Hey there, we are the Food Wastage Team!
Janice Esther Poh from ADM Visual Communication, Year 3.
Julius Fritzell from Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden,
Design and Product Realization, Year 3.
Tan Siew Hua from from ADM Interactive Media, Year 2.
Timothy Chan Yi Jun from ADM Product Design, Year 4.
Wu You from ADM Visual Communication, Year 2.
Overall Project Overview
Project “EH STOP WASTING FOOD LA!” is a campaign targeted to reduce the amount of food being wasted in NTU’s canteens. Our campaign aims to raise awareness and call people to action regarding this issue.
In the initial few weeks, our group set out to the nearby places from ADM that are usually frequented by people, such as Canteen one and two as well as Giant (the supermarket near Canteen 2) to seek out for any significant issues in our campus by interviewing the students, staff or working personals and whoever that patronises these places. We spent many weeks on interviewing and observing people.
The first round, we asked mainly very generally questions that allowed for the interviewees to speak freely and share about any of their stories if wanted, about the types of issues or problems they face in school or issues they think necessary to fix. We managed to interview many various groups of people at the different places, allowing us to sourced out the significant problems that we felt more for. They are the working environments in supermarkets and the food wastage in canteens and supermarkets.
Overall, we found that there was an overarching problem which was about food wastage in both supermarkets and in the canteens. Thus, our group was inclined to work on the topic about food wastage as our overarching theme but in both places (supermarkets and canteens). We also further pointed out the stake holders for our two places of focus: “Vendors”, “Consumers” and “Food collectors”(taking care of the plates and leftovers by the consumers).
The Vendors, we split them up into two groups, where the first one is where they serve dishes from the menu and the second one where the customer is supposed to point at different items. Consumers were split up in the three groups; Students, professors/employees and families. For the supermarket, the main groups we picked out were Workers and Owners.By pointing out the concerned groups we were able to specify our questions further and decide what observations we should do.
From there, we set out to do our second interview, where we wanted to dig deeper in this particular issue.
Some questions that we prepared were (to consumers):
- How/What do you feel about food wastage?
- Why do you think this is happening? Main culprit sources?
- Do you care about food wastage? Do people actually care about this?
- Do you waste food? (How much?) Why?
- How do avoid wasting food?
- How is your food portion? Too much/ Too little?
- Do the prices affect your food portion?
- Do you know about half-priced products in supermarkets?
- Would you buy them? Why / Why not?
Some questions that we prepared were (to vendors/cleaners):
- How long have you been working here?
- What do you feel about food wastage?
- How much food do you usually waste?
- Do you give standard portions for each serving?
- What do you do with the unsold food? (Throw away/Keep?)
- Where do you throw it?
- Can we see where you dispose?
- Any particular things you observe from consumers?
During our many interviews, we were faced with some issues of communication and language barriers but we tried our best.
Through some of the interviews with consumers in canteen one and two such as students and some working personals in NTU, the answers were very different. Some of them stated that they themselves do not have many instances of leaving any food on their plates and the portions were just right for them while others thought is was a big problem. Some rare instances that caused those who always finish to have a little waste was because of limited time and they had to rush but they would still try to finish.Many pointed out the usual culprits were the younger people or children who be the ones leaving food uneaten. There was also the issue of mindset of “kiasu-ness” where people are generally well off so they prefer more to less. For example, Singaporeans tend not to reduce their food portions bought even if they knew they can’t finish it because the prices are same for whether it is reduced or not. They think of it was “not worth their money” to do so, even if it might mean for food to go uneaten. They do not really see the problem in food wastage as it is not directly impacting them. For half-priced products, some said they would while some others would not due to traditionally mindset of half-priced products would not be as “fresh” as the full-priced.
One thing that we noticed was that we could divide the people into two groups:
- the ones completely finishing the plate
- the ones leaving a lot of food left. (There were not many people just leaving a little bit on the plate.)
