More than half of Singapore’s food waste could be avoided

By Lester Wan contact

- Last updated on GMT

More than half of the food waste could have been prevented by not over-buying, over-cooking or over-ordering. ©GettyImages
More than half of the food waste could have been prevented by not over-buying, over-cooking or over-ordering. ©GettyImages
Food makes up half of the waste thrown away by each Singaporean household each day and, out of that, more than 50% of the food waste could have been prevented.

A four-month study of 443 households and waste samples from 279 of them revealed that more than half of the food waste could have been saved by not over-ordering, over-buying or over-cooking.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said that the amount of avoidable food waste was equivalent to each household throwing away a 2.5kg bag of rice each week.

Staple foods such as rice, noodles and bread are the most commonly wasted.

The study also found, 27% of households had leftovers after a meal at least half the time, while 24% said they often threw away spoilt or expired food. The top two reasons were buying too much and food items being hidden at the back of the fridge.

In the past 10 years, food waste in Singapore has risen by 40%. It was said that, in 2016, the amount of food waste generated was equivalent to the weight of over 3,500 MRT trains — about 791,000 tonnes.

Furthermore, as Singapore imports a large proportion of its food, many different resources are required to produce, transport and store food, including energy and fossil fuels.

Dr Amy Khor, senior minister of state for the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environment & Water, said, “If everyone does their part to reduce food waste, we also save on the resources needed to produce the food, as well as to dispose of it.”

At the current rate, the NEA estimates that Singapore will require a new waste-to-energy plant to be built every seven to 10 years, and a new landfill every 35 years. This is even more alarming considering Singapore’s land scarcity.

The role of food producers and businesses

Among the households, 54% felt food producers and retailers could help. Suggestions included packing food into smaller portions at supermarkets and having different portion options at food establishments.

The NEA’s food waste minimisation guidebooks encourage businesses to engage consumers to reduce food wastage and to donate their unsold or excess food to food distribution organisations.

“Many businesses fail to realise that by donating their excess food, they are actually helping the environment by giving the food a new lease of life, and being mindful of the other natural resources like paper and energy that go into producing food,” ​said Nichol Ng, chief officer of The Food Bank Singapore.

Novel ways to address an old problem

Since the NEA’s Food Waste Reduction Outreach Programme was launched in 2015, it has trained more than 400 ambassadors to share food-saving tips such as buying, cooking or ordering only what you need. Other tips include making a shopping list to avoid impulse buys, asking for less rice or noodles based on one’s appetite, and using leftovers to cook the next meal.

The NEA guide on the Clean & Green Singapore website contains more food waste reduction tips, as well as recipes to make use of leftovers.

The campaign has also led to more than 150 schools having organised food waste reduction activities this year. Greendale Primary School reduced food waste from 17.9kg to less than 10kg per day, and Admiralty Primary School from 24kg to 17.5kg per day.

Food waste and loss is a huge issue throughout Asia.

Previously, it was reported that the total amount of food lost and wasted in China​ amounts to more than 35 million tonnes — enough to feed more than 100 million people.

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