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Tackle food loss problem by creating a sustainable ecosystem

Human-Computer Interaction, IUPUI

INFO-H541 Interaction Design Practice


TeamChing-Min Tseng, Medhavi Thakur,

Arati Ghimire, Ami Sanghvi

Role in Project: Research & UX Design

Duration: 6 Weeks


The problem of food wastage and loss in industrialized nations is significant, with high cosmetic standards in retail establishments and households being significant contributing factors. In this project, we present a novel solution to address agricultural food loss by providing consumers with fresh and healthy food that was rejected by grocery stores due to cosmetic standards and by addressing the issue of organic waste disposal. Our solution combines online and offline approaches and creates a symbiotic relationship between consumers and farmers by providing a rewards system for customers who separate their organic waste and give it to farmers for use in generating fertilizer. We conducted user evaluations to gather feedback on the design and identified areas for improvement. Our solution addresses the Sustainable Development Goal of Responsible Consumption and Production, and has the potential to reduce food waste, improve the economy, and benefit the environment.

Problem Framing


Food Recovery Hierarchy developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Source:

Torgersen (2020) noted that food waste is mainly caused by end-consumers [2]. In the US, households waste 31.9% of their food, which amounts to a total annual cost of $240 billion or $1,866 per household (Yang Yu, Edward C. Jaenicke, 2020) [1]. The two main reasons for food discard in households are forgetting about food in the fridge/cupboard and the food being past its expiry date (Matvett, 2018) [3]. This study aims to understand the causes of food waste in households, proposed solutions, and their effectiveness. Food waste in households affects society from multiple perspectives. In Canada, the typical family wastes 4.41 kg of food per week, which equates to 229.32 kg of total food waste each year. Preventable food waste costs the typical family $936.52 per year, and the average weekly cost of food waste per household is $16.60. A typical household wastes 3,366 kcal per week, which is equivalent to 1.7 adults' or 2.2 children's recommended daily calorie intake. Global warming potential associated with avoidable household food waste is 16.9 kg CO2 per family per week, which is equal to 1.2 tons of carbon dioxide per home per year. This is equivalent to one-fourth of the emissions from a car driven for a year or 2.8 barrels of oil burned [13]. Households are responsible for 70% of post-farm gate food waste. Food-sharing communities, such as those in Denmark, collect and redistribute unsold food from local businesses, supermarkets, wholesalers, and bakeries. Applications like Euphoria and Hybrid allow people to manage and share information about their food storage, access recipes, and connect with producers and other users [5]. Another project, Saturne, aims to improve transparency and reduce waste by providing new food labels with information about the food's origin, producer notes, manufacturing and expiration dates, and QR codes for tracking [5].

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After conducting interviews with eight participants, we have identified some key findings:


1. Shopping behavior and food waste

Consumers' shopping behavior is highly influenced by their consuming habits. People around the world strive to lead a healthy lifestyle by purchasing more green vegetables and fruits. However, they tend to over-shop, resulting in food items molding and rotting before family members can consume them. Buying food in large quantities to save money causes people to forget that they may not consume them within a certain period, resulting in enormous food waste. To address this issue, we propose combining the local market with advanced technical solutions to help consumers select the appropriate quantity of food at a lower cost. Our objective is to develop compelling strategies that can guide consumers in reducing food waste.

2. Confusion around expiry labels

Expiry labels are confusing for customers, which can lead to throwing away wholesome food. In the US, certain percentages of consumers are confused by labels such as "sell by", "use by", "expires on", and "best buy", resulting in reduced consumption and increased waste. Even when consumers successfully store food in the refrigerator or cupboard, they often forget about them, resulting in the food items expiring. To address this issue, we plan to leverage our UX knowledge and advanced technical solutions to educate consumers and create a viral impact, ultimately reducing food waste.


3. Over-purchasing habits and potential solutions

Interviews and observations indicate that shoppers tend to overbuy food items more often than not. To address this problem, we propose providing shoppers with the appropriate quantity and quality of products for the number of family members. Additionally, we will provide them with insights into using the products they already have at home, which will help decrease over-shopping and solve our discussed problem.

