Get direct debit from… your food waste

GSB reported on a South Korean company introducing an innovative waste collection and recycling/composting system that credits users’ bank account every time they dispose their food waste in the RFID-equipped collection bins. It is indeed a cool idea and it is designed to help South Korea deal with their increasing food waste – according to the article, the country spends about £10bn annually on collecting and processing food waste.

Indeed, it is a neat idea to utilise the ubiquitous radio-frequency ID technology into a behaviour change campaign that will save billions and will reduce greenhouse emissions.

This solution to food waste misses the main point of the problem: the very existence of food waste. Instead of trying to motivate people to recycle more and compost more food waste, why not try eliminate the food waste in the first place? Of course, banana peels and avocado seeds should be composted and I could be rewarded for making the effort. But what about leftover take-away lunch or spoiled 1-gallon milk crate (bought in bulk quantities from the big-box grocery store)?

In most lower-income countries very little food is wasted (the higher proportion of field-to-fork waste in production and collection of food is another issue). This “food efficiency” is due primarily on the scarcity and lower income but also on social culture and traditions (comparing recipes from different countries would show interesting results and correlations between current food waste and culinary traditions).

In our advanced and rich world, where convenience and speed dominates food manufacturing we continue to grow disconnected with the source of our food and destination of our waste. And this is my main objection to the simple admiration of the South Korean innovation. I could see some niche applications but overall it is a distraction from the more systemic view of the food waste problem. Unfortunately, way too many great ideas and innovations (like energy efficiency, recycling, EVs, etc) are not seen in the perspective of the bigger picture and major challenges ahead.  As a consequence, behaviour and thinking do not change (and often savings are diminished by rebound effects).

A better approach, I think, would be to design campaigns that focus on food education and engage people in behaviour that minimises food waste (which will be collected in the food-waste-ATMs). A designer’s starting point would be to analyse the type of food waste, eating habits, demographic, and so on in order to understand and treat the root of the problem rather than to create innovations that deal its effect – the food waste.




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