Food waste is the world’s dumbest problem

MIT is known for developing a lot of impressive
technology. But hidden in the kitchen of MIT’s Media
Lab is, perhaps, my favorite MIT invention: the FoodCam. Okay, so it may not look like much but it’s
actually quite brilliant. Let’s say you have some leftover food. You put it under the camera and you hit the
button. FoodCam posts a photo to Twitter, Slack, and
a mailing list. All with a simple message: Come and get it! It looks like a pretty good box of donuts. Yes. It looks yummy under FoodCam. It does. Getting the food can actually be pretty competitive. By the time we got here, just 30 seconds after
it was placed, the whole building had swarmed and all the
pizza was gone. There’s a mad rush of people that come from,
like, every entryway in here to get the pizza. So you got to kind of move pretty quickly. Yeah, it’s a game — it’s like the Hunger
Games. Where… Will and Jon invented the FoodCam all the
way back in 1999. This was before Facebook. Before Gmail. Before social media as we know it. The idea came from a building-wide leftovers
problem. And in some ways, this simple invention gets
at the big problem of food waste. I mean that’s sort of the serious part of
what you have done, really, right? There is no doubt that this completely helped
reduce food waste at the lab. Almost all of the catering people know that
if they have spare food from their event, they can just hit the button and people will
consume that food. And those are not even Media Lab events that
are now fueling the FoodCam. When we picture the stuff that’s hurting
our planet, what do we think of? We think of, like, smokestacks, cars, oil
spills. We don’t really think about all the food
we throw away. In the US, roughly 40% of the food we produce
never gets eaten. That’s over 365 million pounds of food each
day. While that’s happening, about one in eight
Americans still don’t have a steady supply of food
to their tables. And all of this wasted food is a huge contributor
to climate change. If global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse
gases, just behind China and the United States. So it really is an enormous problem and one
of the easiest ways to address climate change. It takes a ton of resources to produce food. On top of that, you have all of the energy it takes to keep
it cold and transport it around the country. And when food decomposes, it isn’t just
stinky. It releases potent greenhouse gases. Basically, we’re trashing our planet to grow food that
no one eats.But here’s the thing: No one actually likes wasting food. It’s just something that we haven’t been
paying much attention to. Of all of the challenging problems out there,
reducing the amount of food we’re wasting is one of the easiest. In the US, consumers collectively make up
the largest portion of food waste. A family of four spends about $1,500 on food
that they never eat. Meat is less as a percentage of what we buy
but when you consider it in particular, as a greenhouse gas intensive product, meat
waste actually has the highest greenhouse gas impact. And you don’t have to be an expert to understand
why food is going to waste in our homes. We’re all busy and on the go. Sometimes I buy food without thinking, “Do I really need that?” There’s even been a little bit of research
to show that once something goes in the refrigerator it’s actually worth less
to us than before.   Researchers asked people how they would feel
if they got home from the grocery store and dropped a carton
of eggs. And then they asked, well if your eggs sat
in your refrigerator for six weeks and then you didn’t use them, how would you feel about
that? And people felt a lot less remorse. I think a lot of the waste in our society
does come down to choice and wanting to have the
option to eat something at any time, whether or not we use it. Part of the reason we over-buy food is that
we’ve got tons of space to store it in. Refrigerators have grown about 15% since the
1970s. One of the things we found in our research
is that people are uncomfortable with white space when it comes to food. So we love it in buildings, or in design, but when it comes to food, we do not want
to see empty space in our refrigerators, on our plates, and so I really believe that
in some subliminal way we’re just filling everything. And if we had smaller refrigerators, that
let us see everything that was in there, that in itself would lead to quite a bit less
waste in our homes. And it isn’t just our refrigerators that
have gotten bigger. The average dinner plate has grown by 36%
since 1960. When you have a big plate, you tend to put
a lot of food on it —  whether or not you can eat it all. This is something Jill Horst noticed at UC
Santa Barbara. You have a tray that’s 14-by-18 inches and
you feel you need to load it up with food. You would see students that had four glasses:
water, juice, soda, milk — and you’d go to the tray return and they would
still be full. In 2009, the dining halls stopped using trays. Students can take as much food as they want,
but there isn’t a tray to pile it onto. The food waste per person, per tray, reduced
by 50 percent. I mean so that was huge. Let’s say that the average student wastes
six ounces of food per meal. That may not seem like a lot — but UC Santa
Barbara serves 13,000 meals per day. So that’s nearly 5,000 pounds of wasted
food. It’s like throwing 350 Thanksgiving turkeys
into the garbage every single day. And when you take the trays away and it becomes
three ounces, that’s a significant impact to help with not only the food waste, but
food cost. So, it turns out that something very small
— like removing a tray or changing the size of a plate — can have this profound
impact on our behavior. And it doesn’t take much effort, because
the effect is subliminal. The other thing they’re paying attention
to at UC Santa Barbara is portion size. Each plate is portioned one portion for a
student. They can take as many portions as they like, but we are actually plating the right size,
the right amount that we should be eating. We’ve gotten used to these gigantic portion
sizes at restaurants. And in a subtle way, it encourages us to overeat
and throw away a lot of food. If you look around, there’s not a whole
lot of food waste on the plates because of the proper portioning. I mean that’s somebody’s meal. That’s all they have left. None of us are perfect. Wasting less food isn’t just going to happen
overnight. But just having it on our radar can really
help us waste a lot less.   And if we do have extra food, then let’s
at least try to get it to people who could use it. There is so much high-quality surplus that’s
wasted, that just needs to find the people that need
it the most. Komal is the founder of Copia, a startup that’s
trying to recover all of this perfectly good food. If you imagine the world’s largest football
stadium filled to its absolute brim that’s how much food goes wasted every single
day in America — and I’m not talking about last night’s pad
thai or this morning’s half-eaten pastries, but untouched, uneaten, perfectly edible food.   So we don’t need to purchase or make more
food. We just need to figure out how to get it to
the people who need it. MIT’s FoodCam is great at recovering food. But when you start scaling this up from one
building to an entire city or an entire country, it becomes much more difficult. Let’s say you’re a small company and have
200 sandwiches left over from an event. That’s a lot of food — but it takes time
and effort to figure out how and where to donate it. Most people really don’t want to deal with
all this. It shouldn’t be this hard to do a good thing. Like, how cool would it be if people who have
food could say, hey, we have food, and people who need food could say, hey we
need food, and we could connect these two people and
clear the marketplace? So Komal is trying to make food donation easy
and intuitive. If you have some food, you type your info
into the Copia app. A driver will then come pick up your food
and deliver it to shelters that need it. And during big events, like Super Bowl 50,
there’s a ton of extra food. The issue is that it has a short shelf life. Imagine four 16-foot refrigerated trucks filled
to their absolute brim — that’s how much food we recovered. We fed 23,000 people in two days. Nobody slept. And it’s not you know hot dogs and popcorn. It was lobster rolls and pulled pork sandwiches
and $300 cheeses. High-quality food. If we can get food that would otherwise be
wasted to people who need it, we’re not only fighting hunger, but we’re
actually slowing global warming. It really is a win-win. And Komal doesn’t want to solve hunger in
just California. She wants to solve world hunger — period. It’s not about optimism or pessimism. I think it’s just that we’re hell-bent on
making it happen. This isn’t going to be an overnight thing. It’s got to be policy change. It’s going to be other entrepreneurs. It’s going to be really big companies and
institutions also taking a stand and saying that you know what? We don’t tolerate perfectly great food being
wasted. Look, no one likes throwing out food. So we made a simple guide to help you waste
less. To find out more go to