Key Requirements

In industrialized nations, fruit and vegetable losses from the farm to the pre-retail supply chain account for nearly half of all losses at the consumer and retail levels (FAO, 2011). The majority of fruit and vegetable losses in the early supply chain occur at the field level, with the remainder occurring in the retail or consumer stages in North America. While efforts have been made to measure food loss in the United States (e.g., FAO, 2011; Buzby et al., 2014a; Buzby et al., 2015; Stenmarck et al., 2016; WWF, 2017, FAO 2018), the identification of the causes of food loss has received relatively less attention, especially at earlier stages of the supply chain. The supply chain for fresh produce is complex and frequently involves transportation and repackaging before it reaches the final consumer. Advanced technology for vacuum cooling, packaging, refrigerated trucking and storage, and other infrastructure are commonly used to maintain product quality and marketability during transport (FAO, 2018).

Impulse buying and overbuying are significant contributors to food waste generation. Consumers often buy extra food portions to avoid multiple trips to the grocery store or due to impulsive buying, which can account for up to 80% of sales in some product categories and up to 62% of grocery sales (FAO, 2018). Properly storing food at home and using leftovers can help reduce food waste. Understanding how much you use something and how it relates to its shelf life is critical.

To reduce food waste, we aim to provide a platform for local producers and consumers to connect and decrease over-purchasing of green vegetables and fruits. We also plan to create a community where people can share insights on how to tackle excessive amounts of food and deliverables to reuse that food for better consumption. With these design directions, we hope to expand usage and decrease waste.

​Key project requirements

  • Targeting the primordial source of waste generation
    According to the Food Recovery Hierarchy developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, “source reduction” is the preferable way to address food waste since it “creates the most benefits for the environment”(US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food Recovery Hierarchy[16]). Targeting the buying behavior, the source of the household's food is the top priority of solving this problem.

  • Household food management system
    Managing and tracking food in your household can sometimes be challenging, especially considering that 31.9% of it is wasted each year[17]. Giving users the shared space to share recipes, nutrition data, and meal planning attributes can be a challenge and hard to understand, so enabling them to share those features is very important.

  • Economical purchase, environmentally friendly, and waste generation method.
    Even though a sizable portion of scholarly work has been devoted to studying how food loss happens at the consumer and retail levels, relatively little is known about how much or why food loss happens earlier in the supply chain. The majority of studies on food loss in the United States focus on loss occurring at the retail and consumer levels, also known as end-use levels (e.g., food that reaches the consumer but is not consumed) of the supply chain (Buzby et al., 2016; Buzby et al., 2015; Buzby et al., 2009; Muth et al., 2011; Hoover, 2017). (EPA, 2018).Prior to food reaching retail outlets, significant losses do, however, occur on farms and in the distribution system. The perishability, significance of product appearance, and price variations of fruit and vegetables make them particularly vulnerable to losses at these times. Although the majority of studies on fruit and vegetable loss have concentrated on agronomic and technical difficulties, a significant amount of product is "lost" because farmers and distributors believe it is either unprofitable or too hazardous to carry further in terms of their presentation although the food is edible[4]. Therefore,the concept of selling such produce which lies on the lower rung of the produce hierarchy can be delivered to the users for a cheaper price. The produce can be consumed in a limited amount of time which will result in less food wastage and will be economically friendly to the farmers as well as to the consumers.

  • Providing users with food for an economical price
    It is difficult to change people’s behavior, and trying to convince people who care less about the environment to compromise their money or effort is unrealistic. Since most households are already considering the price for regular grocery shopping, this aspect has to be put into consideration to attract consumers to use our product. 

  • Educating users about food waste and management
    Most users are unaware of the environmental and economic repercussions of wasting food and also the difference they can make by simply providing their waste in a systematic manner for fodder production. Hence, some form of educational measure has to be taken to make the users understand how a minimal effort from their end can make a huge difference to society and the environment. 


