Distinguished Student Work

Document Type


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Julie Dowling, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy


Food waste in modern society is a problem which is quickly gaining traction. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more food reaches landfills than any single material in the trash. This wastes food resources, while 42 million Americans are food-insecure and in need. In order to prevent food waste from reaching landfills and incinerators, we must scrutinize the sources of waste and take novel measures to make use of all edible food. In this paper, we examine three main problems using mathematical modeling.

First, we created a model to see if food waste could be used to feed the food-insecure demographic of a state, using Texas as a test example. To model this we examined data about food waste percentage in North America and data about food production in Texas. We calculated food need based on the diets of children and adults, and computed the percentage of need that could be met using food waste. We found that between pessimistic and optimistic estimates, an average of 30% and 60% of food need can be met by food waste for demographics above and below the 185% poverty level.

After comparing generated food waste to the needs of the food-insecure in Texas, we examined food consumption traits and habits to determine the food waste for specific household types. These included consumer units of both low and high income with varying family dynamics and ages. To address the problem we evaluated the percent of a household's income spent on various types of food prepared at home, such as fruits, meat, and vegetables. Used data about the amount of food wasted at the consumer level by food type, we calculated the percent of a household's income spent on wasted food by income bracket. We then adjusted this model to include out-of-home food waste and household size, creating a cohesive model for all households.

Finally, we provided mathematical models of strategies for the repurposing of wasted food in Illinois. We found the value of specific food items and their rate of purchase from farms in Illinois over a one-year period. Our strategies redirected produce deemed physically unappealing to grocery stores, salvaging $2,396,640 of food that otherwise would have gone to waste. Other waste from the grocery stores is then brought to food shelters, or used in composting to provide both an economic and an environmental boon to the state.

Judge's Comments

Dear team 11286 and Coach Dowling,
Congratulations! Of the 913 papers submitted in this year’s MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge, your team’s solution has been selected to receive one of 22 honorable mention awards. You and your team should be very proud of this distinction, especially given the rigorous and intense scrutiny that each paper endured. Only 4% of the submitted papers were selected for recognition.


The team received an Honorable Mention at MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge 2018.

Only 4% of submitted papers received an Honorable Mention.

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