Save food at KTH

Published Mar 08, 2018

Would you like to help make sure less food is thrown away? KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s campus has the potential to become best in the world at reducing food waste. A group of researchers led by Annika Carlsson Kanyama has received funding to produce an app that is to save food from being thrown in the bin.

Could you imagine eating your colleague’s leftovers? This is the hope of researchers who are developing an app that aims to reduce food waste on campus. Its working title is “Rädda maten på KTH” (Save food at KTH).

“A great deal is based on trust – you don’t accept food from just anyone. But I think that colleagues would probably think it was OK,” says Annika Carlsson Kanyama, researcher in industrial ecology.

In the lunch room at the Department of Sustainable Development, Environmental Science and Engineering, SEED, staff from all over the department are sitting at the table with their lunch boxes. Ph. D. student Fredrik Johansson is eating a homemade lentil stew. He likes the idea of sharing food.

“The problem is that I usually eat up everything myself. But I would love to eat up other people’s food! But I don’t use apps, so for me, it would be better if people just put the food on a shelf in the fridge,” says Fredrik Johansson.

The time is ripe

Annika Carlsson Kanyama explains her thinking.

“The idea is to have both the app and a shelf in the fridge in the various divisions. I can put my lasagne there with my name on it plus the date when I made it. I can then also upload it to the app, so then it’s first come, first served.”

It would also be possible to bring in food that is lying around at home.

“When I go through the pantry and fridge, I’m always finding things that are past their use-by date. If I know I can bring them to work, maybe I’ll clear them out and take them with me in time,” says Annika Carlsson Kanyama.

Another person having lunch, Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling, researcher at SEED, believes that the time is ripe for sharing food. She has herself downloaded the Karma app, where restaurants and shops in Stockholm sell off items at a discount that they haven’t been able to sell.

“And here in the division, we already leave leftover cakes and buns on the table for anyone to take – people think that’s OK,” says Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling.

“It’s all about extending the boundaries,” adds Annika Carlsson Kanyama.

Booking via app

But the app isn’t just for sharing leftovers brought in from home. When catering has been provided, a photo can be taken of the remaining food, accompanied by details of where it can be picked up from.

“If you order catering in your own department, it’s already the case that the leftovers usually get eaten up. But if you’re in a venue somewhere else on campus, it makes things more difficult,” says Annika Carlsson Kanyama.

Restaurants, cafés and shops in the area should be able to sell surplus food at a discounted price. It should then be possible to book and pay for your portion via the app and go and pick it up whenever it suits you.

“Those selling the food are responsible for making sure that it’s hygienic, even when it’s sold at a lower price,” says Noha Baraka Wadha.

Cecilia Katzeff, docent in human-computer interaction, is part of the research group. How well the app will work depends a great deal on its design, she says.

“It requires us to make a thorough analysis of the situation and needs. It must be convenient, both for those offering the food and those who want it.”

Not a burden

Shops and restaurants will be interviewed in order to gather information to use as a basis for the design.

“They’re most likely very short on time as it is, so it mustn’t be a burden for them to register food that is for sale,” says Cecilia Katzeff.

The researchers will also find out more about why certain apps in other countries work so well.

“These include an app in Germany that allows people who don’t know each other to share food. How do they get people to trust that the food will be good?” she continues.

The development project is being funded by KTH Sustainability Office and Energy Platform.

“We think this is an excellent project. After all, we’ve been working for a long time on sustainability at KTH, and this is a key component of that. As we conduct research and offer courses on these issues, it’s important that we practise what we preach,” says Kristina von Oelreich, Sustainabilty Manager at Sustainability Office at KTH.

Healthy culture

Vishal Parekh, Ph. D. student in a sustainability project, has just eaten up the last of his homemade Vietnamese vegan spring rolls. He could envisage making a few extra portions to take with him to work. The app isn’t just a good idea in terms of reducing food waste, he says.

“Sharing food is also a way of getting closer to one another. Not becoming best friends, perhaps, but it makes for a healthier culture that’s positive in terms of both the food and the social aspects. It can also result in greater respect for food. With this option on the table, it makes it harder to throw food away.”

The project is to provide suggestions for how the app could be put into operation and used by all those who wish to. Someone needs to fund and maintain it. The final report of the project is due in June, but this is just the start, according to Annika Carlsson Kanyama.

“I think that we should become a global role model. Our vision is for people to come here and study this successful trial,” she says.

Text: Ann Patmalnieks

How the app will be produced:

  • An inventory will be made during the first part of the project to take stock of the amount of food waste on campus. All restaurants and shops on campus will be contacted and Annika Carlsson Kanyama hopes that as many as possible will want to take part. The researchers will also scrutinise what is being suggested to ensure that it does not clash with food legislation.
  • In the next stage, an app prototype will be constructed and tested with help from a Master’s student from the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). The Swedish app Karma, through which restaurants, cafes and shops share food, is a source of inspiration.
  • Around 50 testers will be appointed from among students, employees, restaurant proprietors and shop owners. A Master’s student from SEED will make an analysis of the packaging the food is sold in. Should it be a plastic container that can be recycled or some other option? How does the packaging material influence the effect of reducing food waste?
  • Would you like to test the app? Please get in touch with Annika Carlsson Kanyama, who will then put together a cross-section of test subjects.

Project background

Last autumn, on behalf of the Swedish National Food Agency, researchers carried out a study of the literature on various measures and methods for reducing food waste. In countries such as Australia and the Netherlands, various food-sharing apps have been trialled, but the trials have only involved relatively few households. One of the findings was that people do not like to take food from strangers but that they can envisage sharing food with people to whom they are connected in some way. However, there are examples of sharing apps that work even when users do not know each other.

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