Key limitations and challenges

  • Assessing if the food is edible or not 
    Although some people might like to consume less-than-perfect cuisine, others would only feel at ease eating food that is fresh and unprocessed. There is a tendency for people to avoid food that looks unappealing, for instance, a banana peel with black marks on its outside, even though it's still fresh on the inside. There can be a greater challenge in dealing with this issue.

  • Educating consumers on the kind of a waste to be provided for fodder production
    The process of sorting waste can be confusing and time-consuming, especially if food waste is involved. It can be confusing to understand what kind of waste is acceptable for fodder production, and users might need assistance understanding what they can give. It is possible that this limitation will prevent the product from being used.

  • Limitation in terms of waste provision as it concentrates organic waste
    The waste generated by the users is of different varieties. When it comes to depositing the waste from households to provide farmers with resources for manure, the process can be a little tedious as it would require effort from the user’s end to segregate the organic and non-organic waste.

  • Location of farmers
    Transportation and delivery cost time and money and will greatly affect the willingness of the customer to buy from a certain source. This issue is related to getting enough farmers to join the program, in order to provide a source of buying near every consumer.


We created several storyboards for each proposed design alternative to depicting a critical use case for each design solution.

  1. Establishing connections with farmers

  2. Directly and provide fodder material less fresh-looking fruits 

  3. Sharing info regarding using excess food

  4. Share cooking methods/recipe

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Design Solution Choice

The system we decided to further develop and our rationale for choosing that system are:

  1. Decrease the chances of impulsive buying while making good use of inferior agricultural products
    Buying ill-shaped or unusually shaped fruits or vegetables is referred to as purchasing imperfect food. A platform that can assist in connecting users with local farmers to get these produce at discounted rates. This not only aids in supporting farmers but also reduces food waste and contributes in environmental protection.

  2. Create an information-sharing community that helps users share and get knowledge about how to deal with excessive food. 
    It’s unrealistic to hope every person buys the perfect amount of fresh food and causes zero waste. To deal with food waste in households realistically, we are going to build a community for users to share information about this situation. The community would be a place where users can share tips and advice on how to deal with excessive food and store food appropriately. Users might use this as a platform to share their own stories and experiences dealing with excess food waste. A platform where users may search for meals depending on the items they already have in their refrigerator. Additionally, this could also be a spot to offer advice on how to creatively use leftovers and even recycle scraps in order to help people reduce this kind of food waste.

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Design Solution

To address our problem statement we decided to explore the area of food management. The following concept had multiple genres to explore, hence, we decided to assess the various levels of the supply chain where waste management takes place. After our research, we discovered the most primitive source of food waste which is the agricultural sector.  According to various studies, 20 to 30 percent of food is wasted on farms itself because supermarkets and produce markets have strict standards for food appearance, leading to the rejection of a significant amount of produce.

We concentrated on produce that is rejected due to aesthetic standards but is still in season and fit for consumption. We attempted to build a supply chain that is ecologically beneficial through the following approach, which covers the issues of produce manufacturing, filtering, and delivery as well as trash management. The trash management system would function by gathering organic waste produced by the consumption of produce that may be used by farmers to make feed. As a result, the problem would have a full-circle solution, and a  sustainable food management system would be established. 

The final design solution and motivation for our project is to connect farmers with consumers and consumers with the food, with food waste provided to the same farmers to feed their animals if needed. The idea revolves around solving the food waste problem that is happening in the US. The food that is less appealing that might go into waste will be promoted through us based on the location. Users can also see the articles of storing food methods and recipes of those products that they already have and can be utilized through the design system itself. Following users will be given with the carry based container where they can store their food waste. Users will also be given the opportunity to earn credits while purchasing or disposing of the waste that they can utilize at a later stage. More changes and improvements would be done for the final prototype so that system is user friendly and can be easily used.