Interviews with the vendors came to a generally consensus that they do have food wastage daily if they do not sell all of them out, the leftovers that are unsold from all the stalls are all thrown away to the dumpsters, with the exception of the “Yong Tau Foo” stall in canteen 1 as most of their uncooked ingredients can still be stored.
In the beginning weeks before the above development of project happened, we were tasked to conduct interviews to gather “feelings” and potential problems to solve.
We interviewed the cleaners who were directly impacted by the leftovers. The cleaners in both canteens have specific roles were one was just in charge of clearing the plates and the other tasked to wheel out the trash. The first cleaner we approached was a plate-clearing cleaner lady from canteen two. She was generally happy and did not feel that there was any food being wasted here. However, this thought was not shared by the rest of the cleaning personals in canteen one and two. They revealed that there was actually a lot of food being wasted.
Our main source of inspiration was from this cleaner uncle from canteen 2 whose role was to take out the trash. He was someone who faces food wastage first hand. Through our interview, he surprising had a lot to say about this particular issue and elaborated through many stories from his personal life unlike the others we interviewed. When we asked him about how much food they throw away he said that it was so much that he was unable to leave the garbage bags behind the food station during the day and had to constantly clear them throughout the day. He was deeply frustrated with this issue and generally he felt that the main source was the younger generation. He mentioned a lot on the mindset and the attitude of the very much privileged young people nowadays who did not suffer the hardships of the older generation, like him, who had to scrimp and save just to earn money for some food. It is because going through such sufferings, they know not to take things for granted and he stated firmly that if it was him, he would never ever waste any food. One interesting sentence that caught on to us was: “There is a difference between understanding and knowing.” The younger generation may know about food wastage but may not unnecessarily understand it. Some people also may not value the food and do not think of the consequences if they are not finished.
We also did our interview in Giant(near canteen 2) to find out more about the dire working conditions there and the amount of food wasted being there. According to the manager of the branch, food wastes are quite bad at all branches and even F&B outlets. Food that starts to show signs of not being fresh would be sorted out everyday, even during days when they are just being stocked up. They can return the damaged goods to the suppliers, but for most of it they will separate them and sold for half price immediately. If the goods are not sold within the day, they would have to be thrown away. Even if the food products are still edible, they would still throw it away to avoid complaints from the customers about hygiene issues leading to health code violations. He did mention that as long as it is a separate entity from the supermarket (aka not sold within the premises, but maybe you could set up another shop for it), it would be more plausible to sell the food again at a lower price. Adding on, the interview with one of the aunty employed there mentioned that there was too many tasks they had to do and not enough time to finish all. Some of the task such as unloading new stocks were dangerous for them as they were a group of female workers who are in the pioneering ages. Also, even though they tried selling slightly unappealing looking products at half-priced, but people are not generally receptive to it which results in their large amounts of food being thrown away. Due to Singapore’s strict protocols and regulations, it is difficult for them to even resell or donate away “unsellable” products.
When asked about the specific amount of food being thrown away or to see the area of disposal they were unable to reveal as it was confidential and a sensitive topic.
Through a few rounds of thoughtful deliberation and discussions amongst ourselves, our group decided to focus on the topic of food wastage in the canteens of NTU.
From there, we delved deeper into this problem through an online survey where seventy people responded. (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1NEe_c43SJYZWPDd7-5R_Jg_GvDHyrVF2mkDXmkxcfIk/edit?usp=sharing)
Research + Outreach
We also researched on existing measures done to tackle this issue and also to have a deeper understanding of this issue. Some of our research found that were implemented in Singapore and overseas, included NTUC’s “Great Taste, Less Waste Selection”, “Food from the heart” (FFTH), “Eco-wiz – ecodigester: Waste into Water”, “Zero Waste”, “EnviroPure EPW “Wet” System”, “Home Bio-gas”, “Food composting”, “Restaurant charges for unfinished food”, “Pant”, ““kilo” restaurant”, “Precision Nutrition”, “NEA’s campaign to reduce food wastage”.