Comments 100

  • In Dubai , we have fridges outside mosques , where we can put leftover food in the fridge and the less fortunate take anything they need.

  • The problem is that food companies are making to much food

  • This looks like an ad for Copia than a documentary

  • One word


  • My fridge actually takes me hostage because it always makes me think "how am I going to eat it all before it spoils".

  • Raise less livestock….

    If you treat the cows, pigs, chickens , and etc with kind and care.
    You can't really mass produce them.
    Give our livestock the "Kobe" treatment.

    So give animals the same rights as humans and it will probably solve our food waste problem.
    Stop making humans change their habits.
    Stop hiring bad people mistreating livestock.


  • Its hunger games ?

  • I recently walked into Walmart to return a shirt, behind the counter I saw a box of my favorite cookies, I asked jokingly " can I get them at discount?" The lady seriously replied " we throw them out". The box was never opened, next to it was half of a fresh salmon and a rack of ribs. And that gets thrown out too. She even told me that when you put milk in your cart and bring it to the counter then decide you don't want it and tell the cashier you don't want it, it gets thrown out. I understand the business liability aspect but man that just said. When I had my wedding in the middle east, after we were done we called a number and truck came down and took all the useable food which was like 60 percent. North America is the number one polluter and they should come up with better ways to uses waste food

  • I believe the cause of wasted food also concerns the design and need of the food.