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Paper Prototype
Cognitive Walkthrough

The prototype we made demonstrates some of our applications key features:

  1. Finding the nearest store
    Upon entry, the application will request the zip code in order to locate the nearest store that offers the imperfect foods from the farm.

  2. Displaying the food available
    The zip code will identify the nearby stores and display all the fresh food options available. To find out if a specific food is offered, one can also search.

  3. Food storage methods and Recipes
    An additional feature would be a tab for recipe and food storage for optimization, which would help individuals use leftovers and prevent food from rotting. To encourage interaction and assist individuals learn various approaches and techniques, this will also include articles written by other users, advices, recommendations, and comments.
    They can also look up recipes based on the ingredients they already have at home. Individuals can also share and favorite specific articles that they like. Users will be able to better comprehend the storage techniques and recipes by using the step-by-step method guides, videos, and images that are provided.

  4. Recycling organic waste
    The application also instructs users on how to recycle organic waste by returning it to the retailer in exchange for credits or points that can be applied for future purchases. A member ID and the track of the credits/ points is also included on this page of the application.

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In our product, our users will have the following main goals to complete:

  1. Find a store nearby their location

  2. View the kinds of items the store offers now

  3. Find and read storing methods and recipes for a particular food

  4. Get and use credit by purchasing imperfect food and recycling food waste

Based on these tasks, we held a cognitive walkthrough review session to evaluate our paper prototype. When answering the four assigned questions, most pages received four yeses. For the pages that did not satisfy all group members, we found the following issues and made further changes to provide an intuitive user experience. ​

  • History of the “Bookmarked or liked” Pages
    The question this page did not pass: “Will users notice that the correct action is available?”
    We offered a like button to each article but lacked a “view liked history” page. Users should clearly find out what the like button does and quickly tell where they can find the history page.

  • Storing methods and recipes should be labeled as the filter section
    The question this page did not pass: “Will users notice that the correct action is available?”
    We designed the “storing methods” and “recipes” buttons as a filter function, but when placing them on the top of the page, users may not clearly tell what to expect when pressing these two buttons.

  • Add article and Add comment
    The question this page did not pass: “Will users notice that the correct action is available?”
    Users are able to share articles and comments on the platform. On the “Discover” page, the “add new article” button was not clearly shown. We should provide an evident action button to this page that allows users to quickly post a new tip or recipe.

  • The “Storing methods” page can be improved
    By searching for a certain food or ingredient on the storing method page, it will be more useful for the viewers to see all tips according to popularity rather than clicking all the articles and viewing the comments. We redesigned the search result according to what users will expect to see and provided the most useful information to them.

Final Design

The concept was to combine online and offline approaches to provide consumers with food that was spurned by grocery stores due to cosmetic standards while the food was still fresh and healthy for consumption. To conclude the loop, consumers' organic waste would be collected and given to farmers for use in generating fodder.

We researched our competitors and discovered that there were no platforms that cultivated a symbiotic relationship between consumers and farmers, thus the design was a novel idea. The design difficulty was comprehending how the idea would actually function in practice and how consumers should be encouraged to separate their organic waste, which is where the rewards system came into play. The primary characteristic of our application was the supply of organic waste for the creation of manure to the farmers, which addressed a number of waste hazard issues and solved the problem of affordable organic produce. Additionally, we also interviewed a few farmers to learn more about their requirements and viewpoints regarding the composting process to gain some insights.

We made the decision to undertake user evaluation with methods such as user interviews, time-on-task evaluation, and the System Usability Scale (SUS)[21] in order to strengthen our concept. We identified a few consumer concerns that cropped up often throughout the process.

