Can more information result in less food being wasted? Researchers investigated this together with pupils and teachers across the whole of Sweden in the Food Waste Experiment of 2020. To assist them, they used an artificial intelligence app and the world’s largest food sustainability database.
Our food is responsible for over one-third of human-caused climate emissions.* At the same time, almost one-third of food produced globally is thrown away.** In the Food Waste Experiment, researchers tested a new way to reduce food waste in Swedish schools: by providing more information and feedback to pupils.
Pupils and teachers were able to see exactly how their food choices and food waste affected the climate.
“We hope this can lead to more climate-friendly food choices and less food waste,” said Björn Hedin, a researcher at the Department of Human Centered Technology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
An app to calculate the waste
In the Food Waste Experiment, pupils used an app to find out how much food they were throwing away. They photographed their plates before and after eating, and then the app calculated how much was being wasted. Before lunch, they received information about the day’s menu being served in the school dining hall, the nutritional content of the various dishes and their climate footprint. The information comes from the world’s largest database on factors relating to food and environmental impact, health and justice, developed by the company Consupedia in collaboration with researchers at Dalarna University and KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
Creating virtuous circles through feedback
Through the project, researchers wanted to test whether it is possible to create virtuous circles in how food is dealt with – from wholesalers through to pupils. Making pupils more aware of how their food is affecting the climate, health and the environment, can lead to more thoughtful choices in the dining hall. As school kitchens get better information about what food the pupils like and dislike, menus can be adapted to better suit the needs of the pupils. The kitchens can then make more tailored orders from the wholesalers, so that the amount of waste is reduced both in school kitchens and at wholesalers.
“The students have really done a great job! Almost all the pictures that the students took with the app are of very high quality and we are all pleasantly surprised by the amount of commitment shown by the teachers and pupils. In total, we received about 7,500 pictures, which are a sufficient amount for us to be able to carry out an analysis” said Roberto Rufo Gonzalez, a researcher and project manager at Consupedia.
Citizen science for a sustainable future
The Food Waste Experiment is an example of citizen science, whereby researchers enlist the public’s help to address issues that they cannot investigate on their own. For pupils, it is an opportunity to participate in real research, while teachers get access to research-based material to incorporate into their teaching.
“In our previous citizen science projects for schools we have seen that pupils really appreciate doing something that is actually “real”. In The Food Waste Experiment, they are helping to develop new knowledge that can be used to tackle a current societal challenge,” said Fredrik Brounéus, a Researcher and Press Officer at VA (Public & Science).
The Food Waste Experiment (‘Svinnkollen‘ in Swedish) was carried out between 9–27 November 2020 and is a collaboration between Dalarna University, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, the company Consupedia and VA (Public & Science). The project is being funded by the Swedish Energy Agency and Consupedia.
Researchers are now analysing the data and their results will be published during 2021.