Green-eat: we aim to implement a food distribution system by using vending machines that provide pre-made meals in reusable containers with a deposit system in strategic points in Geneva.
Week 1 (Oct.11):
We started out by identifying the general goal of reducing plastic packaging for food in Geneva, by coming up with solutions that would focus on the production/distribution side.
After the initial brainstorming session, we listed a few ideas that would each tackle the problem from different angles:
Encourage the consumption of local products.
Shorten the supply chain.
Creation of an app that will enable consumers to connect directly to local producers.
Use of the deposit system for premade meals.
Use of alternatives to plastic package in supermarkets
We agreed that we needed to first clarify and understand some technical aspects related to bioplastics and supply chain before moving on to elect a solution to focus on throughout the workshop, so these were among the first objectives we set for the next week.
Week 2 (Oct.18):
During this week we started research about bioplastics and we also started conducting benchmarking related to the implementation of bioplastics used in food packaging.
We came across a German startup-Kaffeeform (https://www.kaffeeform.com/en/) that was producing coffee cups made out of coffee waste. At the same time, we found out that the organic waste bin from SDG solution space was made out, among other materials, of coffee grounds. We then started to find figures indicating the amount of coffee waste produced in Switzerland, to see if this amount could cover the production of food containers. After confirming that the consumption figure was relatively high, we settled on producing alternative packaging using coffee grounds, thinking that we could also tackle the coffee waste issue along the way:
food containers that can replace plastic packaging for pre-made meals
reusable baskets to replace single use plastic bags for vegetables and fruits
biodegradable packaging to wrap organic fruits and vegetables.
We started looking into recipes to produce bioplastic out of coffee grounds.
We contacted the startup in Germany to find out more about their production process, however they refused to disclose anything related to their business model.
Eventually we decided to test some we found on Materiom.org in the following weeks, and we asked Jean Marie to order the necessary ingredients.
Week 3 (Oct.25):
At this stage we were still not sure if we wanted to design reusable OR biodegradable food recipients. We decided we would need an elaborate LCA for both options to figure out which one is more sustainable.
So, in order to decide how to move forward, we decided to contact Mrs. Montferrat Fillela, who is a chemist at UNIGE, to ask her opinion on biodegradable recipient made of coffee grounds.
We also contacted an expert in environmental law from CIEL (Center from International Environmental Law).
In the meantime we went to the fablab to work on our prototypes for bioplastic film and coffee grounds recipients.
The results were rather disappointing, our prototypes were not even remotely as durable or even usable as we initially thought. On top of that, Mrs Fillela replied that it would be extremely complicated and time-consuming to verify the chemical structure in order to assess its sustainability.
So we decided to focus more on benchmarking and finding more feasible solutions, bearing in mind that due to time constraints and feedback received from experts we might need to shift our focus from bioplastics as a packaging alternative to something else.
Week 4 (Nov.1):
In the light of our progress up to that point, we decided to consider a shift of focus from the container made of coffee grounds to a broader system of selling pre-made meals in a plastic free way (single use plastics).
We started brainstorming again on other solutions that could reduce the consumption of single use plastic packaging for food.
We considered the idea of dispensers of non perishable food in supermarkets, as well as vending machines that would distribute such products. The coffee recipient remained a secondary optional objective, and we started thinking of using hard plastic reusable recipients as a backup plan.
We decided to dedicate maximum one more session to the coffee recipient idea. But eventually, after more benchmarking to find materials and recipes to produce a durable, recipient resembling hard plastic that would also include coffee grounds we abandoned the idea. Although we had found a plastic filament for 3d printers produced by a company in the US, Jean Marie advised us that the resulting prototype of such material would not be suitable to contain food.
Moreover, we found that the production of such filament is extremely complex and requires a lot of resources and know how, so it would be very difficult to produce it at scale.
Eventually, we dropped the idea of in-store food dispensers in supermarkets, because that would imply that the producers of pasta, rice etc should ship their products to supermarkets in bigger bulk quantities, and we couldn't figure out how to intervene in the supply chain to change that.
Week 5 (Nov.15):
This week was quite rough for us, as it seemed to us that after going back and forth we weren’t doing any real progress. We continued brainstorming starting from the idea of food dispensers.
