Why Are We Wasting Food?

The Lempert Report
August 17, 2015

We know food waste is a problem, so why exactly do we, as consumers, keep wasting food?

According to a new study from the QUT School of Design in Queensland, Australia, consumers waste food because of these three main points -  they don't know what's in their fridge, where it's located or how best to use it.  Lead researcher, Dr Geremy Farr Wharton, conducted this study to learn not only why people throw food out but how technology could be designed to influence behavior and reduce waste.

After isolating the three main reasons that consumers were throwing away food, Dr Farr Wharton tested three design interventions  the Color Code Project, FridgeCam, and EatChaFood all aimed to reduce food waste. The Color Code Project used different color mats inside the fridge to organize food types, and a chart on the door to indicate where food was located. Researchers found that, when people knew where food was stored, they were more likely to use it. The second technology, FridgeCam, focused on food supply knowledge, by placing a camera within the fridge that takes photos of what's inside and uploads them to a website.  The idea being when consumers are shopping they can check inventory. Finally they tested, EatChaFood, a mobile app prototype that provided an interior view of the fridge, as well as a record of the food inside. It also offered meal suggestions based on food supply and food expiry.  This technology not only provided consumers with an inventory of what they have left, but also how to use what's left.

Overall, in testing these tech innovations, researchers found that by improving food supply and location knowledge, as well as educating people in how to use their food and how to judge its edibility, it did actually make a different and helped further reduce domestic food waste.

As the tech world continues to refine and come up with such innovations, supermarkets should focus on ways they can help as well. Offer tips and recipes ideas on produce and other items that may go bad. Supermarket websites and mobile apps should offer tools that could remind shoppers when items were purchased and when their expiry dates are. And finally, help shoppers build menu and recipe ideas for the week and plot out shopping lists so people only buy what they need. Not only does this kind of preparation help with food waste, but with weekly budgets as well.