cooked for themselves. The bulk of our research group was made up of young adults who were in college or starting out in a job, and therefore renting a living space. Thus, affordability or accessibility in this case was crucial to reaching our audience. We knew that our design would have to make sense for people who were in a temporary living space to consider. Additionally, it would have to be convenient, as most of these people had very busy schedules and noted that time was one of the biggest barriers to eliminating food waste. When we dove deeper into the actual logistics of our design safety was also a crucial point to consider. One of the ideas to reduce food waste was to exchange excess ingredients with another person or organization. In order to do this, a safety aspect for users had to be considered.
Keeping in mind the responses of our research participants and the themes of our findings, we designed a mobile app, the preferred platform of our interviewees for its convenience. Centered around managing leftovers, the primary function of the app is to record bought groceries, send notifications for food items a certain time before they expire, and suggest two options to use up that expiring food: recipe ideas or donation to local neighbors or nonprofits. Our research found that a multitude of circumstances, such as going out to eat with friends or needing to buy in bulk because of distance or financial reasons, can lead to surplus food in spite of any efforts to plan or preserve. And so, our app intends to prevent this inevitable waste by allowing users of the app to exchange unwanted food and groceries with others.
First, users are asked to input their food items and their expiration dates, which can be done manually or automatically by scanning receipts and the expiration dates printed on the product. Preservation tips are suggested as well, helping users to keep foods for as long as possible.
Then, about five to seven days before a recorded food item expires, the app will send a mobile device notification. If they do not already have a clear plan to use up this food item, tapping the notification will present two options to the user:
- Recipe ideas, taking into account user preferences and available ingredients
- App users in the area willing to take your food, including registered nonprofit organizations and ordinary users
Donation recipients will be suggested to the user based on their profiles, which includes the foods they’re looking for and the distance they’re willing to travel to pick up the user’s food. The user can accept one of the recipients if they approve of their profile’s reputation and trustworthiness, features that we intend to address safety concerns that the user might have.
Our leftovers app has been shaped by all our research participants’ constructive feedback and thoughts. From here on, we hope that we can continue to collaborate with our users to make a food-waste-free future.