Color-coding your refrigerator can prevent your greens from going to waste
The majority of people say that they try to avoid food waste, but Australians collectively dispose of almost A$6 Billion worth of food each year. Food waste accounts for about 25% of household garbage. These wastes are usually disposed of in landfills, where they decompose and produce powerful greenhouse gases like methane.
This food is mostly leftovers from meals, food that has been partially consumed (such as a half onion), and food that has expired. There is room for improvement when the average household throws away up to three bin liners of 5 liters worth of food each week.
We need first to understand why households waste food. In my research, I have identified three main contributing factors: knowledge of food storage locations (where is the product stored? Food supply knowledge (what is available? Food literacy is the ability to understand how food items are used and whether they are still edible. ).
Lack of knowledge of where food is stored can lead to food being hidden in the back of your fridge. Lack of knowledge about food supplies can lead to stockpiling (buying food we already own). Low levels of food literacy may lead to food being wasted.
In my study, I found that most households have between one and two people who shop. However, the responsibility of putting away the food is usually only shared by one person. The other residents are often unaware of the location of specific foods and, therefore, unsure about what is available.
In my survey, respondents often said that they found half a tomtom in their fridge and, unsure how to use it or how it got in there, just left it to rot. Sounds familiar?
It’s time for an intervention.
I studied three interventions to combat these factors: Colour Code Project; FridgeCam and a prototype app for smartphones called EatChaFood.
The Colour Code Project aims to improve food location awareness. The project involves placing colored plastic pieces on the shelves of a household refrigerator, with each color representing a specific food type (green represents fresh produce, while red indicates meat). On the refrigerator door was a chart that showed the order of the colored plastic. This helped to find food even before opening the door.
The Colour Code Project has inspired participants to encourage other people to put the correct food type on the right color after two weeks of testing. The system was easy to use, especially in families. Food waste was reduced significantly as a result of the project.
FridgeCam is the second intervention that targets knowledge of food supplies. The camera in the refrigerator takes pictures of the inside every time the door is opened. These photos are then uploaded to a secure website that mobile devices can view. The householders viewed the images while they went shopping. This led to less food being stored. Although there was a small reduction in the number of items purchased, visibility was poor, especially for items on shelves that were not visible to the camera. FridgeCam was less effective than the color-code strategy in reducing food waste.
EatChaFood reminds you of what you have at home before you go back to the zucchini aisle. Author provided
The third strategy, EatChaFood, combines both methods. The app overlays the photos of the interior of the refrigerator with color zones and also lists all the food in the inventory sorted according to expiration dates.
The app also promotes food literacy through a searchable recipe library, which prioritizes items that are close to expiring in the refrigerator. Fridgescope was another feature of EatChaFood that allowed participants to share their food with other homes if it wasn’t going to be eaten. Participants reported significant or notable reductions in food waste.