Inspiration

Reducing food waste has the potential to save resources, reduce pollution and increase food security. Through a circular economy approach, food waste can be managed in ways that reduce and recover surplus food. Following the tenets of the circular economy model, I developed the Waste Less Food skill to help people reduce their own food waste.

Environmental Impact

Up to a third of all food is estimated to be wasted each year. With 1.3 billion tons of food wasted per year, the annual cost of worldwide food waste now exceeds $1 trillion. Since more than 90% of food wasted in the U.S. winds up in landfills, food waste has become one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases. It takes up to 25 years for a head of lettuce to decompose in a landfill, and when food breaks down without access to oxygen, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a Food Recovery Hierarchy, to illustrate actions we can take to reduce food waste. The Food Recovery Hierarchy shows multiple tiers, each one focusing on different management strategies for food that might be wasted. At the top of the hierarchy can be found the ways to reduce food waste that create the most benefits for the environment, society and the economy.

What the skill does

The Waste Less Food skill helps people reduce their food waste by offering actionable recommendations to deal with common issues that arise at home. The Waste Less Food skill also answers questions and provides information to help people understand the enormity of the problem of food waste and the potential positive impact a circular economy approach can have on the environment.

How I built the skill

I developed the Waste Less Food skill by creating a json problem database. The database includes issues and questions about reducing food waste along with recommendations that address these issues. I then developed a node.js script, defining a Waste Less Food custom intent. This custom intent, the WLFRecommendation intent, accesses the json problem database for issues the user raises as well as appropriate recommendations to offer the user in response. The node.js script also includes built-in Help, Stop, and Cancel intents. I then set up a lambda function on the AWS console to run the node.js script and tested my skill using the Alexa Simulator and my Amazon Echo Dot.

Challenges

With a growing body of research and practice on reducing food waste, my biggest challenge was to create specific, actionable recommendations that could be easily understood and applied by individual consumers at home. Since I also wanted to provide useful information, I found it challenging to distill all the material I had gathered into reasonable questions and issues that might arise for different people.

Accomplishments

I developed a skill to motivate and help people reduce their food waste. My biggest accomplishment in developing the Waste Less Food skill comes from raising awareness of the scale of food waste and empowering individuals to take action to reduce their own food waste, moving from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.

What's next for Waste Less Food

In addition to providing recommendations for ways to reduce food waste, I would like to add recipes that make use of what an individual finds in the refrigerator along with customized meal plans that re-purpose ingredients, preparing them in different ways for multiple meals.

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