  • I don’t throw food I over eating haha

  • Wouldn't that be unhygienic? The leftover food would be touched by so many peoples. Eww. So many germs. ??

  • does expired food in the market count?

  • Hello

  • No it‘s Not the bigest Problem

  • Meanwhile in Germany politicians are discussing to ban the combustion engine in total, to save the climate, while this is not even talked about ?‍♂️

  • If you’ve ever worked in a supermarket you know thousands of dollars worth of food get thrown out every week

  • in Denmark there is" too good to go" where f.x bakeries make a bag at the end of the day where to put all the bread and pastries that weren't eaten and then sold at a significantly lower price

  • damn. kormal is beautiful

  • It so damn frustrating how simple the solution is to a lot of global problems… Very frustrating…

  • I guess they aren't counting feces as waste.. Even if they eat it it still turns into waste

  • Excellent Content!

  • yay! My school!

  • Many large food companies tend to focus on quantity over actual quality. I see so much low-quality, badly packed, and consequently low in demand food in the supermarkets being useless and wasted.

  • Carnism + capitalism = environmental destruction!!!

  • There are a lot if options like donating to shelter homes orphanages but throwing away seems the best options!!!! No comments!!

  • For me
    I am never hungry
    And almost 99.9 % of the time i am never full

  • I never leave any food on my plate
    Unless it's disgusting or mwybe i putting in like a bowl worth if salt
    But anyway i never really waste food

  • there are loads of apps popping where you can buy end of the day foods at a heavy discount.

  • Instead of basic income we should have basic things we need and focus on money for other things.

  • Asian parents make sure you eat every single rice on the plate

  • 4:20 am I mistaken, or is that the Milwaukee art museum??

  • I went to an “all you can eat” buffet once which had a great system. You could refill your plate as many times as you liked, and there was a set price BUT you paid extra for every gramme of food you didn’t eat. That means that people didn’t fill their plate and left half of it sitting there when they left, but they took a little and went back for seconds (or more) if they wanted more. It’s the little details that matter when it comes to food waste.

  • I can barely afford food and I hate it when it goes bad.

  • I hate it when restaurants charge you too much and you get way too much food. I’d rather pay half and eat the whole plate.

  • If everyone have an asian parents, then problem solved 😀

  • does anyone else think that the college's food looks like a five-star meal?

  • I hate it when shops throw away fresh bakery items or fruits that isn't even out of date….

  • I feel seriously guilty whenever my family buys foods and we don’t use it so we have to let it go. I keep thinking when I move away I will only buy what I will eat for the week and try my best not to waste. I know I don’t eat much and I know I can always go back when I get my food. From a while ago I would not fill up my plate completely or I would choose the smaller plates. I try my best, and I will only buy what I need when I do the shopping.

  • Guyana's food waste problem is storage for the produce. Not the consumers we clean our plates

  • make every food free so even the homeless or the poor can eat food so they don't have to pass on a expensive food

  • The problem at hand is capitalism, grocery stores wont give out free food because then the value of food will be going down and they will loose money. The same reason why technology stores destroy merchandise that works perfectly but that isnt being sold, its about money it never is about solving a problem or helping the planet

  • Send my home

  • Why cant they produce less food or donate them to people who are dying without food?

  • Back in my old school not only did we have to finish our food but we also had to only get a smaller portion of food to prevent it (we could get seconds).

  • The US needs to solve its problems fast!

  • Bruh my momma be ignoring the expiration date, so this ain't a problem

  • By saying world you mean United States of America not the whole world

  • Well I'm for sure gona make sure I dont waste as much any more. Thanks for this eye opener vox

  • If you throw away food, it's still there. It's just someone else eating it instead of a human being. In this universe nothing is wasted. But if you look at everything in the context of personal benefit, all that is not consumed by you is of course "wasted".

  • in the USA there are laws on IF you can give away food in all states because of lawsuits (get a dog or chicken or pig) no more waste lol

  • I always make sure I eat everything, I hate wasting food

  • I mean what haven't humans fuck*d up yet

  • This video should have also touched upon the sell by, best by and use by dates which are manufactured made up dates by the food corps! Don’t follow them.

  • There’s just gonna be those jerks who poison the food.

  • Who else never throws their food away?

  • Lit video! But what is the equally lit song that plays in the last couple of minutes?

  • More people should share this so more people get notice about what is happening around them
    Great that you show us this that we can make a better world together

  • Compost your food or buy a pig ?