During class time and consultations, we also received many feedbacks on how to further develop our journey in this project which helped us a lot.
In terms of publicity, we’ve decided to approach a physical and virtual platform. For physical publicity, following Nanci’s advice in using the school’s newspaper, Nanyang Chronicle, we approached them to pitch for an article using the cleaner’s uncle story as our voice. For virtual, we hoped to collaborate with NTUSU and ADMSC while maintaining our own blog(https://stopwastepls.wordpress.com) as well. Rachel from the news desk of Nanyang Chronicle was approached and they responded positively that they were interested and would be happy to mention our project as well. Unfortunately, due to their journalism standards, they cannot turn in a story that is anonymous where the cleaner uncle strongly insisted to remain anonymous. Hence, this option was out. Sadly, after emailing NTUSU and ADMSC, there was no reply as well. Thus, we decided to create our own facebook page where it would be easier for us to manage the posts flow too. On our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Ehstopwastingfoodla/) we kept it updated on our campaign, objectives and happenings.
After the many weeks of interviewing, observing and researching, our group started to put together our campaign that was to be tested out in real life. Three posters were designed that each represent one key aspect to our campaign; awareness, initiative and outcome.
The awareness would be communicated through the three posters that can be seen below.
To ease the initiative to order less easily, our idea was “order less cards” that the customers can collect at the side of the vendor counters and show when ordering. The problem we have noticed today is that the portions are usually pre-set and the users feel that it is complicated to order a customized plate. The goal would be to order a smaller portion of food, usually that of white rice that are usually given in fixed amounts.
To reach the wanted outcome of people wasting lesser food, a reward system was developed. The system suggests a machine similar to the top-up machines at North Spine Canteen where you can swipe your card and get money on it. But instead of putting in cash, you after eating put your plate on a scale connected to the machine that measures the weight of the waste and gives you around 30 cents back if the plate is finished (with some small margin of food waste accepted). The 30 cents will be added to the value (like a deposit) when buying the dish and not result in a loss for either the vendors or NTU. Since the existing system at North Spine Canteen today already tracks the dish ordered on the card different plate weights and types of meal could be taken in account when using the weighing machine
Below is an digital prototype of how our machine could look like. The focus for when designing the machine was to keep the layout as simple as possible with only the necessary functions. The three main functions are the weighing of the plate which is done through the big scale, the return of money on your card which is done through the card reader and the movability which is accomplished by the wheels. The only supporting function is the cup holder to carry your cup when using the machine.
To evaluate the impact that our campain could have with the three aspects of awareness, initiative and outcome a test was carried out to see the outcome.
The four images below are our set-ups:
In the first, we have our “order less cards” card which will facilitate the communication between consumers and vendors in ordering a lesser portion. In the second, we decide to publicise our posters as flyers for easier usage and because we cannot just stick posters up randomly without permission from the respective authorities in NTU. The third is our simple packaging for our “reward” which is the 30 cents rebate for consumers who participated in our initiatives and finished their food. In the last image is a really simple setup as our machine that would be used to weigh the consumer’s plates to check whether there is wastage.
We also prepared a survey to feedback on our initiatives for both consumers and vendors.
To confirm for our testing, we’ve emailed Mr Muhammad Mustajab Bin Mohamad, ADM’s Senior Executive for Publicity and Outreach to seek his help in requesting permission with North Spine’s Canteen A for permission to have a space to setup for our testing. However, he only got back to us on the day of our testing but we still decided to just go ahead with carrying out our campaign.
On 2 November 2016, Wednesday, we carried out two tests in the North Spine Canteen A through a collaboration with two vendors, the mixed rice and vegetarian vendors. Our ideal goal for the day was to at least have a sample size of 25 people.
The first test was to randomly weigh plates of random people who ate from either of the stalls we’ve collaborated with without telling them anything about our campaign. This was to find out the initial consumer pattern without the indication of our campaign idea and how much food was being wasted usually.
The second test was to also randomly approach people but introduce to them and for them to try out our initiatives. The purpose of this test was to see whether our campaign would make a difference in the quantity of food wastage.
