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From Data to Action: Addressing Food Waste Through Innovation

In 2018, a pressing issue emerged at the campus canteen: food waste. With trays piling up with uneaten food, the question loomed: “With all the technology available to us, can we curb food waste on campus?”

Driven by a shared passion, Prof. Huamin Qu, and Prof. Kwang-Ting Cheng, with their expertise in data visualization and computer vision, decided to tackle this challenge together with a group of students. With a seed funding of 0.1 million HKD, the team collaborated with the Campus Management Office at HKUST and set up a camera at the LG1 canteen’s tray collection station to gather food waste data we were seeing.

As the project gained traction, more students joined the team, dedicating their Friday nights to discussing strategies for analyzing food waste and getting the community involved. The team spent countless hours labelling thousands of food waste images for model training. After months of hard work, the team successfully built an algorithm pipeline that could transform video clips into a series of data records. This breakthrough caught the attention of HKUST’s Sustainable Smart Campus Initiative, securing an additional 0.9 million HKD in funding for our project.

Video Object Detection And Transformation

A video processing pipeline that quantifies different types of food waste from video clips.

I joined the team in 2023, when the algorithm was stably running and analyzing the food waste data at the LG1 canteen in real time. As final-year computer science students, my groupmates and I were fortunate to be supervised by Prof. Qu. We developed a data visualization dashboard to raise awareness and stimulate reflection on the food waste problem among community members. In March, our food-saving campaign engaged 220 HKUST members and recorded over 800 food-saving actions. It was a rewarding moment when I saw the responses of the user survey, with 65% of respondents reporting improved meal planning and waste reduction, and 98% willing to invite friends to future similar activities. The project not only showcased the power of data visualization but also taught us the art of conveying complex insights in an easily digestible format.

Food Saving Campaign

Food Saving Campaign – Save Food, Win Free Meals!

Our team’s journey and findings were finally reported in a research paper accepted for presentation at the ACM Conference on Computing and Sustainable Societies (COMPASS 2023). This conference offered us an opportunity to share our experiences and learnings with peer researchers dedicated to leveraging computing systems for positive societal impact.

Foodwise Poster

FoodWise: Food Waste Reduction and Behavior Change on Campus with Data Visualization and Gamification (Link to source)

The journey of our team serves as a testament of innovation and collaboration in addressing societal challenges, and it will never stop. Recently, I became a MPhil student under the supervision of Prof. Qu at HKUST VisLab. While continuously tracking the food waste data and maintaining the system, my labmates and I are also exploring other projects that utilize technologies for social good, such as educational virtual reality for slope safety and digital twin for sustainable development under climate change. By sharing our story, we hope to inspire others to explore creative solutions and contribute to a more sustainable future for all.

– Guest post by Yue Yu (CSE, SENG)

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published November 2, 2023