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  • Writer's pictureMolly Gallant

Trash Talk Post 3: Technology to reduce household food waste

Updated: Aug 12, 2019


Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) or Human Machine Interface (HMI) is a growing area of research that has begun addressing issues related to ecological sustainability. Given the environmental impacts of food waste, some researchers have begun developing technologies that seek to reduce household food waste generation.

From fridge cameras to “smart” bins, a new era of food waste technology is emerging. However, prior to being implemented on a large-scale, it is important to assess and test these technologies with consumers. In this blog post, I take a look at three studies exploring new technologies designed to reduce household food waste.

Negotiating Food Waste: Using a Practice Lens to Inform Design

Ganglbauer, Fitzpatrick, & Comber (2013) conducted a study to first better understand household food waste behaviours and to then test a novel technology designed to reduce food waste. A relatively small-scale study, 14 households were recruited for interviews and house tours to observe and measure food waste generation. Next, 5 households had a fridge camera installed for one month to assess its ability to reduce food waste.

Dubbed the FridgeCam, this technology involves a mobile phone attached to the inside of a refrigerator door. For every second the fridge door is open, an accelerometer sensor in the phone triggers the camera and several pictures are taken and uploaded directly to a dedicated webpage. Users can then access the latest 15 captured photos either through their smart phones or on their computers.

Researchers expected the app to be accessed most often via mobile devices in order to allow users to access the information on the go – perhaps while shopping or meal planning. However, far more often, users accessed the FridgeCam on desktop devices in order to ensure it was still working, to show the program to others or else as a memory aid prior to going shopping. Although the device was not used as expected, it assisted in demonstrating the reality of everyday integrated practices and where values within food management, consumption and disposal were acted upon.

Designing beyond habit: opening space for improved recycling and food waste behaviors through processes of persuasion, social influence and aversive affect

In another novel study, Comber & Thieme (2013) investigated the effects of a garbage bin camera ("BinCam") designed to promote conscious reflection on waste disposal intentions and behaviours through social influence and aversive effect. In this context, waste was viewed as a habitual behaviour that can be interrupted and over time, altered.

The BinCam is a two-part system where a mobile phone is attached to the lid of a kitchen garbage can. When the lid is closed, the device’s accelerometer is triggered and takes pictures of the waste. These photos are then uploaded to a Facebook page and can be immediately viewed by all BinCam members. This Facebook platform was designed to leverage participant engagement and social influence. The second part of the technology enabled tagging of both the number of recyclable items and food items. Using this, improvements in waste behaviours were also tracked and visual feedback was provided to each household.

The technology was designed to specifically target individuals between the ages of 18-35 who are typically under-aware of recycling issues. However, in this sample the particpants claimed to already be very aware of recycling issues. Researchers believed this bias resulted in little behaviour change. Rather than actually changing behaviour, the technology enabled increased self-reflection on waste disposal practices.

Fridge Fridge on the Wall: What Can I Cook for Us All? An HMI study for an intelligent fridge

In a study conducted by Bucci et al. (2010) a new Smart Fridge product was researched and developed. Viewed as an intersection between sociology and technology, the goal was to have a technology that seamlessly integrates into everyday life and supports users in their daily tasks. 

"In this scenario the user is at the supermarket but she forgot the shopping list. She requested a real-time updated list to her fridge and received it by an sms on her mobile." (Bucci et al. 2010)

Referred to as the ZmartFRI, the smart fridge technology is a coupled display system between a fridge and the user’s mobile device. Meant to become a family information hub, the fridge is able to alert users to product expiration dates, suggest recipes based on foods that are available or about to expire, fill in and send by SMS or email the house’s shopping list and send and post messages for the house residents. The ZmartFri is able to do all this via a RFID antenna and a reader inside to read each product that has a smart label attached to it. Although the prototype is still virtual, it represents a promising avenue for further research.

It seems technology is well on its way to facilitating improved awareness and conscientiousness of waste disposal practices. Although it is difficult to asses their ability to actually alter food waste practices based on the study design of the presented work, this area presents promising avenues for future research.


  • Bucci, M., Calefato, C., Colombetti, S., Milani, M., & Montanari, R. (2010). Fridge fridge on the wall: what can I cook for us all?, 415.

  • Comber, R., & Thieme, A. (2013). Designing beyond habit: Opening space for improved recycling and food waste behaviors through processes of persuasion, social influence and aversive affect. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 17(6), 1197–1210.

  • Ganglbauer, E., Fitzpatrick, G., & Comber, R. (2013). Negotiating food waste. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 20(2), 1–25.


Recommended citation format: Gallant, M. “Trash Talk Post 3: Technology to reduce food waste”. Food Focus Guelph (46), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, August 6th, 2019.



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