Almost 2.2 million tonnes of edible food is discarded each year in Canada alone, resulting in over 17 billion dollars in waste. A significant portion of this is due to the simple fact that keeping track of expiry dates for the wide range of groceries we buy is, put simply, a huge task. While brainstorming ideas to automate the management of these expiry dates, discussion came to the increasingly outdated usage of barcodes for Universal Product Codes (UPCs); when the largest QR codes can store thousands of characters, why use so much space for a 12 digit number?
By building upon existing standards and the everyday technology in our pockets, we're proud to present poBop: our answer to food waste in homes.
What it does
Users are able to scan the barcodes on their products, and enter the expiration date written on the packaging. This information is securely stored under their account, which keeps track of what the user has in their pantry. When products have expired, the app triggers a notification. As a proof of concept, we have also made several QR codes which show how the same UPC codes can be encoded alongside expiration dates in a similar amount of space, simplifying this scanning process.
In addition to this expiration date tracking, the app is also able to recommend recipes based on what is currently in the user's pantry. In the event that no recipes are possible with the provided list, it will instead recommend recipes in which has the least number of missing ingredients.
How we built it
The UI was made with native android, with the exception of the scanning view which made use of the code scanner library.
Storage and hashing/authentication were taken care of by MongoDB and Bcrypt respectively.
Finally in regards to food, we used Buycott's API for UPC lookup and Spoonacular to look for valid recipes.
Challenges we ran into
As there is no official API or publicly accessible database for UPCs, we had to test and compare multiple APIs before determining Buycott had the best support for Canadian markets. This caused some issues, as a lot of processing was needed to connect product information between the two food APIs.
Additionally, our decision to completely segregate the Flask server and apps occasionally resulted in delays when prioritizing which endpoints should be written first, how they should be structured etc.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We're very proud that we were able to use technology to do something about an issue that bothers not only everyone on our team on a frequent basis (something something cooking hard) but also something that has large scale impacts on the macro scale. Some of our members were also very new to working with REST APIs, but coded well nonetheless.
What we learned
Flask is a very easy to use Python library for creating endpoints and working with REST APIs. We learned to work with endpoints and web requests using Java/Android. We also learned how to use local databases on Android applications.
What's next for poBop
We thought of a number of features that unfortunately didn't make the final cut. Things like tracking nutrition of the items you have stored and consumed. By tracking nutrition information, it could also act as a nutrient planner for the day. The application may have also included a shopping list feature, where you can quickly add items you are missing from a recipe or use it to help track nutrition for your upcoming weeks. We were also hoping to allow the user to add more details to the items they are storing, such as notes for what they plan on using it for or the quantity of items. Some smaller features that didn't quite make it included getting a notification when the expiry date is getting close, and data sharing for people sharing a household. We were also thinking about creating a web application as well, so that it would be more widely available.
Finally, we strongly encourage you, if you are able and willing, to consider donating to food waste reduction initiatives and hunger elimination charities.
One of the many ways to get started can be found here: https://rescuefood.ca/ https://secondharvest.ca/ https://www.cityharvest.org/
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