Future Expiration Date
Speculative design
2016, Mar–Jul

How can technology be used to prevent food waste?

This project depicts a future scenario in which a dynamic expiration date is used to prevent food waste. Its goal is to spark discussion about whether our relationship to food shall be handled by technology.

How do you feel about a package that communicates if your food is still edible?
¹ Das große Wegschmeißen ↗, WWF, June 2015

Context 18 million tons of food are wasted each year in Germany alone. 10 million tons of those could be avoided.¹ In 2016 the federal minister of food and agriculture, Christian Schmidt, pleaded for the abolition of the best before date ↗ – at least for dry goods.

42% of the surveyed population confuses the difference between best before dates with expiration dates.

Challenge We did not want to confine consumers how they should store their food. We rather wanted to support them in their actions and to increase awareness of their individual habits and the shelf life of their products. We tried to find a visual language that supports these goals without patronizing them.

ConceptWe predicted technological advancements which lead to a scenario in which packages can communicate the changing conditions of its content. The long life milk is choosen as an example to illustrate use-cases.

The expiration date adjusts immediately after opening

Design research & problems

Costumers of package free stores are already ecologically aware – that's why we discarded repackaging concepts.

We researched problems that result in food waste and attributed them to industry, consumer or society. Observations in a package free store and an interview with its owner were helpful for defining a context of use. In general their costumers are highly ecologically aware. That's why we discarded the concept of smart reusable packaging. We continued our research with grocery shopping of food that will soon expire, collecting and recording our own waste and even going dumpster diving.

Gartner Hype Cycle
Observations inside a package free store
Searching for groceries that soon expire
Open Monitor ↗ researches smart packaging
The minimum durability date can not take into account how something has been stored.

Studies show that people base their judgement of a food's edibility on best before dates. On the other hand the food industry is forced to dump products as soon as they overstep the minimum durability date. Both aspects result in preventable food waste.

Technological advances

In the future, tiny sensors printed inside packaging could enable us to analyze the condition of food in real time.

We extrapolate current technology trends into the future. Using smart dust ↗ – tiny sensors capable of communicating with each other – it could be possible to calculate the exact expiration date of our food. We assume that e.g. oxygen and temperature sensors are embedded in the food packaging which capture data from the environment. Based on this data a dynamic expiration date could be calculated in real time.

------> Our approach is to determine the exact condition of the produce and communicate changes visibly to the consumer.
The user should not be prompted to behave in a certain way, but learns about the ideal storage conditions by using the product.
Opening of the container
False storage
Ideal storage
Why do people rely on technology instead of using their senses?

Design for debateWe are aware that this concept likely never becomes a profitable or even sustainable product. The development of technologies offer great opportunities, but we have to assess possible consequences. We recognized that people go by technology to determine the edibility of a product. This would prevent food from being thrown away but do we really want to outsource our sensing to technology?

Presentation @HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd in 2016
Exhibition setup @HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd in 2016
Exhibition @Push Conference ↗ in 2016
Process of cooling down
Preferable is the usage of technology to help people decide instead of letting technology take over their decisions.

Conclusion This project aims to educate consumers about the difference between the minimum durability date and expiration date. In our opinion it is urgently necessary not to score food, which is why we refrain from using quality indicators or traffic light systems. People act individually, it must not be prescribed how they should handle their behaviour. Instead, a nudge should let everyone decide on their own how to store their products or within what time frame they consume them.

We should use technology to support decision-making instead of letting technology take over our decisions. One exception in our project is actual decay. Here we emphasize that it is necessary to point out the inedibility of the product.

Type of work

Speculative Design, Discursive Design
Emerging Technologies


Student Work, Summer Term 2016 with Barbara Schußmann ↗ and Markus Mettenleiter ↗

My role involves

Research, Conception, Visual Design, Animation

Other work ↓