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    Unique live-streamed community fridge project aims to tackle food waste

    Posted 17 January

    Professor Ken Sloan opens the fridge.

    A unique research project which will use a live-streamed fridge to feed the community and tackle food waste has been launched at Harper Adams University. 

    The pilot Harper Adams Community Fridge Project will see the fridge, based in the University’s Postgraduate Common Room, used to redistribute surplus food which would otherwise be disposed of – helping reduce food waste and address cost-of-living challenges at the same time. 

    The fridge, and the food it contains at any one point, will be live-streamed online using an innovative system developed by Senior Agricultural Engineer Matthew Butler and Robotics specialist Sam Wane.

    This will take a picture of the fridge’s contents when the stock changes and no objects or people are in front of the fridge or freezer – meaning that pictures are not taken of people who may be using the fridge.  

    Researchers are also using this feed to develop machine learning, with the ultimate aim of allowing the fridge’s contents to be assessed by artificial intelligence. 
    Dr Iona Huang, who is leading the truly inter-departmental team working on the pilot project, said: “The multi-faceted approach, using the cameras and live streaming, aims not only to improve operational efficiency but also to maximise community engagement and optimise food redistribution.” 

    Dr Huang also explained that while it is intended as a community resource, its purpose is for the fridge to be a way for surplus food to find new consumers – and added: “As this is a project aimed at cutting food waste as well as fighting food insecurity, we are asking people to please not buy food to then donate – the purpose of the fridge is to make use of surplus food that would otherwise go to waste.” 

    Assistant Head of the Food, Land and Agribusiness Management Department, Nigel Hill, who spoke at the official opening of the project alongside Harper Adams Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ken Sloan, explained how much food in the supply chain is currently wasted - noting a surplus food redistributor called NotJust A Store, based in Wellington, which supplies majority of the food for the Harper Adams community fridge, saves around 100 tonnes of food going to waste each month.

    The fridge is already proving a success with users – last week, when it began operating, it saved around 150 kg of food from going to waste and users logged out 246 items. 

    On Monday this week alone, NotJust A Store supplied 149kg of food and 87 people logged out 362 food items. 

    Mr Hill told the packed room at the launch event: “It is great to see so many people – perhaps because you don’t often get an invite to the opening of a fridge! 

    “When Iona said she was volunteering at the Shrewsbury Food Hub, another supplier of the food today, and saw what they were doing – and the amount of food going to waste – little did I know that, before long, we would be extending this into our own community. 

    “One successful QR funding bid, followed by a bit of twisting of Ken’s arm, here we are - with what we are sure will be a successful addition to helping and supporting students and staff, as well as being a very visible reminder of the amount of food waste generated by a food chain we take for granted.”

    Professor Sloan explained that the project would be used not only as an asset in itself, but also to conduct wider research on the use of community facilities and on food waste.

    He noted while the current fridge is a pilot scheme, which will be used to research and refine processes around community fridge use, further facilities for undergraduates and other members of the University will follow. 

    He added: “The project involves a lot of people, but I would like to thank Iona for her leadership and the team of colleagues and postgraduate students who will be making it work day-to-day, and the Harper Adams Development Trust, who made funds available for this facility. 

    “The most important thing is that we encourage people to use it.” 

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