Reduction of global food wastage to half is one of the key objectives of ‘Zero hunger’, which is goal #2 of the United Nations Sustainable development goals. At the same time, greenhouse gas emission control to curtail temperatures from rising is the key agenda of the Paris Climate agreement. Both have to be attained by 2030. We have 12 years left. There isn’t much time to ‘waste’.
As per the FAO nearly 1/3rd of the food produced globally— approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted every year. This is unfortunate, particularly when almost 10.9% of the 7.6 billion people in the world suffer from chronic undernourishment. Moreover, food waste and loss contribute to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
With a population of 5.6 million, Singapore generated 809,800 tonnes of food waste in 2017, of which 16% was recycled as per the NEA. Breaking that down – in 2017, each individual in Singapore threw 144 kg of food, 120 kg of that ended up in the incinerator. To give this context, per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.
So what is the reason for the stark numbers – why are they so high? Given we import almost 90% of our food, there is not much damage happening at the stage of production here. The food loss and wastage in Singapore happens primarily at two levels,
1. At home: Poor storage leading to spoilage, edible but ugly food not being purchased and cooked food wasted on the plate.
2. Outside the home: Excess cooked food in restaurants, hawker centers and ugly foods not making it to the supermarket aisles.
What is being done to address this leakage in the food chain?
In Singapore, there are a growing number of environmentalists, activists, charities, communities and even some businesses, who are embracing steps to consciously mitigate food wastage in an organized manner via redistribution of excesses. Some of them are:
1. Food Bank: A member of the Global FoodBanking network, The Food Bank Singapore is a registered charity that collects donations of dry and unexpired food in over 20 drop off points and distributes it to over 200 beneficiaries in their network. [Drop off locations list here]. In addition to dry food collection and redistribution, The Food Bank has 2 interesting initiatives that directly address the food excess and loss problem
–Food rescue programme: An initiative to redistribute excess cooked food from restaurants and hotels in Singapore, The Food Bank’s ‘Food rescue program’, is in a pilot phase. We are rooting for this becoming a success, after all, someone needs to address the elephant in the room.
–Food Pantry: Located at 100 Sims Avenue, the Food Pantry is a physical store and is The Food Bank’s last-ditch attempt to re-home dry food items with 2 months to expiry. Priced at $1, these are the items that have been received in donations from patrons but are not needed by their usual beneficiaries.
Want to volunteer time to help with the sorting, delivery or excess food at The Food Bank? Or even better want to have your next birthday party doing something meaningful? Click here
2. Food From the Heart (FFTH) : This is a Singapore based charity set up with a mission to ensure the needy are fed via equitable distribution of food. Two of the six programmes run by FFTH have a mission to redistribute excess food
Bread programme: Volunteers of FFTH collect and distribute nearly 28,000 kg of leftover bread monthly from over 100 F&B outlets islandwide, saving nearly 336 tons of bread from reaching the incineration plants.
Market place: Under this program, the logistics team from FFTH collects packaging-damaged and near-expiry items from all NTUC FairPrice supermarkets. Most of the items are in usable condition and range from unexpired food products, to household items like laundry detergents. The items are then sorted by volunteers of Foodheart before being donated to welfare homes and those under the Community Food Pack programme.
Want to volunteer with FFTH? Click here to see the various roles you can play.
3. Willing Hearts : Willing Hearts is a local charity that operates a soup kitchen – this kitchen works all year round to prepare, cook and distribute about 5,000 daily meals to over 40 locations island wide. How do they help manage food excesses? They are open to accepting unexpired food items as well as usable fresh/frozen vegetables, and the items on this list so if you see rampant wastage in your neighbor hood please connect them to Willing Hearts.
Want to volunteer with Willing Hearts? Click here
4. SG Food Rescue is a community of passionate and committed individuals – all vounteers- led by the dynamic Daniel Tay, who literally ‘rescue food’. This they do by visiting fruit and vegetable markets in Pasir Panjang and Little India to pick up unwanted fresh produce. The collections are sorted and shared forward with charities, soup kitchens and by restocking community fridges (present in two locations currently).
Want to join them and take back a trolley worth of the rescued fruits and vegetables? Click here
How about saving food waste from heading for the incineration plant?
1. Composting in the community as at the Pavilion’s edible and biodiversity garden located in Bukit Gombak, Singapore. This is a community garden, where residents from the neighboring area and friends from other locations contribute food scraps to the compost pile, helping manage the food waste problem as well as improving the soil productivity. The growers conduct sessions on how to grow edibles and how to compost at the gardens too. Visitors are welcome on Sundays from 10-11am. If you want to visit at another time, please message them on their FB page. Do pay them a visit, you will definitely get inspired!
2. Businesses are doing a fair bit too- Citizen Farm is an edible garden in the heart of the city and they house black soldier flies who are expert food recyclers and create nutrient-rich compost. These little guys which are found in plenty in Singapore are not very discerning, as long as the food is not putrid, they will work on all kinds of food! Giant hypermarkets at Tampines and Suntec have installed the Eco-Wiz, an on-site food waste treatment system that converts food waste to potable water. The Siloso Beach Resort in Sentosa composts its food waste – barring meats, oil or anything acidic- using earthworms. If you or your organization have a huge amount of food waste and would like to donate to Citizen Farm, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Government action- In 2016, the National Environment Agency (NEA) set up on-site food waste treatment pilots at two hawker centres (e.g. Block 628 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 Market and Food Centre) in 2016 to test the economic viability and operational feasibility of on-site food waste treatment systems. The pilots have yielding positive outcomes. In the Integrated Waste Management facility, expected to be functional by 2022, the segregated at source food waste from restaurants, hawker centers, supermarkets, etc will be treated to produce bio pulp for co-digestion with used water sludge at the Tuas Waste Reclamation Plant [WRP]. Household food waste will not be a part of this.
Wondering what YOU can do to address this mammoth problem?
With development comes responsibility – the ability to take onus for our actions and the urgency to adopt the right kind of attitude towards what is easily available. As per a survey conducted by NEA and AVA [source] there is a mindset shift among individuals vis-a-vis food waste wherein they are more open to adopting steps to mitigate this problem- as they see its two-fold benefit – saving money and helping the environment. Below are few handy tips to help you start off, TODAY!
#1 Make a shopping list
Buy what you need. Do not give in to the buy 1 , get 2 free carrot, if you are not sure of using it. Still bought it, but don’t like what you bought, try to pass on to a friend after checking
#2 Buy ‘uglies’, save money
A pretty fruit or vegetable is as tasty as the not-so-pretty one, so go over to the reduced price aisle next time you are in a supermarket, and don’t judge the fruit/veg by its cover!
#3 Out for a meal with friends
Order just enough, in fact lesser than usual. If can’t contain the rest of the gang, please keep a box for tapao.
#4 Recycle properly
Do not contaminate the recyclables – remove the food waste before sending the plastic for recycling. Better still do not take plastic!
#5 Compost at home
Whether in the balcony or in your backyard, creating your own compost is the best way to monitor what you grow. Refer to this a step-by-step guide by Nparks that you can follow to create your very own organic compost in 3-6 months. Before you start wondering, yes maggots do appear, but if moisture is controlled they are few in number and honestly, they are needed! Wondering how to put a bin together? Here is a list compiled by one of our very own local eco-heroes, Olivia Choong, also known as ‘The tender gardener’. Have a look!
#6 Volunteer to experience the problem first hand. Always easier to buy in when you witness yourself!