Liu Jichen and his team develop a WeChat mini-program to call for action against food waste. PROVIDED TO TEENS
Multiple actions have been taken to fight food waste, but one young man is making a big difference with technology.
Liu Jichen, 23, a student from Tsinghua University, has developed a WeChat mini-program called “Clear Your Plate”. After a meal, users can open the mini-program and take a picture of their empty plates. Once the image is recognized by the AI, students can collect points and use them to buy gifts or purchase charity meals donated to children in impoverished rural areas.
Liu and his team, together with other organizations, launched the “Clear Your Plate” campaign in November for the third year. It has swept over 1,017 universities across the country.
The one-month campaign attracted almost 1.6 million participants and collectively reduced food waste by 862 tons and carbon emissions by 3,337 tons, The China Youth Daily reported.
The idea to develop such a mini-program came from Liu’s experience in a canteen. In 2017, he found that a restaurant would give diners who finished off their food a card and offer small gifts after a certain number of cards had been collected.
“Technological innovation is a good way to reduce food waste,” Liu thought. He organized a team of 20 members to work on the project at the end of 2017. To solve the AI’s problem of identifying photos of empty plates, the team spent half a year collecting over 100,000 samples in canteens and restaurants. In 2018, the mini-program was officially put into operation on Oct 16, World Food Day. They then launched a campaign later that year.
“There were so many unknowns in research and development. For our team members, the biggest psychological challenge was whether we were confident enough to complete it,” Liu said. They not only achieved their goal, but now, the mini-program has more than 5 million registered users, according to Liu.
Thanks to his innovative and practical actions concerning social issues, Liu, along with the other 16 members, stood out among more than 7,600 candidates around the world to be inducted into the 2020 Class of Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals by the UN Office of the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth in September.
“We hope our efforts can start a new trend among the younger generation by encouraging them to cherish their food and develop the habit of thrift,” Liu said.
“Through the campaign, we hope to inspire everyone to take action against food waste and to contribute Chinese wisdom and solutions to global food security challenges,” he added.