Due to time constraints, we carried out both tests at the same time. To do so , we split ourselves into three groups, where Janice and Timothy was in charge of manning our booth, Julius was in charge of test one while Siew Hua and Wu You for test two.
Test Problems/ Outcomes
At the booth, we realised that is was very chaotic and messy after we initialised the two tests and a more structured system was needed. There was a lot of confusion because at the booth, we were unable to implement the actual machine itself which could have done everything probably better and more efficiently than a human’s hand. We had to weigh then take pictures to record for both tests separately, conduct the survey and also to give out the rewards. During the initial weighing and recording, Janice realised that there was many mix-ups and confusion as to which was recorded for which test since we initially did not have any labels or indications. Hence, we decided to put in our logo during the picture recording if is was for the second test. It was also chaotic since she had to multitask due to lack of manpower and time constraints.
Test one was mainly carried out by Julius where he kept an eye on the unknowing people who had bought food from either of the two vendors. Interesting aspects that were not directly connected to the test but still concerning why some people waste food or not, was discovered in their different eating habits. Most people were eating in groups but a significant portion was eating alone. One difference that could be seen was that the people in groups usually took longer time to finish their meal. Where the reason might be the divided focus on both eating and conversing with friends simultaneously. It could also been seen that some of the people who left food on their plate tried to cover with a napkin indicating that could possibly suggest that wasting was shameful. In conclusion of the study of habits, a difference in the amount of food wasted could not be seen between people eating in groups or people eating by themselves.
For test two, initially, Wu You was tasked to approached the people queuing for Mixed Rice while Siew Hua for vegetarian. It was much hard to get people queuing for vegetarian to try out our initiatives compared to the mixed rice stall where the people were generally very receptive to try out. One reason was perhaps the rice portions given from the vegetarian stall was already leaning towards not enough or just enough hence the people did not want to order lesser with our order ‘less’ card. Out of the twenty-one people, only about two were from the vegetarian rice stall. One interesting comment from one of the two, a male, was: “I don’t need the money.” This was perhaps he was already aware of the consequences of this issue hence he just wanted to help to reduce it by helping with our initiatives. After awhile, we decided to focus on approaching the people queuing for mixed rice since they were generally more willing and receptive. We noticed most of the people were motivated by the money rebate like we expected and that encouraged them to try-on our initiative. We also noticed some of the people did not felt that the physical card was necessary and just verbally communicated with the vendors instead while most others did made use of the card to communicate with the vendors. Towards the end, we also received an unexpected but encouraging comment from a female: “How long is this campaign going to be or is it just today? Because my friend wants to try too but she is busy today…” From this, we can see the potential and possibility of our campaign for the long-term.
Below are the results from the twenty-one people we had for test two:
Generally, we can conclude that through our campaign and initiatives that was tried out by the twenty-one people, it was effective for most of them in making them more aware, to care more and to waste lesser.
Progressing on to the last week of the module, Design Thinking 2016, a more indepth calculation of how much the food wastage could be reduced was done.
There was a same sample size of 21 people from both tests with 6 from the vegetarian stall and 15 from the mixed rice stall. The results were that the total amount wasted from those who were unaware was 1156 g and for those who were aware was only 453 g, significantly lower, proving that our campaign and initiatives were somewhat successful and effective in reducing the food wastage found on plates. At least in this small study with 21 people in each group.
As seen above, the mean waste was reduced from 56 g to 23 g, a reduction of almost 60%.
For one seating at the North Spine Food Court with a seating capacity of 520, the total waste (calculated from our mean) before the awareness would be 29.0 kg and after, it would be 11.6 kg. The reduce of food waste each seating would therefore be 17.4 kg. Adding on to the fact that the food court can be seated multiple times a day, the total amount adds up.
Further, if all 32,700 students at NTU (teachers and staff not taken in account) eat once, the difference of wastage before and after the awareness calculated from our mean would be the total amount of 1093.1 kg. And that only it they all eat once!