Inspired by FelFel, but also by a Chilean startup “ALgramo” we thought of vending machines that would allow ready made meals to be distributed in a plastic free fashion in public spaces. This sounded innovative and at the same time it could have the potential to change consumption behavior by making reusable containers and the deposit system more widespread and accessible.
After some benchmarking, we found only one startup world wide (Freshbowl) that “beat us” to it by only a few months (launched in June of the current year). Encouraged by the fact that people managed to implement such a project, we decided to contact them to get some more insight about their thought process and business model.
At the same time we decided to design a survey to measure the support and market demographics interested in such an idea in different places in Geneva.
Week 6 (Nov.22) - Green Eat!
This week we worked on refining the vending machine idea: we spent some time thinking about what our role as startup would be in designing, manufacturing, deploying and maintaining the vending machine distribution system.
Regarding the reusable containers, we chose to go with something similar to the recipients made of glass fiber and hard plastic from reCricle, who we contacted to find our more about their product (LCA, how the system works, how it is washed, etc). They sent us some technical sheets about their product and how their partnerships with cafeterias and restaurants work.
We finally decided to work with Coop, as they already have a partnership with reCircle reusable recipients (Coop restaurant), they produce a lot of pre made meals wrapped in single use plastic, and we believed that they would be directly interested as the vending machine could potentially extend their selling capacity beyond the closing hours and also in areas with limited outreach, which would also reduce food waste. They also have washing facilities in their restaurant that we thought could be used to wash the reusable containers.
We also sent out our survey to friends and smaller circles for start.
Up to this point we still had no answer from FreshBowl.
Week 7 (Nov.29):
This week we went to Coop to talk to the store manager.
She shared with us information related to how frequent they refill the stock of premade meals, and where they are produced as well as what they are doing to cut down on the use of single use plastics.
To summarize the discussion, some premade meals are made in house (the one labeled “fait maison”), the rest are packed in a central location (Aclens-Vufflens) and then shipped to the outlets in the region every day. The plan is to ship more and more products by train instead of trucks, to decrease the carbon footprint.
The salads are prepared every two days, sandwiches every day. The food that is about to expire is given to charity associations, and the expired food is thrown away.
When we suggested that our project might reduce food waste, she was reluctant, adding that there was not that much waste to begin with (we don’t know the exact figure, but we think it could be improved for sure), as they have a sophisticated algorithm that calculates the demand of products and it is quite precise. This is also because not a lot of premade meals are prepared in house and most of them expire in 1-2 days at most. So there is quite a short window to refill the vending machines, and the food should be packed in the reusable containers from the distribution centers already.
The manager then introduced us to the Coop restaurant manager, to whom we talked about the reCircle containers. Apparently Coop Restaurant doesn’t manage the reusable containers, they just sell them to the customers, who are supposed to keep them, wash them and bring them every time to have their food served in them. So everything works on a voluntary basis, with a lot of responsibility for the customer, this is very different to the systems implemented in the cafeteria from UNIGE and Biotech, which work on a deposit basis.
We decided nevertheless to focus on the Fait Maison products, which are packed in store, and thus could easily packed in reusable containers instead.
We decided to pilot our project in an area which is remote and where pre-made meals are not very accessible. We thought that Cite Universitaire is a perfect example of such a place.
We also perfected the survey and sent it in the facebook group of Cité Universitaire.
At the same time, Hugo signed up for the training session for mapping with Charlotte. This will help us identify other places where such machines would make sense.
Week 8 (Dec.6):
In the 8th week we worked mainly on refining the project, documenting our progress and drafting the final report.
We also worked on our theory of change, and we found a link between the convenience of vending machines and behavioural change.
At the same time, we thought of also partnering with Cité in the initial phase, before starting a partnership with Coop. Namely, we wanted to integrate the products of the cafeteria of Cité in our distribution system, because it would make things logistically a lot simpler for a pilot project, due to proximity. The advantage of the vending machine in Cité remains, as the cafeteria is closed in the evenings and during weekends.
Furthermore, we worked on the specifics of business planning and tried to estimate the price of such a vending machine.
We also thought of how to make the survey more visible, because of the very low number of responses we got since we posted it in the facebook group. We decided to contact the direction of Cité Universitaire.
