The EcoBuy app awards benefits in the form of rewards points to consumers who use the app after they have bought items coming to the end of their shelf-life.
The app was designed by NTT Docomo Inc., Japan’s largest mobile carrier, while the Tokyo metropolitan government is spearheading the trial.
The project was launched at a Mini Piago supermarket in the city and could eventually be rolled-out nationwide.
In the store, there are about 30 designated food items — including everyday staple foods such as bread, sashimi and milk — with stickers stating “Item for EcoBuy”, together with the expiration date.
To participate in the anti-waste project, customers use the EcoBuy app to take photos of the receipts of purchase of the eligible products and the expiration dates, and upload them.
Once the designated centre confirms the purchase, and that it has met the required conditions, the customer will receive points equal to about 20% of the purchase value to be used with Docomo, as well as smartcard credits for e-commerce giant Rakuten.
Aside from registering points, the EcoBuy app can show users the latest information about the food items included in the project, alert them of best-before dates and consume-by dates of the items they purchased that are approaching, and even provide recipes for the food items purchased.
“We will aim to continuously resolve the problem of food loss by improving consumer awareness about food loss problem and encouraging reduction of waste volume,” said NTT Docomo.
The app can be used until the end of February, whereupon the project will be evaluated.
New solution, old problem
Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry (MAFF) estimates food waste in Japan to be about 6.21 million tonnes a year. Of this amount, less than half is thrown out from homes.
The EcoBuy project is part of an ongoing effort by Japan to reduce the huge amount of food being disposed of by food companies and retailers.
Terushi Ito, president of 99Ichiba Co., which runs the Mini Piago store, added: “By using the smartphone application and by giving points to consumers who purchased foods with the best-before and expiration dates, it is possible to reduce food loss.”
“If we can reduce the volume of food waste, the labour cost for disposing of it will also be decreased.”
Last year, Japan retail giant Aeon Co. announced its goal to slash food waste by half, by 2025. As part of this move, the company said it planned to change the best-before date on processed food items to have the year and the month, but not to state the exact day.
Other countries have also been getting in on apps to counter food waste, such as in Singapore. Last September, the Treatsure app was launched with 10 merchant partners, mainly bakeries and confectionery stores.
At the end of the day, surplus food may be offered online at a discount of 20% to 30%. Users can reserve these items with the app, then head to the store and pay within 25 minutes to collect the items.