Convenient Compost

Awareness and Visioning:

Food waste is a major global issue and is considerably worse in the United States. Thirty to forty percent of food supply in the U.S. gets thrown away and goes to landfills (Cooper 2020). Food waste in landfills produces higher levels of greenhouse gases because the organic materials decompose anaerobically and due to the lack of oxygen. This becomes methane instead of carbon dioxide. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas, so the phenomenon contributes more to climate change than if the material was used otherwise. Unfortunately, there will always be some food waste from households, but society needs to use this waste as a resource. It is truly a resource, not waste, because it can be used as source materials. Envisioning the future of food waste, we would like to see a future in which no food gets wasted and thrown in landfills. All food scraps should be reused or repurposed whether that is through compost, biogas, or animal feed. To accomplish this the waste must be collected. Our project aims to make the disposal of one’s food waste accessible to all socioeconomic levels, races, ethnicities, and abilities. We would also like to incorporate renewable energy into our system possibly using solar power and electric transport vehicles. Our system will also efficientize routes and use local facilities to decrease transportation needs.  Some power dynamics that will have to be addressed by this project are the city, land, and communities. Getting approval for land use could hypothetically cause some friction between the community and government. Other power dynamics to consider would be between the sanitation department and the companies that produce the biogas and/or fertilizer. Overall, our project will utilize stakeholders from the community, the government, and the private sector to create a more sustainable future in which food is not wasted.


Composting for Convenience, was inspired by Sweden and Japan's sustainability efforts. In Sweden, grocery stores have machines that collect plastic bottles in return for compensation. Our system follows this model, but with food waste rather than plastic. In Japan, people must pay to dispose of their food waste. Our machines would be the same infrastructure as the Japanese model, but with similar programming of the Swedish recycling system. 

Future Vision Article: Walmart, Kroger, Target and Other Major Supermarkets Implement Food Waste Program Nationwide

With about one third of all food in the U.S. going to waste, we are finally seeing major food distributors taking charge and offering new programs that solve the issues at hand(Cooper 2020). Many of us know that the U.S, as a whole has been a big player in carbon emissions when it comes to our changing climate. In 2023, we saw a Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh roll out a new program working with the U.S. government and local sanitation departments to offer easier compost drop offs for shoppers. In 2023, this program was offered at Whole Foods starting out nearest populated parks like Union Square & Bryant Park locations in Manhattan. After a year of a promising amount of participants, the program grew to all locations nationwide. Because of this success, other companies are now noticing the overwhelming use of this program, companies like Walmart are now doing the same.  How was Whole Foods, a leader in this program so successful? In 2021, they pulled together a team to design this system with the goal to grow accessibility of local composting, grow their financial status, and deliver higher numbers of foot traffic. When the program was rolled out in 2023, shoppers at Whole Foods could drop off their compost before making their weekly grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Once the food was dropped off, the customer would scan their app, the compost machine would weigh their contributions and generate the amount of energy & carbon the individual just saved. The customer would then go on to seeing how their contribution saved them money each week by composting and shopping for food at Whole Foods. The ease of this service attracted more customers to shop at Whole Foods, as it not only saved them money, but allowed for incentives to easily play their societal role in reversing the damage done so far to the environment. In 2025, when Walmart’s stock saw a dip, they realized the consumer market wanted an ethical change in their shopping experience with them. When asked about their role in the Green New Deal, Dan Smith, C.F.O. of Walmart stated, “We have looked at the success of Whole Foods and how they used this new system to deliver all around beneficial goals in climate change to the green new deal. We are already working with AOC’s teams to deliver a similar system in Walmart’s nationwide.” By now, the consumer has shifted to more online shopping since the pandemic in 2020, thus retailers were already hit with in-store shopping experiences. Whole Foods was able to lead the way in not only a more ethical and sustainable approach to in-person shopping, but a successful model for incentivizing their experience. Major supermarkets are already speculating a rise in the economy again and a 50% dip of the U.S.’s carbon emissions by the end of the fiscal year with this new program. 