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See our work via Figma

User Evaluations

We contacted and recruited participants from our connections. We inform the participants of the test logistics at the beginning of the testing sessions. Each session lasted approximately thirty minutes and included three parts. In the first part of the session, the test administrator explained the background information about our product, Greener, to the participants, then asked the participants to complete two following tasks and think aloud while performing the tasks:

  1. Add a carrot to your shopping list

  2. Read a tip article, save it, and find it in the saved articles

After the participants completed or claimed to withdraw the tasks, the administrator addressed the following parts to collect qualitative information from the participants,

  1. Ask broad questions to collect preferences and feedback.

  2. Addressing participant questions (If any).


Usability Evaluations

Task 1: Add a carrot to your shopping list

Task 2: Read a tip article, save it, and find it in the saved articles

Time taken

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Concept validation/feasibility assessment


To validate the concept of creating an ecosystem, and to include farmers’ views, firstly, we interviewed two farm workers. Both interviewees do composting on their farms using their own agricultural products, which do not reach standards. On one farm, they set up a public food waste bin to collect food waste from their neighborhood that any people can access.  

In the user interview session, we asked a set of interview questions to gain insights and feedback from the participants: 

  • What do you think about the ecosystem that the product provides (including returning to the food waste and getting a discount)?

  • Does putting food waste into compost motivates you?

  • Do you personally tried to collect food waste in your household?

  • Collecting food waste in your home and taking it to the store, do you think you might have problems in this process?

  • How do you think about the sharing tips part of the product?

  • Do you wish we should offer additional functions or services?

From the interview sessions, all of the participants gave positive feedback to our product concept, and claimed they were interested in using the service in real life. Two of our participants do food waste segregation regularly in their households and were willing to take the food waste to the store. We found that not only giving discounts to our participants can encourage them to do food waste segregation, but knowing they are contributing to the environment also gives them motivation.

Two participants questioned the necessity of showing the selling items in stores. When we explained that since we only provide imperfect agricultural products, the product types in the store might vary from time to time, the participants claimed they understood the decision. However, participants also reported that they wish the system to provide an online purchasing option. 

One participant mentioned that it’s still unclear how many rewards one can get when giving back different amounts of food waste to the store. While the consumers might not have enough knowledge of how to segregate food waste correctly, we should also provide education in this area.

Overall, the participants had the most questions about creating and using the shopping list. Checking boxes to complete the shopping list might now be helpful while purchasing goods in stores. In addition, if the item goes out of stock, the application should provide more information or notification to the user. 

Expert Evaluations​

Time Errors

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Post-Task Questionnaire

After the expert participants finished the tasks, we had them filled in a questionnaire with the following questions:

  • How would you describe your overall experience with the product?

  • What did you like the most about using this product?

  • What did you like the least?

  • What, if anything, surprised you about the experience?

  • What, if anything, caused you frustration?

The expert evaluators that we recruited were all between the ages of 21 and 25, as well as students. Following their understanding and use of the app, they were asked a series of questions. According to participants' overall experiences, the application and navigation were easy to use and intuitive. Likewise, there were few features that the user liked where they can easily make the shopping list and retrieve that when needed. Viewing the articles and being able to save those articles were also preferred. And, at the end the feature of rewarding the user’s was also preferred. From the UI perspective, they found the application clean and structured and they liked how the pictures of the products were real. Moving along, all four participants had different usability issues. Not being able to look at their posted articles, Confusion with the checkbox from the shopping list, stock of the products not being mentioned in the application and no alternative option of buying the products. Upon asking if they found any surprises in their experience, two users replied by saying “None” and the other two were amazed with prices of the products and the checkbox in the shopping list. Towards the end, in response to the question asking if anything frustrated them, two of the participants answered, "None" and two of them complained about having to manually click on each checkbox and no explanation was offered regarding the waste disposal feature. 

In addition, we used the System Usability Scale (SUS) [1]  to get the participants’ thoughts on the usability of our product. A list of questions was provided to the participants, and they were asked to rate their answers on a scale of Strongly disagree(1) to Strongly agree (5). The List of question given were such:

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An average SUS score of 92.5 was obtained by combining all the total scores of every participant, indicating that the application was acceptable. As a result of this score, it can be concluded that the application can be made more stable with a few minor improvements.

Testing Summary


The absence of an option to purchase online groceries was a question that was raised by maximum users as they were confused about the relevancy of an online platform if the purchase was to be made offline itself.

