Thursday 20 March 2014

More food going to waste

Record 796,000 tonnes of it dumped, up 13.2 per cent last year from 2012: NEA
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 19 Mar 2014

EVERY day last year, each person in Singapore wasted an equivalent of one packet of economy rice or nasi padang.

All this added up to an astounding record of 796,000 tonnes - the weight of about 1,420 fully loaded Airbus A-380s - of food waste, according to National Environment Agency statistics released this month.

This marks a steep 13.2 per cent rise from the 703,200 tonnes dumped in 2012, and is the sharpest spike in at least six years. Before last year, food waste had typically gone up between 1.6 and 6.7 per cent year on year since 2007.

"It's an extremely steep rise and it's rather disturbing that there is a distinct lack of awareness and nonchalance to food security issues," said Singapore Environment Council chief executive Jose Raymond yesterday.

The amount of food waste, which includes cooked food and expired packaged products, last year is a 42.4 per cent leap from the 2007 figure, far outpacing the 17.7 per cent growth in national population.

Mr Raymond blamed rising consumer affluence, a growing food industry that is "constantly bringing new delicacies to the table", and a lack of public awareness on food waste.

An affluent society has resulted in habits such as "not finishing up our food (because) the taste is not up to par or the inclination to load up our plates when in front of a buffet line", said Food and Beverage Managers' Association (FBMA) president Cheong Hai Poh.

He revealed that FBMA has already been studying food practices in Europe.

The problem has also permeated every link in the supply chain, said Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman in Parliament last week.

Among those culpable included food manufacturing and catering industries, food and beverage outlets as well as hotels.

The latest statistic has surprised Restaurant Association of Singapore president Andrew Tjioe, who is also the executive chairman of Tung Lok Group.

"I have seen restaurants with waiters who keep customers from over-ordering," he said. "People also dabao (take away) leftovers, it is not shameful. I do so even if I have only a little bit of food left."

He believes catered occasions, such as buffets and banquets, were the prime wasters.

People also tend to cater more food than required, said Mr Tjioe. "But caterers wouldn't dare to cut down in case the demand is there and food is not enough."

He suggested reducing Chinese banquet courses, which can have as many as nine dishes, or to cut the size of portions.

Open-concept kitchens at restaurants such as Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts also help chefs gauge how much food is still available to diners, said its general manager Patrick Fiat.

Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association president Thomas Pek, who said he will raise the problem at an association meeting later this month, urged more companies to work with charities in giving away food that is nearing its expiry date.

He also suggested that more supermarkets and bakeries could mark down prices of their fresh produce near the end of the day.

Despite the massive amount of food being disposed, recycling remains low. Last year, only about 13 per cent of the total was recycled, up 1 per cent from the previous year. This comprises mainly clean food waste such as spent grains from beer brewing and bread waste, which are converted to animal feed.

Said Mr Raymond: "With the amount of food waste being generated, it is probably timely for Singapore to revisit the possibility of food waste recycling."

Efforts to reduce food wastage

WE THANK the letter writers who recently provided useful feedback on reducing food wastage. This is fundamentally an issue of values and behavioural change.

The Government has engaged stakeholders such as food manufacturers, hawkers, hotel operators, retailers and non-governmental organisations to better understand factors contributing to food wastage.

There are existing measures to support food wastage reduction, such as the 3R Fund administered by the National Environment Agency (NEA), which subsidises an organisation's food waste reduction and recycling projects.

We are currently studying other initiatives such as developing guidelines on unsold food and food waste management. Some of these initiatives have also been suggested by the letter writers.

As many of the letters have pointed out, all stakeholders, from businesses to consumers, have a part to play in minimising food wastage. Consumers should moderate their food purchases and consumption, so as to avoid having to discard excess food products.

To raise awareness of the need to reduce food wastage, the NEA and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority are also looking into developing a comprehensive public education outreach programme targeted at schools, the community and retailers to reduce food wastage, especially in moderating the way we consume food.

Astrid Yeo (Dr)
Director, Regulatory Administration Group
Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority

Ong Soo San
Director, Waste & Resource Management Department
National Environment Agency
ST Forum, 25 Apr 2014

Tackling food waste: More measures needed, say experts

Singapore generated almost 800,000 tonnes of food waste last year - the highest in recent years. Experts say each individual in Singapore could be producing about 400 grammes of food waste every day.
By Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia, 2 Nov 2014

It is preparation time before the lunch crowd at the industrial area of Tai Seng flocks to Hei Sushi. The restaurant's staff is ready, preparing sushi with fresh cuts of salmon and rice. While doing so, the restaurant ensures very little goes to waste.

Bits of the salmon that do not make the cut for sashimi are used in a salad, or as topping for the Gonkan Sushi dish. Salmon skin is deep fried and pounded into pieces for salmon skin sushi. Fish bones are used as soup stock.

And, Sakae Holdings - the owner of Hei Sushi - has been piloting a treatment plant on its own premises to convert excess fish bones and other food waste into animal feed.

