Responsible consumption to improve food waste
Sometimes, small, seemingly insignificant actions can generate big problems. We take them at home and believe they don´t matter, that they have no larger impact. But when we add up all of these small actions, the situation looks quite different. This reflection led the industrial designer Solveiga Pakštaitė to look for a way to reverse this equation. If many small actions can lead to a big problem, then why couldn´t they also represent a solution? Mimica Touch, a tactile expiry label which indicates the condition of food products contained within, is her answer.
During her studies at Brunel University (United Kingdom), Pakštaitė observed the difficulties experienced by the visually impaired, amongst others, when trying to learn when a food product would expire. This group has devices for just about everything, but nothing to help them find out reliably if a particular food is still apt for human consumption. So she set out to design an efficient, affordable and error-free method of indicating when food will go bad.
That was the beginning. Today, as the CEO and cofounder of Mimica – the company where these labels are being developed – Pakštaitė aims to transform Mimica Touch into a small action capable of producing big results. Why continue to allow so much food to be unnecessarily wasted when a simple label could prevent it? If a banana peel can demonstrate what condition the fruit is in, why couldn´t a label do the same thing? In the United Kingdom, 60% of the population throws away food which is still edible; in the United States, this number jumps to 90%. It is obvious that the current system of expiry labels is not working, she thought.
After many initial queries, a chemist provided Pakštaitė the key: the inclusion of a bioreactive gelatin in the labels placed on packages. This gelatin, which is adapted to the food product atop which it will be placed, decomposes alongside the food product; the label´s texture changes in line with the condition of the food. As the gelatin becomes more liquid, the bottom layers of the label become more noticeable to the touch. If the food is in good condition, the label is smooth; when the food begins to go bad, the label becomes bumpy.
The company´s next steps include taking the product to market and expanding the use cases. The entrepreneur behind Mimica Touch, who has already filed a patent application, is currently in talks with some of the leading distribution chains in the UK, and hopes to begin commercialization in early 2018.
This designer and inventor, who was recognized as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish Edition as an Innovator Under 35 Europe in 2017, always focuses on researching the problem and the people involved when designing a solution. Sometimes, she explains, the most complex, technological solution is not necessarily the most appropriate. Perhaps her tactile label was not the most obvious or high tech solution, but it works for people. Or, as she has said on many occasions, one must never forget the importance of small details.