OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

Where there is will... there might be no infrastructure

A lot of people hate wasting food. The reason why they do it is because there is no infrastructure that would make it easy to recycle.

Photo of Krisztian
3 3

Written by

While wasting food is a crucial global problem, it is also a personal pressure one way or another most of us felt: particularly in those cultures and nations that suffered an extreme form of economic depression, an innate urge to see the vale in everything (and food in particular) has been ingrained in their society.

The memories of either starving or queuing up in front of stores with bills in exchange for a daily quota of bread although might fade, the 2nd and 3rd generations (given optimal family circumstances) will still learn about those hardships.

In Easter Europe this is very much so. However, while most of us see the value in recycling and despise wasting food, particularly nourishing fruits and vegetables, there is no nationwide solution to address it. Most of even in the recent generation, although disconnected from working the fields, have a vague concept of the benefit of reusing organics to create compost and turn the leftovers of our dinner table into mineral rich soil.

The simple truth is: while most other form of recycling is either government mandated, or subsidised and very much ingrained in our culture, recycling our food wastage is not. Interestingly, you would not be allowed to mow your lawn and simply throw the cut grass out in the rubbish bin: that qualifies as organic wastage. In theory then your leftover fruit and veg would also. However on one hand most people don't make this connection, on the other, even if they do, they think that the little leftover from their dinner tables won't amount to a large enough portion to be reckoned with. The first issue is of education, the latter is of infrastructure.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

How come we recycle plastic bottles but not our organic leftover food? What can we learn from the last decade of the recycling industry in creating infrastructure and with that more social pressure? How can we make people realise that wastage from their mowed lawn qualifies just as organic wastage as their leftovers? How can we quantifies the impact even one street could have on agriculture?

Tell us about your work experience:

I work on communications planning in media & advertising, while proudly nurturing my family and trying to put my creativity to good use.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jamie

Thanks for sharing, Krisztian. I agree, that the problem lies both in the available infrastructure as well as our social standards. So, the question is two fold... How do we create social change while simultaneously updating the available infrastructure?

Again, here are the main issues, as posed by OpenIDEO:
- 30–40% of food produced for consumption is wasted every year
- 800 million people are undernourished globally, and in the U.S. one in seven people are food insecure
- food loss and waste uses 21% of U.S. fresh water and generates about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions
- food loss and waste globally costs up to $940 billion per year

In terms of the Infrastructure:
The EU mandated recycling in the 90's, however there are arguments in the US that still prevent recycling as a requirement. Daniel K. Benjamin's "Recycling Myths Revisited" is an interesting perspective on how far we've come and some of the myths of that progress. For a system that's been around in the US for 25+ years, we haven't seen any major changes or improvements. So what's the driver for change? 

The People
I believe that social change is a huge driver for infrastructure. Community is commerce, and if we can get people to rally around a cause, the infrastructure will eventually fall into place. Maybe we should put together a list of items to rally around? Try to create buzz about common food waste and hunger causes? If the US put 1/10th as much time, money or effort into food waste as we do this current presidential election, we would have solved the problem already. 

Some initial ideas... 
- Promote cooking at home. Aside from a long list of other social benefits, cooking at home can reduce food waste simply by connecting the "consumer" to the "product." We're often times removed from our food - where it comes from, how it gets to our plate and what happens afterwards. Which brings me to the next idea.
- Promote gardening at home. Having a home garden connects you to your food in an intimate way, allowing you to feel an appreciation for that food. It also can help decrease trucking costs and overfarming and is often times a better tasting, more nutrient dense meal. Wasting it would mean your personal hard work and resources have been thrown away along with that methane-producing pile of trash. 
- Promote at home composting. If you have a garden, you're going to want a rich soil that you don't have to go to the local store to buy. By promoting composting at home, we eliminate the need for an additional compost truck to make rounds and transport the waste to a processing facility or landfill. 
- Promote "pickers" as a means of decreasing food insecurity. Recycling used to be known as picking. Which was a popular way to sort through landfills and grab the useable materials. If we can promote picking in a way that also addresses the hunger crisis, we have a win-win. Perhaps, sorting edible wastes from non-edibles and providing a centralized place that the food insecure can come to pick? 
- Address the water crisis... If 21% of US freshwater is used on food loss and waste, we need to re-think both how the crops are grown in the first place and what kind of water they're getting. We should promote water-efficient growing methods and train farmers on how to use them. Additionally, limiting the amount of food waste in restaurants and at home will help reduce this grotesque number. 
- Addressing the costs... We need to determine where the majority of costs are coming from. What is this number calculated from? Who is calculating it? Are there major trends in the costs that we can create social change around? 

I do realize that a lot of this caters to a specific, non-density driven lifestyle. A single-family homeowner with enough space to garden and compost. But, I think it's a start and if we can get homeowners talking, the high-rise, apartment and condo-dwellers will follow suit and together we can figure out innovative ways to use our waste. 

Again, thanks for your contribution. I suppose I was inspired ;) 

View all comments