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Loughborough University tackles food waste with app concept

A smartphone app concept devised by Loughborough University has the potential to prevent an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of food from being wasted each year in the UK.

The Pantry app aims to change consumer behaviour and attitudes towards food waste by encouraging us to forward plan and take greater ownership of our food. 

The UK generates about 15 million tonnes of food waste per year[1], with almost half of this attributable to the consumer. It is estimated that 4.2 million tonnes of UK domestic food waste is avoidable[2], with the cost of this avoidable food waste for a family of four calculated at £720 per year. 

In a study conducted by the Centre for Sustainable Manufacturing and Recycling Technologies (SMART) at Loughborough University, 10 volunteers[3] recorded a description of their food waste, its weight and the reason for discarding it – while using a mobile phone to help demonstrate how the Pantry app would work over a seven-day period. 

The functions of the proposed app include: 

  • stock list to allow consumers to keep an inventory of when the food was purchased, including expiry (use-by and best before) dates
  • An expiry tracker which operates in parallel with the stock list, linked to an alarm to help notify when items are about to exceed the use-by date
  • recipe recommendation – advanced versions of the app could include details of what to cook with food left in the fridge/freezer. This function could be linked to a meal planner or retailer internet shopping sites for easy purchase of additional items. 

Five main types of food were studied – meat, fruits, vegetables, milk and bakery items – including details of the items bought and the expiry dates; these were then manually recorded into the app, with alarm reminders set for three days prior to the expiry date. 

The study showed that as a result of using the app, there was a reduction of 34% food waste across the five food types. Scaled-up for all food types in the UK, this would equate to savings of around 1.5 million tonnes of food waste per year.

Elliot Woolley, Lecturer in Sustainable Manufacturing at the Centre for SMART, said the growing global demand for food is putting pressure on the food industry, with a greater focus on reducing consumer food waste needed to ensure its long term resilience. 

“Our proposed solution – the Pantry app – helps consumers to better manage ingredients bought from retailers and makes it easier to consume food items before the expiry date, reducing wastage and the associated environmental impact in the process,” he said. 

“Changing consumer behaviour by introducing a novel food waste categorisation process and raising awareness of the difference between ‘use-by’ and ‘best before’ dates could go a long way towards discouraging food waste. Our study showed that 60% of food waste was generated due to items having gone past their expiry date, indicating that the management of the food inventory is difficult in domestic environments. 

“In order for the Pantry app to be most effective, we envisage that collaboration with a large grocery retailer could be the way forward if we are to carry out further testing over a longer period with a greater number of participants. 

“The app concept presents a fantastic opportunity for the food manufacturing industry to play a greater role in assisting customers in reducing the amount of food they waste by developing tools – already prevalent in the industry – that can be used by the consumer to audit, review and plan the use of their food products.” 

Manufacturing resilience via inventory management for domestic food waste has been published in Procedia CIRP.

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