Baseline mapping: 

Our key elements for this project address time, rituals, assumptions, and money. Firstly, we remove the pain point of time. By locating the composting collection at the grocery store, we combined these activities for convenience. It only takes one trip to get your groceries and dispose of food waste. Due to the fact that grocery shopping is done weekly and sometimes more frequently, it provides the perfect timeline to eliminate smell. The combining of activities also removes barriers when it comes to rituals. It is challenging to create new habits, but our system builds on the existing habit of grocery shopping and bringing a reusable bag. The only additional routine that is being created is placing one's food waste in the collection tote rather than the garbage can. We want to change the narrative around food waste. Currently, it is considered gross, smelly, expensive, and time consuming. To further motivate people, we used sustainability principles to remove barriers and connotations from composting. The tote is specifically designed to reduce smell and mess. The removable lining makes disposing of one's food waste as simple as taking out the trash. As everyone is already familiarized with taking out the trash or recycling, it also normalizes saving one's food scraps. The collection tote is also designed to reduce smells as it is airtight. The bag can also be used as a grocery bag which is convenient, specifically with the normalization of plastic bans. Financially, Whole Foods is noted as an upscale grocery option to many and is perceived as non-accessible as a whole. We plan to fight this narrative and make our system more attractive to all with monetary incentives which grow the consumer base and provide a tangible reason to compost rather than relying on the fear of climate change. There are incentives such as savings on next grocery visits and monetary rewards in account. If our food waste system is able to successfully provide these financial benefits, then the act of composting will provide greater outreach and solutions on providing healthier food options to those of lower income. 


Our project solely focuses on household food waste because on average, each American household wastes 31% of the food they purchase (Sharkey). This is incredibly problematic and is due to poor planning. Within the scheme of food waste, household food waste is entirely preventable and should not be going to the landfill. Collection is a very feasible task as it is already done nationally for trash and recycling; there is no reason that food waste should not be collected. Our stakeholders go beyond Whole Foods as a company, we anticipate cross collaboration with the NYC sanitation department, local compost sites, and local gardens.This relationship will enable less transportation and therefore fewer carbon emissions for compost pick-up and distribution. 


Overall the system was designed by thinking of the customer service journeys. By doing this, we were able to deliver more realistic possible outcomes of what a system like this could provide for the users and Whole Foods as a company. We outlined our stakeholders: Whole Foods, the direct employees, the consumer, the community around Union Square, NYC sanitation, local compost companies, local gardens, and local soil manufactures. In doing so, we know that our project will be detailed to show how our system is beneficial in all markets economically, socially, ethically, and environmentally. In terms of our system being truly circular, there is still some room to grow within the materiality of the infrastructure. Most food waste storage containers and vending machines are made out of metal and or plastic. This is the aspect in which we identify some sustainability issues as food waste collection will be done on foot or public transportation, food waste drop off will be done using a fleet of electric or biogas trucks, and the deliberate use of local facilities. 


Our key obstacle going forward into the 2020s is the creation of partnerships with grocery stores. Though we predict that grocery stores will be on board, especially when we can demonstrate increased customer traffic and satisfaction. Consumers are already demanding more from the retailers they choose to purchase from and Convenient Compost provides a tangible way in which people can challenge grocery stores to be better. As the mindsets of the public changes, more grocery stores will partner with Convenient Compost to better serve their needs, their customers needs, and environmental necessities. 

Phase C: Creative solutions

To solve the problem of household food waste in New York City, we redesigned the current composting system to increase participation, be accessible, reduce time demands, improve convenience, and decrease the amount of food going in landfills. To accomplish this, we focussed on the Union Square area as a case study. The current composting system in Union Square and the greater New York City area is run by GrowNYC and the Sanitation Department. GrowNYC has compost collection areas at the farmers market in Union Square four days a week and is run mostly by volunteers. This collection location collects about 380 to 800 gallons of food waste a day and only has about 330 participants weekly. This is inadequate for a city of millions. 


Our system, Composting for Convenience, enables compost collection in grocery stores. Motivated by incentives, customers drop off their food waste during their weekly trip to the grocery store with the help of our machines, app, and collection tote. The machines are manufactured using repurposed metals for durability. The machines are the same design as the Japanese models, but have software similar to that of Sweden’s plastic recycling system.  To the right see an example of the Japanese collection machine. Our system uses the same model, but with an additional feature of a QR code scanner. 


