Reduce food waste at home – it is easy and it is worth it!

Reducing food waste along the whole food chain from farm to table has been a hot issue for the last five years. It is a key factor for achieving a sustainable and environment-friendly consumer behaviour. Yet, despite all TED Talks, frightening figures and alarming news, easy to use, all-in-one tools for the end consumer are not available. That’s why we developed CogZum with the single goal in mind – to provide each household with an accessible instrument for smart shopping to reduce food waste at home to a minimum.

We started by making a detailed investigation of the whole consumer journey. From home to the shop, then back to the kitchen, to the fridge and pantry, then out for the stove, the table, (sometimes) back to the fridge, then (often) to the trash bin. We identified the main reasons why we all throw away food at home. Then we integrated into our application as many features as necessary to solve each step of the problem.

Why is food wasted in every European and US household?
  1. We throw away food because at some point we did not estimate properly how much food we had to buy or to cook.

frozen objectEvery waste-free guidebook starts with the top of mind advice “make a shopping list and stick to it”. That is absolutely a must, we agree. But there’s an extremely important step that you should take before this first step. You cannot make a precise shopping list if you don’t know the exact amount of groceries and essentials that you already have. Let’s assume you have the good habit of making a list prior to every shopping. How do you do it? By a quick overview of what’s on the top shelf of the fridge and (maybe) the rice and pasta cupboard. You don’t know all the food that is stored in your fridge, freezer and pantry. Let alone how long it has been there and when it is going to expire. Every single house has had its UFOs at some point, if not always. Where UFO stands for Unidentified Frozen Object at the bottom of the freezer.

CogZum solution: We found there are multiple apps to help you make a shopping list, as well as general purpose lists tools. But there was none that combined those two for you. So in CogZum we paired your complete searchable household inventory with a smart shopping list. The only thing we recommend you to do (but you don’t have to) is to make the inventory in the first place. We agree it is an extra effort, but there are many reasons you should make a list of everything that’s in your kitchen. Once you’ve done it, it will be yours forever – CogZum has all the controls to let you keep it up to date with minimal effort.

  1. We throw away food because it is passed its ‘best-by’ date. We shouldn’t.

expiration datesFood in developed countries is relatively cheap. It has been so for as long as we can remember, so we do not bother to be extra careful when buying and storing groceries. We also tend to be overprotective and generally risk-averse. If the stamp on the yoghurt says “best before 12-10-2016” we prefer to be on the safe side and do not eat it three days later. This kind of consumer behaviour should change for multiple reasons. The most important one being the very nature of “best before” dates. These are manufacturers’ advisory time frames indicating their most pessimistic prognosis for how long the product will be at its highest quality at the storage conditions worse than yours. With an exception of very few food types, the date does not mean that the product poses a risk for people’s health pass this time.

CogZum solution: Along with “old-fashion” exp. dates, our smart shopping list allows you to enter your own personal estimation (based on previous experience) for each product you buy. When you specify a ‘use within’ period for something, the app will remind you each morning that you have items that expire today. Thus you can adjust your shopping and cooking plans so that you consume everything on time.

  1. We throw away food because we have been too optimistic with our cooking plans.

If the first principle of smart shopping is ‘plan ahead’, the second one is ‘don’t plan too much’. This is extremely relevant for those who prefer one big weekly shopping rather than going to the deli 3-4 times a week. When we go to the store with the good intention to secure the meal plans for at least 5 days ahead, we always go for thefunny paper note optimistic prognosis. We make sure we buy products for 5 days of home-made dinner, plus lunch boxes, snacks for the office, etc.  Then we go out one evening, the next day someone has a birthday in the office. There you go, you have 25% more food than needed, with a likelihood that 100% of it will go to the bin.

CogZum solution: Waste-free kitchen guidebooks say that you should always plan a lazy evening or two. CogZum helps you do it the easy way. You just go through your “At Home” list while still at the office and think of what you can do with what’s available. This saves you time as well. When you know that you have everything for your salad but mozzarella, you go to the deli just for mozzarella. Otherwise, you will wander around the store for ‘”something for dinner”.  And you will leave 20 minutes later with a full cart of unplanned grocery shopping.

  1. We throw away food because supermarkets and marketing people have convinced us that buying in bulk is good for us. Timewise and budget-wise.

No, it’s not. Multiple surveys have proven that buying in bulk eventually leads to more food waste. If you eat a yoghurt a day, buy a six pack. But if you are eating one every sometimes, buy one only. Or two. Ignore the “six at the price of four” label. Buying large containers or multiple packs has more side-effects than food-waste. It means you have to go shopping with your car. You need more storage space at home. And you will eat (mindlessly) more than you think.

CogZum solution: The third main feature of our app, apart from the home inventory and the shopping list, is its food-waste calculator. For each product, you can say whether you used it all, or how much of it you threw away. So next time you put six yoghurts on your shopping list, the app will remind you that last week 2 of those were wasted. We assume this will serve as a stopper for impulsive buying of more food than you actually can consume.

  1. The last main reason for food waste at home is storage.

overfilled fridgeProcessed goods, especially those products that are full of preservatives, have long shelf life. We tend to buy them with the idea that they can be used any time not so soon. Along with this storage space in our homes has also increased – big pantries, huge fridges, stand alone freezers. Products are pushed at the back and stay in cupboards and drawers forever. Re-arranging and keeping tabs on them is too much effort. So unless you want the full-time job of grocery store staffers, you have to abstain from building a mini replica of Waitrose at home.

CogZum solution: Our project aims at providing not only advanced mobile technology but also at raising food-waste awareness. We strive to educate, motivate and develop a community of smart shoppers who care for the environment. Our iPhone app is the first step in a strategy to build a complete system of connected devices that help reduce food waste to a minimum. Here are some useful tips on how to store your groceries and keep them as fresh as possible for a longer period of time. When you start using CogZum app and have a regular overview of what foods you throw away most often, you can adjust the way you store them. Here’s a full list of guidelines for the most common products in our kitchens. We hope we’ve been helpful.

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