Reducing food waste

The challenge

How can we reduce our food related environmental footprint at work?

In this article

  • How we quantify and alleviate our environmental footprint at our Sydney office.
  • Prototyping solutions including reusable coffee cups, container fleets, and a BYO Lunch Club.
  • How we plan to incorporate appropriate digital technologies into our solutions.

We put together this project because we wanted to quantify and alleviate the environmental footprint associated with food packaging and waste at our Sydney office. Our current lunch catering practices use 8,097 kg of CO2 equivalent in energy and 2 720 889 litres of water per year. 

There's no reason why an office filled with intelligent, and socially conscious, engineers, designers, and planners can't do better. We just needed to find out how.

We kicked off this project by asking ourselves: 'how can Arup Sydney tread lightly?' By combining best practices in waste management and well-being with digital technology, we are working to empower our people, and their visitors, to make healthier and more sustainable food choices at work. We're also exploring the behaviours and habits that hold us back from choosing better options.

We’re doing this by acquiring qualitative and quantitative data related to our office’s catering and food packaging waste. We're measuring attitudes, beliefs, and practices around food sustainability in the office and developing a series of prototypes like reusable container fleets and Internet of Things (IoT) enabled devices to build recommendations on how we can reduce our collective environmental footprint.

One of our early findings was that despite having espresso machines in the office a large portion of our staff still like to go out to get their coffee. In the first two months of the project, the team prototyped and tested a solution that saved approximately 1,000 disposable coffee cups from becoming landfill. In the next stage of the project will scale this prototype, boost education within the office and explore more conscious and healthy catering options.

Human Centred Design

We found that the reusable cup fleets have been a success—particularly in reducing single-use coffee cups. Larger food containers haven't taken off so quickly. One obstacle here is that there is less social acceptance around using a reusable food contain than there is around using a reusable cup. Some food outlet staff were also reluctant to serve food in an externally supplied container. 

This challenged our assumption that the main driver for single-use food packaging is convenience. Social acceptance can be as much an obstacle as behaviour change. Next we're going to explore a BYO Lunch Club as a way to decrease container waste while increasing social interaction.

IoT technology presents tremendous potential for efficient meal delivery and container return. It may also have the potential to help quantify certain aspects of our employees behaviour.  Data analysis and prototyping still have a way to go, however, before we can make best use of IoT enabled prototypes such as bin-weighing scales.

Pushing our research in this space will help us further our mission to shape a better world, with an emphasis on smart buildings, digital master-planning, and healthy and sustainable workspaces.

Sam and Elizabeth getting their hands dirty in our Sydney office. Photo Arup


  • We need concrete, measurable actions that can be easily implemented to back up our good intentions. Identifying these actions means exploring the role our attitudes, beliefs and practices play in individual and collective action.
  • Container fleets can be successful in reducing single-use packaging, such as coffee cups. We're now striving to reduce our food related waste (BYO lunch club, anyone?) and provide healthy sustainable catering options.

This story was written by Jeff McAllister, as part of the Research Review. This series is produced by the Arup Australasia Research team; Alex Sinickas, Bree Trevena and Jeff McAllister with contributions from Sheda and Noel Smyth.

Lead Arup Researcher

Sam Diamond
Sam is a digital UX/UI designer in the Sydney team.

Ask Sam about

  1. How we're quantitatively monitoring and evaluating our waste production
  2. How we're looking at constructive ways to modify the behaviours and habits that prevent us from making healthy, sustainable food choices
  3. How we're exploring the use of internet of things and digital technologies in our prototypes, in order to improve data collection and behaviour feedback loops


Research TEAM

Elizabeth Gwilt is a consultant working in our environment & resources team
(Former) Project Manager, Advisory Services, Sydney office(Former) Consultant, International Development, Sydney office – now external consultant
Tom is an engineer working in our buildings team.

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