We’ve emailed to the Ms Diana Tan who is in charge of the leasing of Food and Beverages(F&B) in NTU on her opinions on our campaign and so far there has not been an reply.
We’ve also approached Rachel, from the news desk for Nanyang Chronicles again but this time in hopes to pitch for an article that could maybe feature our project, our progress and findings so far. However, as they have already hit their story quota for the year they cannot do so. Hence, we decided to pitch it for perhaps next year.
With regards to the machine, we have plans to make it more interesting or convenient to be placed in the North Spine canteen. Especially since the canteen functions based on the NS Card that records your monthly transactions in NS, having a more efficient and space-saving machine for weighing food would be convenient, especially when it comes back to knowing the weight of each dish (pre-included) and for returning the money to the customers.
Taking reference from pre-existing machine designs, such as that that can be pre-bought from Alibaba and another project design related to dispensing SIM cards,
We would adopt the free-standing machine design to be placed near the Tray Return counters, but instead of having a card dispenser and/or a money slot, we would have an-inbuilt weighing scale. With that, customers would be able to just place with plates conveniently on the machine, and navigate through touch screen interface.
TAP TO BEGIN -> SELECT STORE -> SELECT DISH -> WEIGHING IN PROCESS…..
RESULT: MONEY BACK! GOOD JOB! and/or STOP WASTING FOOD PLS
After finishing that, the customer can then scrape their wastage into an allocated trash area, and return their plates to the cleaners at the Tray Return counter. We have hopes that the machine would act as an intermediary between the customer and the cleaners without burdening either. With reference to pre-existing machines, it can help to reduce the cost of the machines as well because the technology already exists, but it is more of a combination of what we need into one.
Looking back, a bigger sample size, perhaps through longer testing hours across a week as well as the having more vendors to collaborate with would have also been beneficial. In terms of publicity, more promotional posters could have been put up around to spread about our project. In terms of sustainability, we felt that a more organised and systematic booth was needed but this would be solved by the actual machine being constructed and implemented. An accumulative rewards system instead of just a 30 cents rebate would also be more appropriate so as to ensure the vendors do not lose out on their profits and consumers are continuously encouraged to “reduce” to work towards their “reward”. This could be done so by upgrading the already existing NS card where maybe if one collects up to five empty plates he/she gets a free drink or in the case if they do not want the monetary rewards for themselves they can further help the community by donting it away to the needy. Below(just a vague layout) is a possible way to put our ‘less’ card together with the existing North Spine Canteen A card so that it is more convenient for people instead of having two separate cards to carry around.
It would also have been even better if we could print our posters and paste them around the compounds, especially around the North Spine Canteen. With visual guides to tell the visitors about our project, and constant reminders around the canteen, it would help to serve as a subconscious reminder.
Summing up, the strength in this campaign was the simplicity which makes all the three aspects of awareness, initiative and outcome possible to realise. The system with the order less cards are easy to use and very easy to implement in real life. Also the weighing machine is a realistic product since the price of construction would not be high and the system with top-up cards for buying food already exists.
The possibility that NTU and vendors could be interested in investing in a system like this is also existing since it reduces the cost for transportation of food in and out of campus and also reduces for the actual cost of buying and preparing food.
As seen through our test two, the responses were mainly positive and one out of the twenty-one people was even eager to for the continuation of this implementation. Similarly, we’ve also observed during our testing, many people whom patronised the canteen and chanced upon our setup, were curious about what we were doing and what is it about. This shows the indication that there was already a large amount of interest and curiosity amongst the people, which was surprisingly more than we had expected. This raises the high possibility for the implementation of our campaign to be long term in the future(if allowed) and it would be effective in reducing food waste to a significant extent.
NTU is also keeping up the reputation of a EcoCampus where a project of reducing food wastage is something desirable and something they could be proud of.
Perhaps this project would probably work better should our target audience be females. As males as observed and from our interviews/surveys seem to have a smaller problem with food wastage.