Shopping app tested to reduce food loss in Japan
The Tokyo metropolitan government introduced last Friday a new model project in which it awards points to consumers who buy foods close to their best-before dates and consume-by dates in order to decrease the amount of food loss. NTT Docomo Inc., with a governmental subsidy for the model project, developed a smartphone app that can be used until the end of February, and will evaluate the project’s effect.
The project, called “EcoBuy,” started at a Mini Piago supermarket in Chuo Ward, Tokyo. Stickers with such phrases as “Item for EcoBuy — its best-before date must be within the following period of days” are put on the store shelves for 30 designated food items including daily dishes, sliced raw fish and milk.
The best-before date represents the period of time during which foods can be best enjoyed. The consume-by date is labeled on perishable foods.A homemaker visiting the store said, “I’d like to buy the items if it can help reduce food loss.” Terushi Ito, the president of 99ICHIBA Co., which runs the store, said, “If we can reduce the volume of food waste, the labor cost for disposing of it will also be decreased.”
To join the project, consumers using the app take pictures of best-before dates and consume-by dates of the food items as well as the relevant receipt, then send the pictures to the designated center. After the center confirms the purchase, the consumer will receive points equivalent to about 20 percent of the purchase amount.
The Tokyo metropolitan government will pay NTT Docomo up to ¥15 million for the project. Shops bear the cost of allowing customers to apply the points to later purchases. The app has functions of showing the customers latest information about the food items for the model project, alerting them that the best-before dates and consume-by dates of the items they purchased are approaching, and providing recipes for the items. “We seek to reduce food waste not only at shops but also at home so as to cut food loss in society as a whole,” an NTT Docomo official said. “We would like to confirm how much we can cut the amount of food loss and the project’s profitability through the experiment,” said an official at the government’s bureau of environment.
6 million tons of food wasted
An estimated total of 6.21 million tons of food is wasted a year in Japan, prompting measures to be taken by food makers and retailers, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. The figure is about twice the amount of food the United Nations provides worldwide. It is also equivalent to a bowl of rice being discarded by every person every day.
Various measures are being taken to reduce the amount of food that is wasted. In May, the ministry and other organizations requested the food industry relax the practice of not delivering to retailers food that is close to its best-before date. In Kyoto, retailers extended the sales periods of food until close to their best-before and consume-by dates in a pilot program conducted in November and December.
Some companies in the food distribution industry and food manufacturers have deleted the “day” and only indicate the month and year in best-before dates in an effort to reduce the amount of food that has no quality problems but remains unsold and has to be discarded. The move is gradually spreading.
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