Is there any other way of selling food on a massive scale than packaging it into disposable containers and labelling with barcodes? Can we avoid producing hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic boxes and bottles that become garbage just after emptying? After visiting the exhibition Good Design Award 2015 in Tokyo and observation of the Western trend called “zero waste”, I can say that a big, positive change in the food industry would not be easy, but is entirely possible.
More and more groceries, where food is not packaged in disposable plastic cups or bottles or wrapped with foil, are being opened in European and North American cities. Following the model of fruit and vegetable markets, customers bring their own containers or buy on a spot reusable packages and put into them their shoppings: fresh dairy products, vegetables, bread, soft drinks, oils, nuts, loose articles etc. The eco-friendly rule is simple: the less people buy food packaged in plastics, the less waste goes to landfill, rivers, seas and oceans.
According to the list prepared by Bepakt.com, the most of shops working in accordance with “zero waste” rule run in Germany, France and Spain. One such a store – Nagie z Nature – we can find in Warsaw.
The “zero waste” model is worth following, but can it be implemented only by small shops that operate in a niche and target to a relatively small group of the most environmentally conscious customers? Is there a chance that also chain grocery stores, where low prices and short time spent waiting at the checkout lines seem to be main values for clients, will reduce their contribution to the avalanche of plastic waste, by selling food without disposable packaging?
While in a small shop with a narrow product range, a checkout assistant can identify all products and manually operate the cash register, it is difficult to imagine how medium and large supermarkets would work without a system based on barcodes (which would naturally disappear with disposable packages). How to reconcile the “zero waste” trend, and the consequent disappearance of barcodes, with a strong need for every-day food available in popular grocery stores at affordable prices? An answer to this question comes from Japan, and it goes as follows: image recognition technology.
While Japanese clients have got accustomed to a wide choice of goodies, it is not easy for checkout assistants, especially for those who start their work, to remember names and codes of all pastries they sell. Usually, cashiers must recognise each item and manually record all sales on a cash register. They do mistakes quite often, which increases the time needed for the service. The solution to this problem is BakeryScan: a desk lamp–looking scanner that recognises at one go all bread and cakes brought to a checkout.
All groceries put on a tray (it replaces the basket) are recognised by the BakeryScan software and are automatically added to the bill. There is no need for scanning pastries one after another, which significantly reduces the time spent at the counter by every client.
The BakeryScan is not a prototype – it is a final product that consists of fully operational hardware and software. It is already in use in a growing number of Japanese bakers. Watch the video below to fully understand how the system does work. The most interesting part of the video lasts from 55 to 90 second.
BakeryScan displays on a customer-facing screen pictures, names and prices of recognized pastries. Despite the fact that it is not possible to bake two identical buns or croissants, the software does a good job of comparing and recognizing shapes and colors. It almost faultlessly matches all goodies to models saved in the memory.
If the BakeryScan faces a problem with identifying some pastries, it circles the unrecognized item with yellow line and asks the checkout assistant to indicate the right position. All results are stored in the database, which improve accuracy.
Although BakeryScan was not created with the environmental issues in mind (it was mainly designed to facilitate cashier’s work and to solve the problem of long queues in bakers), the device can contribute to reducing the demand for plastic packaging, if only it was implemented, along with non-prepacked food, to popular grocery stores on a mass scale.
I discovered the BakeryScan in Tokyo at the Good Design Award 2015 exhibition that gathered the best contemporary design from Japan. The event took place in Tokyo Midtown from 31 October to 2 November. If you have any questions regarding the BakeryScan device, you can send them directly to Mr Hisashi Kambe, the CEO of Brain Co. Ltd. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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