The app tracks the amount of food waste in weight deposited during each trip. This enables consumers to reflect on their waste in an effort to reduce it. This figure is also displayed as the amount of carbon dioxide emissions prevented by composting food waste rather than it going to a landfill. This plays on the sustainability principle of motivating by hope rather than fear. By showing customers they are helping, it transforms connotations around wasting food from a guilt ridden activity to the idea that one can positively impact the world by disposing of their waste properly. The app also allows people to set goals to encourage food waste reduction. To motivate people to compost further,  our system features a social media function. This feature is similar to Venmo in which one can see the amount of carbon emissions your friends are diverting. This will add to the spirit of competition and social pressure. Customers also receive their incentives via the app. 


Incentives are an integral part of our system. Currently, there are no tangible motivators to compost. The idea of climate change alone is not enough for behavior change. Compost for Convenience pays people to compost using the funds generated from selling the composted food waste. One can choose between money or credits towards Whole Foods purchases. The conversion rate would have a disparity to encourage people to shop at Whole Foods more, making the partnership mutually beneficial. Money would be available to be transferred to bank accounts, venmo, or Paypal. 


Another aspect of our system is the food collection tote. The bag has an interchangeable liner that one disposes of when one deposits their food waste. This feature enables the rebranding of food waste as gross to something that is clean and tame. It also efficientize the system and creates fewer pain points for the grocery store to implement our system. It also doubles as a reusable grocery bag to limit the amount of items one has to bring. Though we acknowledge that this is designing for obsolescence, we feel that the benefits outweigh the costs. We did not specifically decide on a material for the bag as we believe more in depth research and experimentation on their specific carbon footprints would be necessary. We are considering various regenerative fabrics such as kombucha leather, soft bioplastics, algae plastics, and fruit peel leather. To reduce odors at home, store the tote in the freezer or refrigerator. To guide inexperienced composters, our system has the following guidelines about what can and cannot be composted. Materials that can be composted are: fruit & vegetable scraps, non-greasy food scraps (rice, pasta, bread, grains, cereal), coffee grounds & filters, tea bags, egg shells & nuts, cut flowers & houseplants, soiled brown paper products, potting soil. Materials that are not accepted: meat, fish, bones, dairy, fat, oil, greasy food scraps, animal waste, charcoal, coconuts, insect-infested plants, plastics, twist ties, rubber bands, or receipts.


From a technical standpoint, the following steps detail the consumers journey through the system: 

1. Using the bag provided, collect food waste throughout the week following the usage guidelines. 

2. When going to the grocery store, bring your food waste.

3. Enter the grocery store and log into the compost interface using the personalized QR code on the app. 

4. Deposit food waste in disposable bag. 

5. On the app, see the amount of carbon dioxide emissions prevented and amount of food wasted by weight. Share with friends!

6. See recommendations for foods to buy that are in season, recommended seasonal recipes, and coupons for Whole Foods. 

7. Receive compensation for food waste deposit. 

8. Replace bag liner.

9. Grocery shop.


From the perspective of the compost itself, food waste that has been deposited would be picked up by GrowNYC and or the sanitation department. Using a fleet of electric vehicles or biogas powered trucks, which are already currently being integrated into New York City’s vehicle fleet, the compost would be picked up from the grocery stores and transported to a local composting facility like Big Reuse. Delivery routes are strategically designed to use the least amount of energy possible. The food waste is then composted and sold to a local customer. Markets for the compost include botanical gardens, community gardens, and local soil vender.  
This system is beneficial for consumers and for grocery retailers. Composting for Convenience incentives people who use the system and like it to shop at stores who participate in the system; increasing the amount of customers, customer loyalty, and customer satisfaction. This system also makes luxury grocery items more accessible. In the case of Whole Foods, not everyone can afford to shop there, but by depositing food waste and earning points, people can get points and discounts to access healthy foods which also widens the store's customer base. Composting for Convenience can also aid in branding. Though we envision our system expanding to all grocery stores, the early phases of roll out stores who adopt this system will get recognition for their sustainable actions. We specifically choose Whole Foods as the first location because of their emphasis on environmentalism. 
Composting for Convenience is a good solution for the 20s because the majority of people have awareness of climate change. In the United States, the idea of composting is part of popular culture. Specifically among young people, composting is becoming a normal part of life. Many schools have adopted composting programs and more environmentally focussed curriculums. Presence of composting and sustainable goods on social media outlets like Instagram and Tik Tok are exposing composting to a whole new generation that is already actively concerned about climate change. People are interested in composting, but lack resources to act. With our system, it is very convenient for people to do their part. It is very marketable to young people as they are already familiar with the medium and the social media aspect of the system creates excitement around composting. Composting for Convenience makes composting more digestible for older generations as well. Instead of middle aged and older people thinking of composting as foreign, this system presents composting in a familiar manner. It closely resembles recycling and garbage collection. Composting for Convenience also crosses political barriers. It takes an action that is considered liberal environmentalism and reframes it in a mainstream capitalist mindset. This system is specifically viable for the 20s because the necessary technology is widely available and relatively accessible. Due to the fact that the app is the cornerstone of our system, it would not have been feasible in an earlier decade. 
Convenient Composting uses various sustainable design frameworks to provide a sustainable, regenerative experience. Our system challenges short-termism, is regenerative by default, rooted in place, is thoroughly inclusive, and creatively challenges systems. The current GrowNYC system falls prey to short termism. It is run by volunteers, is outdoors, and is labor intensive. Our system challenges short-termism by creating a stable infrastructure and partnership rooted in mutual gain. Convenient Compost is generative by default in our material sourcing. The materials used for the totes are made out of regenerative fabric, the electricity used to power the machines will be renewable, and the power provided for the vehicle fleet will be electric using renewable energy. Our system is also very much rooted in place. Each time a new grocery store implements this system, a new cycle will be created as everything is to be done locally. The compost collection, manufacturing, and distribution is all local to limit carbon emissions. Convenient Compost is also thoroughly inclusive. Once implemented in more grocery stores, there should be one in every community. It also makes foods more accessible via the points incentive program. This will increase access to healthy and organic foods by lowering price points. Most importantly, we are creatively challenging systems. We are taking a small local composting program and giving it the structure needed to expand globally. Overall, Composting for Convenience makes composting accessible, regenerative, and rewarding using sustainable design frameworks. 

