Feb 15, 2016

    Recycling food waste means less money down the drain

    SINGAPORE swings into action to welcome the Monkey Year with reunions, feasts and gatherings, centred on the theme of food.

    And here's some food for thought.

    In 2014, 790,000 tonnes of food waste were generated, equivalent to two bowls of food per person per day in Singapore.

    Just about every one of us is guilty of it at some time or another. This subconscious act becomes more invisible to us, especially with rising levels of affluence.

    However, food wastage is a problem that cuts across all income levels.

    It is just about the extent of food waste at different levels.

    The popular pastime of eating out cannot be overlooked, along with deep-rooted cultural practices such as the assurance of excess food at banquets. Singaporeans must not take our national food security for granted.

    In the new year, I hope to see more food operators allowing consumers to choose their meal portions and take away leftovers, and that the fragrance and aroma of unsold food reach charities instead.

    With more being receptive to the idea of accepting food donations, hopefully educational programmes and campaigns will see businesses take the lead, with consumers helping the cause.

    In Singapore, food-waste recycling is often perceived to be discretionary, a good-to-have behaviour beyond the established norms.

    Caterers and food manufacturers view efforts to reduce food waste as neither directly related to their performance nor productivity. It appears that there is little utilitarian benefit to be derived from recycling their food waste.

    However, companies should come to realise that recycling food waste can be translated to cost savings after returns of investment.

    Every day, Swissotel Merchant Court recycles a tonne of food waste, which contributes to a 45 per cent reduction of its total waste. The hotel uses a waste-disposal system with microbes breaking down waste to produce water that can be reused for purposes such as landscaping.

    Amara Hotel & Shopping Centre believes that a food-waste recycling system can reduce waste by more than 50 per cent, which translates to more than $50,000 savings per year. It would therefore be a great waste (excuse the pun), that many view waste recycling as an added cost of their operations.

    The Environmental Public Health Act now calls for the mandatory reporting of waste data and waste-reduction plans by large commercial premises.

    More premises have started to adopt on-site food waste treatment solutions, with the National Environment Agency co-funding such projects.

    Every one of us too can reduce wastage in every link of the food chain. For a start, shop smart by thinking about what we buy and when it will be eaten. Organisations such as The Food Bank Singapore and Food from the Heart accept food donations which are distributed to the poor and needy.

    Food waste reflects an inefficient use of our food supply and contributes to inflated demand. The issue is clearly not just an ethical one but also one that could possibly have significant implications on our nation's economy and food security.

    With the El Nino phenomenon expected to be more pronounced over the coming years, more erratic weather accompanying it will impact food production in various parts of Asia. And with Singapore reliant on food imports, we could be hit hard.

    Habits take time to change and be cultivated, and it is paramount that we start early. So let's stop monkeying around.

    The writer is Head (Eco-Certifications)/

    Lead Environmental Engineer of the Singapore Environment Council.