Prevent + Reclaim + Rethink Food Waste

This is a repost of Heatherlee's idea submission for the Food Waste Challenge [also found here]. There are only 4 days to submit an idea before the feedback phase, get your ideas in and link back to the MSP OpenIDEO Chapter page


Reclaim + Rethink: Mobilizing the War Against Food Waste through City Wide Challenges & Door-to-Door Composting

After looking at the research it’s clear that we Americans need to shift our feelings toward food. We need to aggressively incentivize people to behave differently. We need scalable solutions that cross every cultural chasm. It requires hundreds of thousands of people to change.

To combat food waste we need equal parts prevention, recycling and rethinking- ongoing! This isn’t just a one and done solution.


20 major cities are invited to partake in 4 quarterly challenges. At the end of the program the five cities with the greatest participation get special funding toward related food waste projects in their communities, plus their populations get to trial the RECLAIM program (below). Each city’s impact will be measured and shared along the way, igniting a nationwide campaign for the global war on food waste.

These campaigns would spread via social media and create a platform that makes food waste a topic of conversation that can’t be ignored. 

Quarter 1: New Year
#UnwastedJanuary campaign
(further define later) Example: Get thousands of people to make a New Year resolution and challenge them to complete the first 31 days of January getting Unwasted!

Quarter 2: Independence Day
#UnwastedFreedom campaign
(further define later)

Quarter 3: Halloween
#UnwastedTrickorTreat campaign
(further define later)

Quarter 4: Thanksgiving
#GiveThanksNoWaste campaign
(further define later)

The challenge campaigns would play off of our nationally recognized holidays and could even target certain local or cultural customs, challenging the way we think and act toward food in every context.

To test this idea out, MSP OpenIDEO would like to experiment locally by getting 20 tri-state counties to participate in challenges this Thanksgiving and New Year season. We will measure our impact and launch a pilot RECLAIM program in the spring.



Door to Door Compost Pickup
We pay YOU to pick up your compost.

Remember when the milkman used to come bring your weekly milk? What if a weekly team came to collect your compost? What if you actually got PAID for giving up your food waste?

Taking into account families with several kids and picky mouths, preventing food waste can be tricky. A lot of attention goes into making sure kids get a balanced diet or making sure they eat enough. Parents need to be largely incentivized or else they won’t bother.

Home cooked meals involve work: shopping, prepping, doing the dishes, cleaning. Food waste is hardly a topic of concern for most families.

But what if it was? What if it was part of the kids’ chore schedule? What if moms and dads reminded their kids to save the dinner scraps in the same way they remind their kids to put on sun block or eat their vegetables? 

Creating an easy, symbiotic relationship

  1. We give you a bin.
  2. You save your food scraps.
  3. We come collect it once a week.
  4. You get paid.
  5. We inform you how we use it.

Baby steps to new norms
Paying people to give us their food waste, mobilizing a national door-to-door compost service could be just what we need to start getting families involved in the solution. Maybe we don’t need more products or clever apps, we need more families who genuinely care!

  1. We invite you to do more.



Changing behaviors forever
Phase 1 and Phase 2 get people to take action. The Prevention happens at the city or county level and the Reclaim occurs in homes at the family level. But making sure the behaviors stick requires not just short term shifts in behaviors but a holistic shift in thought.

How might we build on each campaign to drive measurable change over an extended period of time? How do we shift our perspectives on food indefinitely?

Prevention = Education
We can partner with schools and focus directed efforts at younger generations via social media and community outreach. Locally, student groups can host events during the citywide quarterly challenges and help us spread the Reclaim phase in dormitories and public arenas. At each phase, we're looking for links to change how we think.

Linking food waste efforts to a bigger picture
- world hunger
- greenhouse emissions
- water scarcity
- economics

By making this a citywide competition and by incentivizing households to start saving their waste we can mobilize thousands, hopefully millions, to start acting differently. Along the way, we’ll make sure they start thinking differently as well.

Instead of, “Just get 5 they’re only $.99.” we become more mindful of our needs and the needs of others. Instead of, “Toss it I have 3 more” we start thinking, how can I make sure this goes unwasted? We say more stuff like, “Don’t throw that out, let me show you something..”

We start building gardens together, not because we need to log volunteer hours but because we actually care about what happens if we don’t.

More people believing in change
It is important that we link our behaviors to worldwide issues. But this isn’t about forcing people, this is about people believing in this change and believing that what they do (or don’t do) every day makes a difference. 

Communications & Positive reinforcement
Rather than stressing issues caused by our food waste behaviors, we will stress the impact. We will stress how preventing and reusing, even in small quantities, solves problems. We will stress how each week they participate, they are doing good for our planet. 

We will keep every community member informed on what’s being produced with their donations. Maybe it’s a large accordion infographic that shows the number of fruits or vegetables regrown that month.

Maybe it’s a photo card from a family that you helped (Your family specifically helped this family start a garden!) Maybe we partner with local media. Maybe restaurants and grocers spread the word.

There are countless ways we can communicate our impact.The crux will be powerful messaging and photos, local stories as proof, real stories of before and after. By showing each household the tangible difference they are making, we start shifting our thoughts from me/my family to us/our families. We move toward salvaging more, giving more and caring more. 

We start a new relationship with food.


Action Steps
With funding we’d get right to work!

Step A: Foundational interviews & field work

Step B: Pitch a partnership to 3-5 local organizations already working to combat food waste or linked challenges such as Net Zero, Peace Coffee, and Impact Hub.

Step C: Cross pollination relationship building

Step D: Kickstart a local Thanksgiving or New Years campaign in at least 5 metro counties.

Step E: Pilot the door-to-door (We Pay You!) compost service locally.

Step F: Partner with at least 1 other leader in another city/state to compare outcomes and learn from others.


Be sure to check out all the other ideas for this challenge and cheer us on in the upcoming feedback and refine phases. Do you want to help us pilot this concept? How would you iterate on this idea?  Leave a comment below!

Hope to see you at the September chapter call!
Sincerely, Heatherlee