Second, the capability to add items to the shopping list raised a doubt that after creating the list, the product's availability in stores might not be certain because the application did not display the In stock information.


Organic waste disposal

Although the concept of rewards for organic waste deposition was praised, there were many concerns regarding quantifying the waste into rewards. Given that each customer would dump a different volume of waste, how would rewards be calculated to take that into account?

Finally, what procedures will be used for segregating the garbage if customers place any organic material in their bags that is not needed for the manufacture of manure, such as fish bones.

Hence we pondered over these evaluations and assessed the future scope of our concept to resolve the primary concerns of the users.

  1. We considered an online store availability to provide consumers the freedom to shop online or offline.

  2. The shopping list created by the consumers would be updated and notified if any item went out of stock, along with the stock information on the application itself.

  3. To weigh the organic waste disposed of by the consumers and equate the reward points accordingly.

  4. To prevent incorrect trash disposal, educate users and offer a clear set of instructions on the application and store on suitable waste disposal techniques.


In order to further solidify the concept, we discussed the option of conducting an on-site evaluation to understand the composting process to deliver better results for organic fodder generation.

To summarize, we realized that our proposal is unique and untapped. However, it requires effort in specific sections where awareness of imperfect food and composting methods plays a significant role and may be improved upon in order to make it more user-friendly in the context of farmers and customers.


  1. Yang Yu, Edward C. Jaenicke (2020) Estimating Food Waste as Household Production Inefficiency, p18

  2. Torhild Eide Torgersen (2020) Rethink food labelling

  3. Lana Bandoim (2020), The Shocking Amount Of Food U.S. Households Waste Every Year, Forbes

  4. Ertz, M., Lecompte, A., & Durif, F. (2018). “It’s not my fault, I am in the right!” Exploration of neutralization in the justification of the support and use of a controversial technological collaborative consumption service. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 134, p254–264

  5. Stephanie Caron-Moreau, Rosalie B Tremblay, Romain Heuberger, Olivier Martel Savoie, Jacynthe Roberge (2022) Saturne: Food at The Heart of a Sustainable and Human Network

  6. Fulya Yalvac ̧,Veranika Li,Jun H,Mathias Funk, Matthias Rauterberg (2014),  Social Recipe Recommendation to Reduce Food Waste

  7. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food Recovery Hierarchy 

  8. Katie Berns, Chiara Rossitto, and Jakob Tholander (2021) Qeuing for Waste: Sociotechnical Interactions within a Food Sharing Community,p12

  9. Katie Berns, Chiara Rossitto, and Jakob Tholander (2021) Qeuing for Waste: Sociotechnical Interactions within a Food Sharing Community, p4

  10. the School of Public Health of  Harvard College 

  11. Matvett AS. (2018). Food Waste in Norway : Report on Key Figures 2016. Østfoldforskning. Retrieved from 


  13. Michael von Massow1*, Kate Parizeau2*, Monica Gallant1, Mark Wickson1, Jess Haines3, David W. L. Ma4, Angela Wallace3, Nicholas Carroll3 and Alison M. Duncan4, Valuing the Multiple Impacts of Household Food Waste (2019)

  14. Michael von Massow1*, Kate Parizeau2*Monica Gallant1, Mark Wickson1, Jess Haines3, David W. L. Ma4, Angela Wallace3, Nicholas Carroll3 and Alison M. Duncan4, Valuing the Multiple Impacts of Household Food Waste (2019)

  15. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food Recovery Hierarchy 

  16. Yang Yu, Edward C. Jaenicke (2020) Estimating Food Waste as Household Production Inefficiency, p18




  20. Evaluate Interface Learnability with Cognitive Walkthroughs

  21. Brooke, J. (1996). SUS: a “quick and dirty” usability scale. In P.W.Jordan, B. Thomas, B.A. Weerdmeester, and I.L. McClelland (Eds.) Usability Evaluation in Industry (189-194). London: Taylor and Francis. 

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