In Milan, three projects to reduce food waste show that good design is participatory and thinks about everyone's wellbeing

Milan is one of the five cities involved in Reflow, a program funded by Europe Horizon 2020 with the aim of developing circular and regenerative cities through a new configuration of material and resource flows.

Three pilot projects were born from Reflow, signed by Polifactory (we talked about them here), OpenDot and WeMake, which aim to reduce food waste and which demonstrate that design is capable of creating real revolutions. Provided that we start from the idea of networking people, economic and productive realities and institutions.

Today we design together

Designing in a systemic and collaborative way means doing things together, with co-design processes that no longer have anything theoretical or ideological. But instead they use a pragmatic approach to find concrete, scalable and, above all, solutions whose effectiveness is proven by data and feedback. Complexity is a fact: it requires time, interdisciplinary collaborations and the construction of solid relationships between different players. But it is precisely being able to take on the complexity that changes not only the way we are designers, but also our way of life.

Virtuous practices for solving complex problems

To prove this, there are now many projects of different sizes and differently scalable. Botto, the newest member of the OpenDot Fab Lab in the context of Reflow, is a good example. It is a product-service born from the observation of the activity of the RECUP association for the redistribution of agri-food excesses within the Milan vegetable market. It is an IoT technological device (i.e. connected to the internet) that works on a Telegram channel.

Its function is to simplify all the operations concerning the redistribution of food that would otherwise be thrown away. From the communication to RECUP of the existence of excess products by local wholesalers and producers, up to the generation of a transport bill for the Red Cross which physically carries out transport and deliveries. Botto is simple to use, because it is the result of a shared planning, in which the problems of each stakeholder are taken into consideration.

Good design means listening and relating

"It seems a negligible detail, but it is not," explains Martina Giulianelli, OpenDot Project Manager. "Listening to the opinions, problems and, above all, the priorities of each party involved is essential. Because this is how a feeling of community and participation is generated which makes the project effective".

Solutions that fall from above don't work. Not only for a very human instinct to defend one's own territory, but also because an efficient idea is generated in the specificity of the different needs. And the relationship becomes transformative, no longer transactional. "We followed part of the project during the pandemic period. Paradoxically, working remotely facilitated the sharing process", continues the project manager. "We were able to focus on the individual voices, which freely traced the boundaries of their work and defined what the problems really were to be solved".

Blockchain-based certifications

Reflow has made available a Blockchain platform useful for the certification of material and product flows. One of the central nodes of the redistribution of excess food is solved thanks to the certified control of the product cycle: a declared and controllable path. Beyond the guarantees of the Blockchain, there is the collection of data useful for the intelligent planning of orders and purchases. Errors and imperfections in the production/purchase/distribution chain can be corrected and remedied by reading the data. A step that also facilitates and promotes the rational donation of food.

The process is based on the sharing of values ​​and objectives at the basis of the design process. This is a point raised by other European pilot teams as well. Designing together with the institutions (in Milan the project referent is the Municipality, which owns 90% of the company that manages the vegetable market) also means involving the various political and social representatives, so that city management shares super partes ecological transition.

The objectives that lead to the transition of cities towards circular and virtuous economies concern the institutions and the long-term management of urban and peripheral areas. It is for this reason that, despite the foreseeable succession of people and parties, the relationships between those who work in the management of the cities and the most operational base are fundamental.

Design that creates a new kind of community

Design is therefore capable of generating different and revolutionary practices, even in the communication between the different players. This is good news, because it is the transversal projects that work and give the most impactful results. "There is the possibility of using Botto in other areas of distribution, not only in the agri-food sector," explains Federica Mandelli, head of communication at OpenDot.

"This is what we hope will happen, to scale the project in a rational way and build new virtuous practices". A consistent and measurable goal, which speaks above all of the creation of an idea of community that, perhaps, is still missing. But above all of the feeling of reward and well-being that naturally derives from having the shared power to find solutions to problems.