London-based industrial designer Solveiga Pakštaitė is working hard to combat the massive issue of food waste. In the UK alone, 60 percent of food that is thrown away is still edible. This is largely down to our blind faith in the accuracy of expiry dates.
The shocking truth is that while expiry dates are mandatory, there is no regulations around how they are calculated. Food companies err to the side of caution, choosing expiry dates that are set to the worst-case scenario rather than a realistic estimate of how long food might last.
Pakštaitė’s mission to create a more reliable system began during a six-month work placement she did with a blind charity in the UK. She interviewed participants on their daily routines, challenges and hacks, and was impressed by their resourcefulness. However, no one really had a work-around for food waste, and Pakštaitė discovered that this was contributing to unhealthy choices to buy long-life and processed foods, which in turn was leading to higher incidents of diabetes in blind people.
Back at Brunel University, the idea for a tactile label (that would be readable by blind and visually impaired people) was partly inspired by the mottled skin of an overripe banana. Imagine, though Pakštaitė, if food packaging could be like that banana skin and show you when the food inside was spoiling.
Working with scientists, Pakštaitė developed the Mimica Touch, a label which contains a gel filling that goes from smooth to bumpy at the same pace as the food inside spoils. Not only is the gel an accurate reflection of the shelf-life of the food, it also reacts faster if it isn’t kept in optimum cold conditions, just like food left out of the fridge does. When the label feels smooth the food is still fresh and viable, but as soon as the label feels bumpy the food has turned.
The concept won the UK James Dyson Award in 2014 and Pakštaitė’s company Mimica was founded in 2017. The multidisciplinary team is working towards launching the labels imminently. Keep your eyes on the supermarket shelves.
Solveiga Pakštaitė was selected to speak at antenna 2020 by international creative platform Design Indaba as one of 10 graduates from the best global design schools. The event takes place as part of Dutch Design Week. The projects each tackles one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the United Nations (UN) that hope to guide us towards a healthier, happier and more equitable future.
For more of the presentations from antenna 2020 and for inspiring design talks and interviews from the best thinkers in the world, subscribe to the Design Indaba channel.