SmartBag - Service Design

Designing a sustainable way to consume food




How can new technologies encourage UK food consumers to reduce the £17 billion that is wasted every year in the country? 




SmartBag is a food managing platform that helps users to have increased awareness of the items available at home in order to prevent over buying and waste.




The increasing pressure on food availability and the risks of scarcity worldwide is a sad yet looming reality (World Bank, 2016). In that light, it is shocking to learn that, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “roughly one third of all the food produced every year in our planet, approximately 1.3 billion tonnes, gets lost or wasted. This amounts to approximately US$ 680 billion in industrialised countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries” (FAO, 2016, para.3). When prompted to uncover how this issue is connected to a reality closer to home, it is revealing to learn that the United Kingdom actually represents the highest food waste rate across the European Union and that, according to The Waste and Resources Action Programme, 10 million tonnes of food are wasted every year in the country, costing £17 billion (Sedghi, 2015; WRAP, 2016a). This represents an average £470 per household that is wasted per year (UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2016, p.6).



Interestingly, households food wastage represent 42% of the total whilst the other 58% is parted between food manufacturers, supermarkets, restaurants and others businesses (Sedghi, 2015). And when focusing on London alone, it is estimated that “households throw away 900,000 tonnes of food each year, of which 540,000 tonnes could have been eaten.”



The process of investigating and understanding how Londoners are wasting food was arduous at the beginning because food waste is a complex issue which people don’t normally think about and therefore are not prepared to discuss when unexpectedly prompted. Even when willing to engage in a conversation, the majority of people could not identify the main causes for their wasting of food. During informal conversations with some stakeholders around the theme, I realised how challenging it would be to break this barrier.

As a solution, a tool was developed that enabled people to first observe and then document their behaviour at their own time and privacy. The user-friendly Food Waste Diary - which combined user diary methodologies with mobile ethnography (Stickdorn & Schneider, 2010) - was intended to facilitate the sharing of valuable and relevant information about users’ daily routines. It was distributed to a defined pool of 12 individuals, which were members of differently composed families, and before supplying the diaries to the selected stakeholders, it was explained to them that there was no right or wrong answer. The diary proved to be a channel in which users could record their behaviour but ultimately be a place where they felt confident enough to express suggestions on how to reduce their own waste as well.




The principal aim of this exercise was to examine the process of food consumption from start-to-finish and to understand, on an empathic and intellectual manner, how London families consume, stock and waste food on a daily basis. Most importantly, the diary helped uncover the main reasons why people are wasting food.

More specifically, each stakeholder was asked to perform three main tasks to record in their diaries: first, to take notes on the food consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner; second, to disclose how much food they threw away after their meals and the reason for the wastage (e.g. the food was not tasty or the portion was big); and finally they were encouraged to take photographs of their dishes before and after their meals using their own mobile cameras. By performing these three exercises, they thoroughly registered the consumer journey and most importantly, helped transform the data collected into valuable evidence.



After the process of data collection on their food consumption, included in the same diary tool kit, were two final questions. The first aimed to uncover ‘what instance’ participants identified as the time/moment in their daily routine that the most prominent food wasting occurs. The main reason for this question was to instigate and incentivise stakeholders to engage in reflexive thinking about their daily routine. And finally, the participants were asked to share suggestions for helping to reduce wastage in their homes.

The most relevant insight generated throughout this enriching process of understanding people’s behaviours was that the majority of them are not wasting large amounts of food during their meals at home. Moreover, it was noticed that cooking for a single person is challenging for people who live alone because it is quite hard to get the correct portion sizes of the dishes. Another key insight that came out of user diaries was that there is a clear imbalance between the food that is being bought and what is actually needed.





SmartBag is a food managing platform that helps users to have increased awareness of the items available at home in order to prevent over buying and waste.

How it works? It combines customer supermarket loyalty card databases with new barcode system that contains the product life information, and synthesized into a digital product live list. Mobile app based, SmartBag provides reminders when products are soon to expire and suggests recipes based on what is available at home. 




Driven by the Service Design methodology, the objective of the SmartBag project was to deeply understand the reasons why London residents are wasting food. Throughout an in depth investigation – which included ethnographic research, interviews, user diaries and online surveys with stakeholders – it became clear that the key problem is the lack of awareness people have of the food items stocked at home; be it because they are not as visible in the fridge or pantry and are easily forgotten.

The result of this collaborative and participatory design process, led by the human-centered design approach (IDEO Design Kit, 2015) is SmartBag: an intuitive platform that enables people to better manage their food in their homes in order to reduce waste as well as save money.




The SmartBag project was developed during my master in Service Design Innovation at London College of Communication 2016

Year: 2016
Course Leader: Monica Biagioli
Associate Lecturer: Phillippa Rose, Hena Ali and Cordula Friedlander
Service Designer: Rodrigo Maia