FELFEL is a food delivery company in Switzerland which offers daily delivery of healthy cold food to offices. Users unlock the FELFEL fridges and pay for the food with the badges. One of the limitations of FELFEL is that the food is served in plastic containers which will generate waste
Strength: access to pre-made food at offices
Limitation: using plastic containers
Fresh Bowl is a startup in New York. In June 24, 2019, it launched the vending machines that serve healthy salads in glass jars. The strengths of Fresh Bowl are that it makes it easier for people to access healthy food, and it offers an alternative to the plastic packaging-the reusable glass jars that users can return for credit on their next purchase.
Strength: using reusable glass jars
Limitation: offering a small range of food
Fresco Frigo is a new innovative company, founded in September 2018 in Italy. Their aim is to make a digital revolution implementing technology in the food retail sector, through readily available automated sales of fresh and healthy products.
Fresco Frigo uses an enhanced user experience through a fridge that keeps fresh food from local restaurants they bring healthy food closer to workplaces and homes. The fridge is connected to an app that is used by customers both to pay for the products and to keep track on what meals are being sold.
Strength: access to healthy food
Limitation : it uses single use plastic
Andrei Ciocan, Hugo Marmol, Lin Huang, Nicolas Azocar, Viola Ferdani
To reduce the amount of single-use plastic for ready meals in Geneva
To make new eating habits plastic-free, accessible, affordable and healthy.
To provide fresh and healthy vegan friendly ready-meals in reusable containers at an affordable price with a deposit system using innovative technology.
Commitment to customers
Green-eat! or leave it.
If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.
The pilot project, which is supposed to start in the first semester of 2020 with the support of the SDG Accelerator, will introduce the first green-eat! vending machine in Campus Biotech, most likely in the SDG Solution Space in Geneva.
In order to keep the vending machine stocked with food and functioning properly, green-eat! has identified two business options:
Extended responsibility for partners: the food partners would take care of the whole supply chain of the system, starting from the preparation of the meals, filling up the vending machine and collecting and washing the reusable containers.,
Reduced responsibility for partners: green-eat! would be in charge of running the whole business, including the logistics of the supply chain and relying on partners only for food production.
The main mission of green-eat! as well as the means to achieve it are novel:
The machine will provide a diverse, vegetarian and vegan friendly choice of meals, composed mostly of seasonal, local and healthy ingredients.
The envisaged vending machine comes with some additional environmentally friendly features that other machines don’t appear to have. Notably a dynamic pricing system to help avoid food waste which will automatically lower the prices of the products as they are approaching their expiration dates, and solar panels to increase the share of green energy usage to power the machine.
- A great market potential because it will bring benefits to nature, consumers and also to partners such as supermarkets, food providers or restaurants.
- Increase products availability and geographical outreach of pre-made meals.
- Keep food consumption convenient for consumers, promote sustainable consumption to them and also increase the selling capacity and reputation of the partners that use the vending machine; and finally help reduce single-use plastic packaging consumption in pre-made meals.
- The vending machine would have to be filled up with food on a regular basis, this does not guarantee that all the fresh food is going to be sold before the expiration date, thus there is a risk of generating some food waste. However, greeneat! plans to mitigate this risk by implementing the dynamic food pricing system.
- The location of the vending machine could be a leverage for selling fresh food inside the vending machine but at the same time it could affect the access for customers to buy the ready made meals. Therefore, as a mitigation strategy the pilot project is meant to be implemented in Campus Biotech, most likely in the SDG Solution Space, this way it can be guaranteed that students from the MIHDS and employees from Campus Biotech would be potential customers during the private beta version.
- The energy consumption of the vending machine could have a high carbon footprint. Even though this is not a certain fact because it would depend on the characteristics of the vending machine that is expected to be customized in Shenzhen, it is something that green-eat plans to have into consideration at the moment of the purchase of the vending machine and also mitigate to some extent with the solar panels.
Supermarkets, like Coop, are likely to support the project, because they already have strong concern and commitment to stopping plastic packaging and finding sustainable packaging solutions such as introducing reusable containers.
Coop has strategic interest in launching project to limit the use of plastics and packaging in its supermarkets and restaurants. There already exists a partnership between Coop and reCIRCLE which is the Swiss company of reusable containers. They work together to reduce the plastic containers in the take-away business. Since Coop owns 2458 outlets and stores in Switzerland, it is possible to make use of Coop’s massive impact and its logistics network to implement the project.
reCIRCLE is the first Swiss system of multipurpose containers for take-aways. It offers reusable containers to replace the classic disposable ones. The containers are made from PBT and the lid from PP. The materials comply with the requirements of EU Regulation No. 10/2011 and the Swiss Ordinance on Materials and Articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs. The supply of aggregates is primarily made in Europe.
