What’s the most effective way to fight food waste in the home? Take a look at your fridge.
Most consumers at this point are aware of the world’s multibillion food waste problem. A great many more now understand that, at least in North America and Europe, the bulk of that waste happens at consumer-facing stages of the food journey, including our own homes. What we’re less certain of is how to curb that excess.
Researching solutions for “The Consumer Food Waste Innovation Report,” which you can read on Spoon Plus, I came across a number of different methods for reducing food waste in the home. But after sifting through the many storage and preservation options out there, the meal-planning and meal-sharing apps, I’m left wondering if the trick to reducing at-home food waste isn’t just re-envisioning the refrigerator itself.
The appliance hasn’t changed much over the last several decades. But in 2020, the pandemic is keeping more folks at home, we have more information about how much food we’re actually wasting (it’s a ton), and more investment in the food tech sector in general. The convergence of those factors makes now an ideal time to change that point and introduce more innovation into the world of refrigerators. Here are a few ideas:
Smarter Features That Are Actually Affordable
By now, many consumers are at least aware of high-tech refrigerators that can track items placed in the fridge, alert owners when those items are running low, and scan and identify foods to help consumers plan meals and find recipes. LG’s ThinQ and the Samsung Family Hub are two appliances that lead the smart fridge market.
They also cost thousands of dollars, making them out of reach for most consumers. True, having cameras and image-recognition technology inside the fridge is a relatively new concept, so a higher price point is to be expected. But in order for the new applications of those technologies to be most effective, they’ll need to get cheaper. By that I mean, we’ll need to see options for them build into most fridges.
Smaller Fridge, Bigger Freezer
“Everyone loses something in the back of the fridge,” food waste expert Dana Gunders told us when interviewed for the report. Her point is that the sheer size of most modern refrigerators means older items will get pushed out of view and forgotten as newer ones are placed in the fridge.
High-tech fixes like the ones mentioned above can help, but the fridge design itself seems ripe for an upgrade. Or downgrade, as it were, since a smaller fridge compartment with a bigger freezer might be a surefire way to reduce food waste. Much of our food, even items like milk and bread, can be frozen until we need to use them. And research shows that things like frozen fruits and vegetables maintain more or less the same nutrients as their fresh counterparts.
Better Storage to Accompany the Fridge
Back in the 1930s, when the electric refrigerator was just starting to get popular, General Electric sold fridges by promoting the then-newish concept of leftovers to consumers. Along with tips and cookbooks, the appliance-maker sold food storage containers designed to stack up in the fridge and hold leftovers.
Maybe to curb food waste, we need a kind of rebirth of that concept, this time geared towards curbing food waste and with a high-tech twist. Major appliance manufacturers could team up with startups like Mimica, BlakBear, or Silo to sell smarter storage options — think smart labels and temperature sensors — alongside their appliances. They could also find ways to integrate some of those new technologies into fridge doors, drawers, and other compartments.
For more thoughts on the reinvention of the refrigerator as well as how else we can fight food waste at home, check out the full “Consumer Food Waste Innovation” report at Spoon Plus.