According to WRAP, UK households throw away 7 million tonnes of food every year. Finding ways of reducing domestic food waste could save the average family £700 a year as well as deliver significant environmental benefits. Is technology the answer to all our food waste woes, or is its value still to be proven?

For more than a decade trend analysts and tech enthusiasts have prophesied the kitchen tech revolution. As early as 2000, LG launched their Digital DIOS – a “Smart Fridge” featuring video messaging and a way to leave messages for your family. Though the enthusiasm for the DIOS soon cooled down, the word intellifridge was born and the kitchen gadget craze had begun. 

Chilling reviews 

This year similar gadget-stocked fridges are expected from several leading brands, including Bosch and Samsung. Commentators from across the board are cooking up a storm arguing for or against their usefulness in preventing domestic food waste. The Guardian’s Nicole Kobie recently described Smart Fridges as:

The cliché of the internet of things, a perfect example of an unnecessary, expensive technology that’s been talked about more than it’s been used.

Despite the criticism, the interest in food technology is clearly on the rise. At tech conferences around the world, attendees are more and more likely to find kitchen gadgets at the head of the table. From Smart Fridges with built-in touch screens, to electronic forks that vibrate when you are eating too quickly, the tech revolution is definitely coming for dinner. 

A growing app-etite

The assertion that “there’s an app for that” has definitely entered the realm of food. Bad at measuring ingredients? The Drop scale uses an iPad or iPhone to make sure you got it just right. Struggling with cooking perfect bacon? The built in sensors in the Pantelligent makes sure the temperature is just right. Can’t remember whether you’re stocked up on eggs? No problem, the Egg Minder Smart Tray will send you a reminder when you’re running low. 

Putting technology to the test 

To learn more about how useful technology is for reducing domestic food waste, we invited households from Liverpool, Belfast and Glasgow to participate in a week-long technology trial. The trial was part of #ExpressYourShelf, a food waste campaign we ran in partnership with Tesco and Love Food Hate Waste, which formed part of the wider Ten Cities Initiative. 

Participants were asked to trial either the LFHW app, the EatBy app or WhatsApp to see how useful these could be for reducing food waste. Six households also received a Food Waste Kit containing several non-technological items such as re-sealable bags and plastic containers. Feedback showed that participants enjoyed our positive approach to reducing food waste, a usually gloomy topic. 

Out with the new, in with the old? 

Interestingly, it was the non-technological items that the participants warmed to the most. Less “sexy” items such as plastic containers, re-sealable bags and bag clips were celebrated for their usefulness and user-friendliness. The phone applications on the other hand were repeatedly described as time-consuming, difficult to use and hard to fit into daily routines. Surprising? Perhaps not. Our food campaigns have shown that basic knowledge about planning, storage and using up leftovers are the keys to reducing domestic food waste. Rather than looking for fast solutions, it might be time to look for opportunities to slow down. 

Take away

The main take away from #ExpressYourShelf is that there is a need for accessible, affordable and attractive solutions that appeal to a mainstream audience. Without this, food waste will continue to leave a bitter aftertaste in years to come.