According to a Life-Cycle-Analysis made by the company, the reusable containers are more sustainable than single use plastic packaging, even when considering the washing part, in a scenario where one container is used around 200 times (reCircle).
La Ritournelle is a “traiteur à vélo” meaning that it collects products from the suppliers and provides food for catering by bike; it offers a wide range of local products from the Canton of Geneva and as often as possible organic; it sells products at affordable prices; it offers a takeaway service with glass containers with a deposit.
Those elements align with the principles of green-eat!. Even though their interest in working with green-eat! has not been proved yet, La Ritournelle could be willing to work with this project in order to expand its sells across Geneva by offering their products in the green-eat! vending machines.
A survey was conducted among people who were identified as potential and initiale targets for this project, to know their willingness of using the vending machine, and ask for their opinions on the project. The survey received 74 responses; more than half of the answers are from university students (33% bachelor, 25% master, 1% doctorat). Almost half of the respondents (46%) stated that they already buy products from the vending machines; they use it on a daily basis (4%), weekly (19%) and monthly (25%). The products purchased from the vending machine are mainly beverages (43%) and snacks (52%), and local food like rice, pasta, beans, pre-made meals like sandwiches, salads, organic vegetables and fruits are desired in the vending machine. The incentives for people to use the vending machine instead of going to supermarkets are the availability (64%), proximity (30%), and even the plastic-free packaging (31%). Finally, the respondents show positive attitude towards the Green-eat vending machine proposed by the project (around 56% find the idea useful or very useful), and they would prefer a cash refund system when containers are returned. Furthermore, they support the idea that the aforementioned food products normally packaged in plastic should be put in reusable containers and sold in the vending machine, and they also suggest that the project could be implemented not only in Geneva but also in other areas.
The choice of further locations throughout Geneva was made by taking into consideration the results of the survey, so the target population will be primarily composed of people living relatively far from supermarkets and/or other food sellers and where the choice of pre-made meals is quite limited, especially during closing hours. In addition, given the academic and professional background of those who answered positively in the survey, it was decided to target places where students and young professionals are concentrated.
One example of places fitting the description above is the student residence “Cité-Universitaire”. The map below shows the location of the student campus relative to the closest supermarkets selling ready made meals like Migros and Coop. Alternatively, the only quick food option (within walking distance of 50 to 100 meters) during closing hours is a Pizzeria located on the campus.
Cooffee ground reusable container
- expenses: human resources, marketing, production equipment, rent payment
- incomes: profit and consumer use, selling capacity
The global production of plastic has grown nearly 200-fold from 2 million tonnes in 1950 up to 381 million tonnes by 2015 (Our World in Data, 2018).
Notably, is the plastic packaging industry which is the leading sector using the largest amounts of plastic. In fact, as the following figure shows, plastic packaging is responsible for almost half of the global plastic waste (Our World in Data, 2018).
As far as Switzerland is concerned, a report from the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment estimates annual plastic pollution at 5.12 million kilograms in the Confederation (le News, 2019). Plastic pollution represents around 0.7% of the 710 million kilograms of plastic consumed in Switzerland every year. Most of the pollution is micro plastic (85%) which are pieces of plastic of 5mm or less in diameter (le News, 2019). One of the main contributors to the plastic pollution in Switzerland is the pre-made meal industry due to the massive use of single-use plastic packaging that food requires. For example, more than 1 million single use plastic containers were used daily in public spaces in 2008 alone in Switzerland (Swiss Confederation, 2008). Furthermore, over 75% of the 1,000,000 tonnes of plastic consumed in one year is disposable packaging material (Swissinfo, 2018).
The system map shows how this situation generates unsustainable consumption patterns with regards to plastic pollution, and what the possible intervention points are. It becomes clear that in the absence of a waste management system which can completely remove plastic waste from the biosphere and atmosphere, other solutions must be taken into account, such as substitutes of single-use plastic packaging, in order to reduce plastic consumption in the first place.
green-eat! pitch for Goodwall