A group of students from the University of Bristol have singled out a little-known area in which we needlessly waste food and found a way to tackle it.
The rise in popularity of salad bags in the UK – cheap, pre-packaged and ready-to-use salad – has sadly also led to a sharp rise in food waste. Despite their convenience, these bags often lay half-eaten at the back of the fridge and, due to their short shelf life, end up having to be thrown away. It is estimated that 45% of all salad products go to waste in the UK every year, as well as 68% of all bagged salad.
LettUs Grow has designed a solution to this incredibly serious waste problem. Using biotechnology, the company has designed a product which aims to enable the public to easily grow their own, fresh salad within their kitchen and therefore avoid the waste associated with salad bags whilst still retaining their convenience. This is about more than just food however, LettUs Grow also wants to avoid both the packaging and processing waste that goes into making the bags.
Their product is built on research currently being carried out at the University of Bristol. Two designs have been pioneered, a ‘Herb Garden’ with the capacity for 4 plants, and a larger ‘Salad Bar’ that can grow up to 16 plants. They use LED lighting and soilless technology to allow people to grow salad plants and herbs anywhere in their home. Red and Blue LED lighting are used to substitute sunlight, with an ambient light sensor to conserve the amount of energy used. A soilless system is achieved through hydroponics and NASA-inspired fogponics, creating a water mist in the place of soil. This maximises water efficiency and minimises the need to continuously water the plants. The plants themselves are grown within a growth medium, LettUs Grow suggests using a coconut husk and clay beads but experimenting is encouraged.
It also comes with an app, E-cosystem, which allows you to check up on the status of your plants and also reminds you when you need to water them or adjust light levels. LettUs Grow is also focusing on the future, as the app will contain educational resources which will teach young children about healthy, self-sustainable living.
We caught up with Ben, one of the founding members of LettUs Grow, to find out some more about the project.
Where did the inspiration for LettUs Grow come from?
I initially met Jack [founding member of the project] after reading Peter Diamandis' book Abundance, I had finished the chapter on vertical farming and food waste that afternoon and I met him at a networking event. He told me about his idea for consumer scale aeroponics, and as a regular eater of salad I got it immediately and was hooked! From there we started developing the base understanding of what has proven to be a really broad field.
Did living in Bristol - being such a Green city - influence the project at all?
The university, especially within engineering, in its teaching makes you very aware of the numerous ecological/environmental issues in what we do. On top of this, the progressive nature of Bristol’s inhabitants has been amazing for building support behind our project.
Is there a potential social aspect to LettUs Grow? In particular via the E-cosystem app?
We see it very simply, the current gardening community love sharing tips and advice. On top of this, there is a wealth of knowledge available in the crowd. We wanted to both automate our systems so they're quick and efficient if you want to be very hands off, but also a lot of people like to tinker and play. So we think it's really important to bring that sharing economy to a platform to make it easy for people to share 'Growth Recipes' and advice as well as the potential for future food sales through the app on a community level.
What direction do you see LettUs Grow taking in the future?
It's definitely very ambitious but we'd love to see every home with a herb/salad/vegetable growing facility. Think of it like an extra fridge/freezer unit but it grows all of your veg throughout the week. That would massively disrupt the food system, reduce waste and connect children with where their food comes from.
Still in the development stage, LettUs Grow has developed a number of working prototypes and intends a retail launch for early 2017.
Take a look at their website for more information: http://www.lettusgrow.org/