Could this AI-guided compost bin reduce food waste?

The idea behind a smart compost bin is to inspire consumers to think about and change their food waste behaviour. — AFP Relaxnews

An American university has received the green light to develop a smart compost bin, capable of tracking food waste generated by American households. This invention aims to help consumers to be more aware and vigilant when it comes to food waste.

A team of researchers from Oregon State University in the US has just received funding to design a smart compost bin to track Americans’ food waste.

This project is supported by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research Foundation (FFAR), Kroger Co, Zero Hunger and the Zero Waste Foundation.

The project led by Patrick Donnelly, assistant professor of computer science in the OSU College of Engineering, seeks to solve the problem of food waste.

According to a survey reported on by Forbes, Americans throw away more than US$400bil (RM1.77 trillion) worth of food each year, while a majority live in food insecurity.

It is also important to remember that food waste has a negative effect on the environment: as it is responsible for greenhouse gas and methane emissions.

Donnelly explains in a press release, “At every other step of the agricultural supply chain, food waste is tracked, measured, and quantified. However, approaches to measuring post-consumer food waste are costly, time-consuming, prone to human error, and infeasible at a large scale.”

To remedy this problem, the researchers would like to build a compost bin integrating artificial intelligence capable of taking into account consumers’ current behaviour. It will take on the appearance of an ordinary compost receptacle as distributed by public waste management services.

“When a user disposes of edible and non-edible food waste in the bin, our device prompts the user to describe the deposited items. The user’s note is then transcribed with automatic voice recognition and associated with a weight measurement of the items,” explains Donnelly.

It is designed to operate in a straightforward manner: The device will collect 3D images of food waste, using measurements generated through sensors, allowing for “an entirely novel dataset to enable and encourage future researchers to tackle the problem of food waste with computer vision”.

As part of the project, researchers will conduct a small pilot programme in spring 2024. Once the device is designed, it will be tested by pilot participants before being rolled out nationwide.

As garbology – the practice of studying the contents of our trash – gains impetus as an approach that can help us address our consumption and waste production, the professor hopes that automating this process when it comes to food will allow researchers to collect data more meticulously and efficiently.

“Our work is a first step towards developing a fully autonomous, computer vision solution that would enable households to track the amounts and types of food compost waste they generate. With these personalised and data-driven interventions, we hope to inspire consumers to reflect upon and change their behaviours with respect to food waste over time.” – AFP Relaxnews

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