Phase D: Deciding on priorities

When designing this project, our objective is to reach inclusivity, local design, and challenge short-termism. Our ultimate goal for “Convenient Compost” is to be in any grocery store nationwide by 2030. Through our research, we can see that the majority of people are concerned about food waste as “The US Environmental Protection Agency adopted federal targets to cut food waste by 50 percent by 2030. In 2016 a survey by the Ad Council of 6700 adults, 75 percent of respondents said that food waste was important or very important to them” (Sharkey). Considering the high concern for the issue, we believe given the right opportunity and incentives, this system will be successfully rolled out. By partnering with Whole Foods for our first collaboration in 2021 at one of the biggest high traffic stores in Union Square, we set the stage for realistic expectations and outcomes for our company to make growth throughout the 2020s. In the earlier stages of roll out, we will specifically seek other environmentally focused grocery retailers like Trader Joes to create a loyal customer base. High participation rates from these stores will aid in the expansion to brands who do not emphasize sustainability as we will have data and analytics to support our system. We imagine Convenient Compost to be successful in continuing partnerships with sister companies like Amazon and similar chains like Walmart, Target, Kroger, Publix etc. By keeping Convenient Compost its own brand while still partnering with grocery store chains, we will be able to control the system to ensure the guiding design principles remain honest and continue benefiting the environment as much as possible. It would also be note-worthy to mention how this company can even be taken public in the stock market to continue changing the mindset around the economy into creating sustainability as usual. 
The prototype for our solution is our app, with people more connected to a WFH lifestyle after the 2020 pandemic, we see consumers trending to digital commerce and rewards. With an easy to use and universal app, we know that our social media presence will market our prerogative to more consumers to help our system grow and expand throughout the 2020s. We also prototyped the food waste collection tote which can also be seen below. 

The App:

Work Cited
“Carbon Equivalency Calculator | Natur-Bag® Food Scrap Calculator.” n.d. Natur-Bag Compostable Bags and Liners.
Cooper, Ryan. 2020. “Food Waste in America: Facts and Statistics (2020 Update).” Rubicon: Software Company Offering Smart Waste and Recycling Solutions. August 25, 2020.
“Food Waste Is a Massive Problem—Here’s Why.” n.d. FoodPrint. Accessed May 4, 2021.
November 28, 2017 Margaret Brown. “How to Feed Hungry New Yorkers and Fight Climate Change,” August 15, 2018. 
“Union Square Greenmarket Monday | GrowNYC.” 2021. 2021.
US EPA, OLEM. 2016. “Excess Food Opportunities Map.” US EPA. June 8, 2016.
Sharkey, Lauren. “How Much Food Does the Average US Household Waste?,” February 9, 2020. 
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