Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe: Can smart systems help to reduce food waste?

In a world where our lives are going faster and faster, it often happens that we turn a blind eye to the vast amounts of food waste we produce daily. Given that we have already taken advantage of technology and smart systems to hold the most advanced phone in our hands and watch a movie on TV in the best resolution, we can also bring technological progress to the food waste management system.

It will be best to review some statistics, which can be tedious, but without it, we have no sense of how big the problem of food waste is.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), roughly one-third of all food produced is discarded. It’s like making three pizzas for dinner and throwing one of them in the trash right away.

When we throw away food, we waste all the resources that have been used to produce, transport and store it, such as land, water and fuel. Apart from the fact that this food is lost, although it could feed many people, it also contributes to more significant pollution of the environment. Food wastage is responsible for eight to ten per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other country in the world, except for the United States and China.

Millions of tons of food waste is generated every year. Photo: UNEP.
Millions of tons of food waste is generated every year. Photo: UNEP.

The United Nations Environment Programme report shows that around 931 million tonnes of food waste were generated in 2019, 61 per cent of which came from households, 26 per cent from foodservice and 13 per cent from retail.

In 2016, the organisers of the EU FUSIONS project (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies) found that we produce around 88 million tonnes of food waste per year in the European Union, which means 173 kilograms of food per capita. Given that we produce 865 kilograms of food per capita in the European Union, we throw away about 20 per cent of all food produced.

It is almost impossible to prevent food waste altogether. It isn’t easy to entirely equate food production with food consumption, and there will always be parts that are not edible for human consumption.

However, we can at least reduce food waste with optimisation and technology, making sure that the rest is disposed of in an environmentally friendly way. Here are some of the innovations we can use to achieve this.

Smart containers and composters

We can use the full potential of smart technology and the Internet of Things primarily by analysing and processing as much data as possible, which we must, of course, obtain beforehand. Artificial intelligence can help by detecting which types of food are thrown away and how often. This data can then be used for a whole bunch of optimisations.

A Swiss company has thus developed a modern solution called KITRO. It is a small device placed above the container in which we usually throw our food waste. It is intended primarily for restaurants and hotels, where vast amounts of food is served daily.

The device itself analyses which food ends up in the trash. Photo: KITRO.
The device itself analyses which food ends up in the trash. Photo: KITRO.

What does KITRO do? Each time a piece of food is thrown into a waste bin, KITRO captures an image and the time and weight of every item thrown away. In this way, catering establishments can quickly identify which foods guests do not eat and adapt accordingly. By reducing the amount of food waste, they also save money.

“Through their holistic solution, KITRO enabled us to make specific changes to our breakfast offering, reducing waste and cost,” said Michael Vogt, General Manager of the Swiss hotel Einstein St. Gallen.

At KITRO, they report that by documenting food waste this way, their customers reduce the amount of food waste by half and save two to eight per cent of food costs annually.

Jean-Vital Domezon, general manager of the D’Angleterre Hotel in Geneva, says the system has helped them find the unwanted ingredients in their meals. “In the morning at breakfast, when you receive your scrambled eggs, there was a cherry tomato that decorated the plate. But then we realised, thanks to Kitaro, that no one ate the cherry tomato,” he explained.

With smart technology, restaurants and hotels can reduce the amount of food waste. Photo: Travelsort.
With smart technology, restaurants and hotels can reduce the amount of food waste. Photo: Travelsort.

“So, what’s the point of putting it on the plate if no one eats it? Now, we simply take care of how a dish is presented, simply without the tomato. At the end of the month, it’s a few kilos of tomatoes that, instead of ending up in the bin and compost, can be reused or not purchased, resulting in less food waste,” added Domezon.

What about in the home environment? At home, we can keep track of what food we throw away and how much, even without smart technology. For those foods that end up in a bin one way or another, we can think of a smart composter.

Perhaps the word “smart” seems a bit redundant when talking about composting. However, for those of you who are not (yet) composting excess food at the moment, we have a question: why aren’t you doing this?

Among the most common reasons are probably bad smell, space limitation and time – food needs a lot of time to decompose. All three things are solved by smart composters, which can even be placed on the kitchen counter.

One of such composters is Lomi, which shortens composting time from a few months to 20 hours or even less. Place the composter on a table or countertop, throw in any food that would otherwise land in the trash, and choose one of two settings to compost.Slika1 Smart composter Lomi. Photo: Lomi.

 Smart composter Lomi. Photo: Lomi.
Smart composter Lomi. Photo: Lomi.

The shortest way is Eco-Express, with which we can quickly get rid of food waste generated during the preparation of meals such as peels and the like. Within four hours, Lomi will decompose and chop the waste and reduce the total volume by 80 per cent.

With Grow mode, which takes up to 20 hours, Lomi will create microbially-rich finished compost suitable for garden or potted plants. By the way, both ways will save you from the unpleasant odour.

The KALEA home composter, on the other hand, stands on the ground and looks like a small trash can. The food is placed in a chamber at the top, where KALEA shreds it and removes moisture. When the pieces of excess food are shredded and dried, they fall into another chamber, where the composter creates the optimum temperature, oxygen level and humidity to turn the waste into compost. The compost is ready-to-use in 48 hours.

Smart kitchens and smart refrigerators

Artificial intelligence can be a significant weapon in the fight against food waste. One of the ways is smart refrigerators with cameras; these cameras then review the refrigerator’s contents and suggest different recipes based on the food available. So, that butter that was put in the back of the fridge months ago won’t be forgotten.

And because the fridge is smart, it can also learn which recipes we like best and, of course, take into account any dietary restrictions we may have.

In their scientific publication, Thejasvi Nagaraju and Shubhamangala B.R also explored the possibility of using artificial intelligence so that a refrigerator could use a camera to detect food deterioration.

Artificial intelligence could be taught to identify fruits and vegetables that are fresh, wilting, spoiled, or rotten. With the help of the application, the refrigerator owner could then receive messages or notifications about which food should be used as soon as possible.

In addition to taking care of the environment by managing food waste, we also take care of our wallets. So, with some effort to reduce discarded food, we lose absolutely nothing – we can only gain.

Keywords: environmental care, digitisation, food, waste, technology.

Author: Marko Želko


This article is part of joint project of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and the Anton Korošec Institute (INAK) Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe. This project receives funding from the European Parliament. 

The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union institutions/Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies/ Anton Korošec Institute. Organizations mentioned above assume no responsibility for facts or opinions expressed in this article or any subsequent use of the information contained therein.