  • as asians, everytime my mother see any leftover in my plate, she will shout at me and told me to stop eating next time. so i must learn to take the perfect amount for me to eat

  • people need food here in the Philippines ??

  • I live in Somalia we don't have a fridge guess how much food we waste

  • "Love Trumps Hate"

  • "Food waste is the world's dumbest problem"
    – Vox

    And that's a fact

  • metriiiic

  • Humanity is doomed, and that is the only idea comforting me right now. WHY? GO FIGURE

  • With ThriveLife, food waste is a thing of the past!

  • And, sharing is caring!

  • what annoys me is the short shelf life of many foods and you forget or it's too much too eat in that short time, then it cannot be donated

  • I can't concentrate on this video because I cannot stop thinking of how much food is been wasted to make it's thumbnail.

  • Nope, only 1st world country's problem.

  • In The Netherlands the government has programs like Copia in every city/town 🙂 it’s called “the foodbank” in Dutch.

    I hate wasting food. My freezer is very small. I have food leftovers in it. I can’t fit bread in it. So bread goes bad quickly. Maybe I should be eating what is in my fridge before I get new food for a new meal? Any other solutions?

  • I Heard if someone gets sick after eating the backdoor food they can sue. So Lame.

  • Americans should be taught to eat everything they put on their plates.

  • just a comment

  • thank you for drawing attention to this subject

  • My Issue is that we cant buy exactly what we need or want. I am not a very healthy person but sometimes I want to try to get more greens into my diet by adding spinach to sandwiches (I hate lettuce & all other greens) but you have to buy a large bag of it. I rarely eat all of it which makes me feel bad & makes me not want to buy anymore. if it was not in packaging & I could put an amount I know I would eat in my own bag it would literally be zero waste. I feel bad enough throwing away a plastic bag, I dont wanna also dump my leafy waste in my garden!

  • Vox is getting better.

  • Food waste is horrible…
    Copia sounds like a great idea. But it's unfortunate the woman CEO's face was lightened with makeup during the interview.

  • Capitalism ain't gonna solve a problem capitalism is deeply invested in but okay.

  • 0:58 I love the guy in glasses’ shirt 😉

  • Or you can just take a picture from your phone, post it to your colleague or any groups around your place.

    Much more simpler.

  • Publix Supermarkets (along with other markets) is a huge distributor of food waste. My husband worked for Publix for 15 yrs…and I remeber times going in the back with him to help throw gallons and gallons and gallons of milk because they were about to expire in 5 days! I rember also boxes of Cheez Its and cereal being thrown by the cases because it was also expiring in 3 days. It was absolutely mind boggling. And that was just one store ?

  • Watch cowspiracy.
    Convince gov to let everyone have an acre of free tax free land to grow a food forest on and live on.
    End farm subsidies. End tax
    breaks to farms exsept those who grow healthy vegan food for human consumption exsept no large mono crops.
    End mandatory school, ged and hsd requirements, age limits, minimum wage, and exsessive regs.
    People should be able to learn how to do a good job they want so they can afford a house and car before 18.
    For those who and whos parents can afford it, tax deductible chairty and or the about 180,000dollars spent on k thru 12 per student could pay for it and trash k thru 12 and some of that money could be used to promote more independence and healthy living.
    Watch earthlings the movie its free on YouTube

  • you are lying, and i know it because they told me the free market was perfect and cannot produce any waste, it is the most efficient system ever devised by our masters, OBEY YOUR MASTERS!!!!

  • I love what you are doing Komal, but don't try to solve wolrd's hunger, just USA's hunger, the world doesn't have a good experience when USA or US corporations try to help it

  • 365.000 seems like a lot “wasted” per day. Nothing about food being grown to produce energy? Where are those numbers?

  • Imagine a Foodcam in a Mc

  • we need to stop food waste

  • Unfortunately many big restaurants and event centers can’t donate food bc of liability’s

  • Very illuminating… How dieting impacts climate

  • Cool t-shirt Love trumphs hate 🙂

  • Give food to the homeless pls

  • I go to UCSB and I feel like the tray thing doesn’t make me get less food, it just makes me make a lot of trips back and forth from my table to get all the food i want ?

  • We did it guys, food waste is no more

  • Amazing!!
    I'm challenged to do better, thank you! ❤

  • Use metric silly

  • Restaurant is one of the major cause of food waste. I see plenty of meat and veggies go in the trash. It’s all about the habit of how we eat.

  • In India.. We were disciplined to finish all the food in the plate since childhood.Thats respect for the food..and the efforts people put in for it to be served on your plate.
    Ancestors were wise people indeed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *