Zero Percent

Rajesh Karmani from Urbana, IL

The Project

More than 40 percent of world's food is lost or wasted. In the U.S., restaurants alone throw away more than $8B worth of edible food. On the other hand, more than 15 percent Americans relied on some food assistance program during 2011. In addition, this is a tremendous waste of resources that go into producing this food, resulting in environmental degradation. This presents a major inefficiency and an opportunity in matching supply with demand. The key problem is that restaurant inventory has short shelf life and is highly perishable. In 2011, there was no easy way for restaurants to move their surplus.

Zero Percent aims to bring food waste down to literally zero, and simultaneously reduce hunger and protect the environment. Its first-of-its-kind, real-time technology combines web, email and mobile apps to enable restaurant operators to post donations and last-minute discounts on surplus food. When a donation is posted on the Zero Percent platform, the system automatically matches the donation with volunteers at local agencies who can pick up the donation. When a discount is posted on the platform, the system alerts potential customers about the availability of the discount. Some obstacles that the team has had to overcome include addressing liability concerns of business and signing up agencies on a technology platform. A sustained focus on simple and holistic solution is helping Zero Percent to overcome these challenges.

The Progress

Zero Percent has saved more than 5,000 pounds of food from being thrown away in Urbana, IL, thus far. Using feedback from agencies and businesses currently using the app, we are able to refine the system so that it is as easy to use as possible, even for very old volunteers, yet intricate in its matching algorithms. There are already businesses that use the app almost daily to make donations. On a weekly basis, consumers have access to a number of deals posted by businesses. Consumers are also able to use Zero Percent to see what businesses in the community donate their food to local agencies so that they can make an informed decision when deciding where to patron.

To keep moving toward its mission of helping every restaurant in the U.S. achieve zero food waste, we are working to move outside of the Urbana, IL community. In order to do this, we must create a strong national network of agencies. We also want to create videos and infographics that show businesses, agencies and consumers how to use Zero Percent. But this expansion isn’t our only goal; we want to create a movement. Through increased awareness about food waste, we believe that that consumers will start to take action and demand that businesses do that same. We plan on organizing lectures, creating a compelling documentary and launching a creative social media campaign all centered around the impact of food waste and emphasizing what each person can do to help move the world one step closer to eliminating food waste.

The Team

I am a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois studying computer science and the co-founder of Zero Percent. After developing my first mobile app, I was in search of a meaningful problem to solve. And I came across the book American Wasteland, written by leading food waste expert, Jonathan Bloom, which inspired me to take action towards eliminating food waste. In order to carry Zero Percent's mission forward, I had to leave my computer desk many times to speak with and engage local businesses and community agencies. I have been fortunate to obtain the help of MBA students on campus who are helping Zero Percent conduct market research and develop a strategy for enlisting businesses to participate.

Zero Percent has also partnered with a student organization on campus called Enactus to help expand it nationwide. Enactus strives to move entrepreneurial spirit into action for the greater good of the world. This team of six passionate undergraduate students is helping to establish relationships with agencies throughout the U.S., creating marketing materials for Zero Percent and is responsible for the execution of the food waste awareness campaign. The Zero Percent team and its partners are made up of individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, which enables amazing diversity of thought and is key for innovation. Together through collaboration, creativity, and a strong work ethic, we believe that we can achieve zero food waste in every community throughout the nation.

The Fearless Changemaker

I am a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois studying computer science and the co-founder of Zero Percent. After developing my first mobile app, I was in search of a meaningful problem to solve. And I came across the book American Wasteland, written by leading food waste expert Jonathan Bloom, which inspired me to take action towards eliminating food waste. In order to carry Zero Percent's mission forward, I had to leave my computer desk many times to speak with and engage local businesses and community agencies. I have been fortunate to obtain the help of MBA students on campus who are helping Zero Percent conduct market research and develop a strategy for enlisting businesses to participate. Zero Percent has also partnered with a student organization on campus called Enactus to help expand it nationwide. Enactus strives to move entrepreneurial spirit into action for the greater good of the world. This team of six passionate undergraduate students is helping to establish relationships with agencies throughout the U.S., creating marketing materials for Zero Percent and is responsible for the execution of the food waste awareness campaign. The Zero Percent team and its partners are made up of individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, which enables amazing diversity of thought and is key for innovation. Together through collaboration, creativity, and a strong work ethic, we believe that we can achieve zero food waste in every community throughout the nation.

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$10k Bonus Grant REI Adventure Trip

You may select this project to win one prize or both!

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