Hello Compost: Trading Food Waste for Local, Healthy Food
Here in the United States, we have a peculiar relationship with food waste. Some of the more progressive cities in the U.S. have formalized curbside collection programs, while others send it off to landfills. The cost of dumping food waste in landfills is high, especially to densely populated areas like New York City. That’s why earlier this year, New York proposed introducing curbside collection of organic waste.
Food waste is not only an economic challenge to New York, but it's also a drain on family income. A recent study by NRDC found that food waste can cost the average family of four more than $1,365 a year. This is particularly harmful to families in low-income situations, already lacking access to affordable, healthy foods.
Recycling faced a long and complicated road to becoming somewhat accepted, and if that's any indication, curbside collection of food waste also faces significant challenges. In an earlier study of waste composition in New York, researchers discovered that New Yorkers were recycling only half of their recyclable waste. If the same holds true for food waste collection, much of the city's efforts will be in vain.
But what if it was possible to not only reduce the financial strain of food waste on families and municipalities, but to also create access to affordable, locally grown foods? That's the premise of our service, Hello Compost, which we developed while students in the MFA Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons The New School for Design. With our partner, Project EATS, we're piloting a service that incentivizes families to collect their food waste by giving them credits towards fresh produce for each pound of food waste they bring. More importantly, we're designing an experience that aims to address the behavioral challenges of curbside waste collection.
When we pilot Hello Compost later this year with Project EATS, we're striving to give as much control of the service to the community by designing our collection bags to be produced locally and respond to resident’s needs. Our durable canvas bags are designed to be freezable to reduce odors typically associated with food waste. They're also attractive and fun to use—an important feature to get people excited about participating.
Once residents fill up these bags, they can be delivered to a Project EATS market and weighed in order to give a corresponding credit amount towards produce from Project EATS. Project EATS then collects this food waste and turns it into compost, which can be sold commercially to help fund the service. In the future, we foresee this exchange being facilitated through a mobile application designed to track how many credits each family has earned. With mobile devices owned by Project EATS, this data can be used to not only manage the logistics of the service, but to visualize the positive impact residents are making in their community.
Put simply, food waste is too valuable to go to waste. We see it as an opportunity to revolutionize our relationship with food by introducing a service that makes waste collection more than a curbside burden. It's a way to create opportunities to better understand where food comes from, where food goes, and to give families the chance to make a positive impact for themselves and their community.
Images courtesy of Hello Compost