How often have you bought a bag of spinach or a bunch of bananas only for them to rot, forgotten in the back of your fridge or hidden on the counter? In the U.S., between 30 and 40% of the food supply—or 133 billion pounds of food—becomes waste. One study found that the average American household wastes nearly a third of the food they acquire.
All this waste hurts not only our wallets, but also our environment, and means that precious resources were used to produce and ship food that goes uneaten. To prevent your groceries from turning into trash, a group of students at UC Berkeley designed a system that tracks the food you buy based on your grocery receipts and alerts you when your perishables are close to expiring via ambient, glowing tiles you can stick right on your fridge or kitchen wall. The design, called EIDOS, comes with an accompanying app that also shares recipe suggestions for your soon-to-spoil ingredients.
When Lula Duloup, a masters student in the design program at UC Berkeley, came to the U.S. from Argentina, that waste stuck out to her. “The food sizes are huge and people tend to throw away so much food,” she says. Eleanor Mayes, another masters student, noticed the same issue in a different way. Coming from the Twin Cities, where she didn’t have personal compost collection, she began sorting her waste. “I was really surprised how much was actually food waste,” she says. “I had to take out my compost much more frequently than I took out the trash.”
In a class called Technology Design Foundations, Berkeley students were tasked with working on a design solution for a social impact cause that was important to them. Duloup, Mayes, and the rest of their team—Akash Mahajan, Debbie Yuen, and Roland Saekow—decided to tackle food waste. Their project, EIDOS, is the winner of the student category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards.
Restaurants and grocery stores often have programs to compost or donate their unused food. They decided to focus on consumers instead, where food waste goes more unaddressed. “We saw that there were a lot of solutions to work with food waste once you already have the food about to waste, so we also tried to work on preventing that food waste,” Duloup says. “EIDOS works on changing habits. We can actually reduce the amount you are throwing away instead of making something afterwards.”
That potential for habit change comes from the app. Separate from the ambient tiles that glow with reminders, the app, Saekow says, shows you “metrics of oh, over time, seems like you always buy a little too many bananas, so next time you go grocery shopping, you should consider buying less.” The app setup includes questions on what’s most important to the user, like saving money versus being more sustainable, that can also inform the numbers they see.
Already, the students involved say they’ve seen a difference in their behavior. “All of us have become much more aware of our food waste habits,” Mayes says. “It’s kind of shocking thinking back to how I felt about this before the project started. I was very unaware of my own waste habits, so I know that I’ve felt increased awareness when I’m grocery shopping and going through my own fridge.” The team is excited to keep working on the project post-summer internships, especially with friends already asking when it’ll be available to buy.