Reducing Food Waste: An Endless Battle
Luan Do, 21 Sep 17

In Singapore, anti-foodwaste enthusiasts would remember the year 2013, when growth in food waste exceeded that in total population by a factor of eight.

Although significant improvements have been made to bring this factor down to 0.5 last year,

Singapore is still in the crosshairs of the international campaign against food waste.

On average, each Singapore resident discards one in three spoons of edible food – every meal, every day. (

Where Do We Stand?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), one-third of our planet’s food goes to waste every year. In perspective, this is sufficient to feed the world’s hungry two times over.

Similarly, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) reported a figure of 791,000 tonnes of food waste being generated in 2016.

On average, each Singapore resident discards one in three spoons of edible food – every meal, every day.

If that is not alarming enough, Singapore’s per capita waste is over 140 kilogrammes a year. In contrast, the per capita waste of our European and North American counterparts is 95-114 kilogrammes a year, and in South and Southeast Asia countries, this figure is 6-11 kilogrammes a year.

Given that over 90 percent of Singapore’s food supply is imported, the actual impact of food wastage could be substantially higher.

The Impact

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions

Should food wastage be a country, it would rank third after China and the US in term of GHG emissions, according to the FAO report “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources”.

Nevertheless, it would not be fair if only the end consumers are to be blamed for this ranking.

There are five basic food supply chains (FSC), namely agricultural production, postharvest handling and storage, processing, distribution, and consumption. Each of these FSCs does have a stake, as shown in Figure 1:

 Figure 1: Proportion of food wastage and carbon footprint in food supply chains, from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report, “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources”. (Courtesy of FAO)

From the figure, it is evident that agricultural production is the main contributor to global food waste. In fact, National Geographic’s Elizabeth Royte reported last year that “globally 46 percent of fruits and vegetables never make it from farm to fork” simply due to cosmetic reasons, despite being perfectly edible.

For Singapore residents, the FAO report provides meaningful insight into the food we enjoy daily.

In effect, for every spoon of food wasted on our plate, another four spoons would have been discarded upstream of the FSC.

Moreover, based on carbon footprint, the food wasted during consumption is three times more damaging to our environment than food wastage at the production level, due to the phases it has undergone from farm to fork.

Landfill Exhaustion

As our planet’s natural resources become increasingly scarce, sustainability has become the buzzword of the 21st century.

Singapore has only one landfill left – Semakau landfill, which is built offshore on reclaimed land. As the declining supply of sand poses a growing challenge to land reclamation projects, concerns are rising over where we can store our waste after Semakau landfill has been exhausted.

“In the long run, we can’t keep creating more and more Semakaus”, said Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister of Environment and Water Resources.

The NEA projects that, at the current rate we are sending waste, Semakau will run out of capacity by 2035 – less than two decades from now.

In this light, continuous efforts are in place to improve the recycling rate for food waste. However, despite being the fifth-largest source of waste generated in Singapore, food waste lags near the bottom in terms of recycling rate, as shown in Figure 2.

 Figure 2: Composition of waste generated and waste recycling rates in Singapore for the year 2016

One of the keys to sustainability is to close the cycle. If the food cycle is not closed, the concern of “not if, but when” will continue to persist.

The Road Ahead

In order to fight food waste, Singapore has adopted a multi-pronged approach to effectively tackle the food waste problem.

Several recycling innovations have been implemented to catch up with the amount of waste being generated. Concurrently, campaigns have been actively conducted to minimize food waste at the source.

However, we are still in the early phases of a long-term goal for sustainability, and our ability to change the future remains on the balance.

Innovations would never suffice should waste generation fail to cease. Likewise, campaigns would never halt should the inclination to waste still exist.

With time running out, perhaps we need to better target the conscience of Singaporean residents: “Would food waste reduce if everyone is able to place the interest of others above themselves?”

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