Its chairman Douglas Foo said: "Managing food wastage need not be at the end part of the finished product but as early as working with the farms. So we go and understand how the farms grow their fish, the kind of fish feed being used, the kind of yield - because when you have a better yield, you have less wastage of the cycle of the fish.

"So understanding that portion, all the way to how the cold supply chain is being managed. If the cold supply chain is not robust, you're going to have wastage as well because there could be damaged or unusable goods. Every part of the whole cycle and the whole process is being closely monitored."

While companies like Sakae Holdings are at the forefront of efforts to reduce food waste, it is an issue that continues to plague Singapore as well as countries across the world.

About one-third of all food is wasted, from the moment it is produced to the time it is consumed. According to the United Nations, that is enough to feed two billion people. If it is not recycled, food waste ends up in landfills where it produces methane - a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Like most developed countries, Singapore's food waste comes from different sources - food manufacturers, supermarkets, hotels and restaurants. Last year, Singapore generated almost 800,000 tonnes of food waste - the highest in recent years. Experts say each individual in Singapore could be producing about 400 grammes of food waste every day.

In 2012, an inter-ministry committee was established to explore ways of reducing food waste. It came up with several recommendations. These included making it mandatory for large companies to report how much food they waste and conducting public outreach efforts. But these have yet to be implemented.

The committee, called the Food Wastage Reduction Working Group, also commissioned a survey in September to understand consumer behaviour and habits. Stakeholders like supermarkets say this is a good step.

In October, NTUC FairPrice came up with a framework to reduce food waste in its supermarkets. The supermarket chain estimates it generated 0.3 per cent of the nation's total food waste last year, the bulk of it is fruit and vegetable waste. Over the years, it has been trying to reduce food waste. Prices of seafood and chilled meat are marked down on the second day on the shelf and disposed of on the third, if unsold.

When it comes to choosing fruits and vegetables, you may be surprised at how your habits may result in food waste. For example, by picking up an orange, pressing it to see if it is ripe or smelling it, you could be damaging the feel and look of the fruit. And if it does not look good, chances are, it will be left unsold, and eventually disposed of. To address this, supermarkets often pre-pack some fruits and vegetables.

Since consumers are more likely to buy produce that looks good, food will have to go through what is known as "cosmetic filtering" before they are put on the shelves. At NTUC FairPrice, staff trim vegetables to get rid of the leaves that are less pleasing to the eye. Those that cannot be saved and remain unsold will be disposed of, even if it is still edible. This is something FairPrice wants to address.

NTUC FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng said: "Going forward, we may have a section where food and vegetables may not look so nice, but certainly very wholesome, and the prices I think should be different. This way, instead of being thrown away and being disposed of, it can still be consumed. Even the things that need to be thrown away, what can be done with it? Some of it could be channelled towards animal consumption, some of it could be used for energy - bio fuels."

"So we want to look at it from every angle, we want to come up with a very structured programme and that is the driving force behind us coming up with this food waste programme."

About 50 FairPrice stores also donate items such as dented cans, vegetables and other products to organisations such as 'Food Bank Singapore' and 'Food from the Heart'. FairPrice says these products are still "wholesome" and edible and are redistributed to underprivileged Singaporeans.

According to official figures, food waste has risen by about 42 per cent since 2007. The biggest contributors are the manufacturing and retail sectors. Green Future Solutions, an environmental consulting company, is planning a campaign to educate businesses on how to cut food waste. It has been running a similar campaign for households.

Green Future says there is no pressure on companies to reduce their food waste. Neither are there clear incentives to encourage them to do so. Eugene Tay, director of Green Future Solutions, said: "Currently there is no legislation saying they have to reduce food waste. They are not penalised by the government for throwing away food, so that has to change."

"For a start, the inter-ministry committee can look at setting up a cross-sector partnership or committee where they can get private sector and NGOs together to set targets and guidelines and look at some policies to reduce food waste. I guess that's a start before we introduce any legislation."

Singapore's recycling rate rose for the second consecutive year to 13 per cent in 2013. But it is below the 30 per cent target which Singapore was supposed to have reached by 2012. Mr Tay said food manufacturers lack knowledge on how to sort waste and there are no clear recycling options for them.

This is also one of the reasons why Singapore's only food recycling plant, IUT Global, shut down in 2011. The plant, which turned food waste into biogas and fertiliser, was operating at below capacity since it opened in 2008.

Mr Tay said: "Without that commercial-scale recycling plant, our recycling rate will probably remain constant for a few years. But if you look at the government's plan, they are going to set up an Integrated Waste Management Facility which will be ready between 2021 and 2024."

The facility will generate biogas from food waste and sewage sludge. Downstream, the Singapore Environment Council launched an anti food-waste campaign in October targeting individuals and households through a video.

Meanwhile, advocates against food waste say individuals can be empowered in simple ways to reduce food waste. For example, one could create a shopping list before stepping out of the house to avoid buying more than what is needed.

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