Food manufacturers help raise recycling rates in Singapore, but still room for improvement

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

NEA said that food manufacturers recycling their food waste contributed to the significant increase in food recycling. ©GettyImages
NEA said that food manufacturers recycling their food waste contributed to the significant increase in food recycling. ©GettyImages
Recently released statistics from Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) show the amount of food waste recycled in the country has risen by 2% — with food manufacturers playing a crucial role in driving up standards.

In 2016, the total food waste generated by the South East Asian island nation was 791,000 tonnes. The amount of food waste disposed of was 679,900 tonnes, while the amount of food waste recycled was 111,100 tonnes. This means the recycling rate for the republic in 2016 was 14%.

One year on, while Singapore’s amount of food waste generated rose to 809,800 tonnes, the amount of its food waste disposed of was lower at 676,800 tonnes. The amount of waste recycled had risen to 133,000 — a recycling rate of 16%.

NEA said that food manufacturers recycling their food waste contributed to the significant increase.

An NEA spokesperson said, specifically, the increase in the food waste recycling rate was due to an increase in the amount of spent soy beans and grains from food manufacturing being recycled into animal feed, as well as “a wider adoption of on-site food waste digesters and more premises segregating their food waste for treatment at the co-digestion demonstration facility located at Ulu Pandan Reclamation Plant”​.

No rest 

While the amount of food waste generated had also increased, according to NEA statistics, the proportion of food waste to the total waste generated in Singapore also decreased.

In 2016, food waste was said to account for about 10% of total waste, while in 2017 the amount of food waste was less than 9% of total waste generated.

Nonetheless, there is no room for Singaporeans to rest on their laurels. The NEA warns that the amount of food waste generated in Singapore has increased by about 40% over the past 10 years, and is expected to further increase with the growing population and economic activity, especially if little is done to change it.

A few food industry stakeholders having been taking the initiative to support this effort.

NEA had collaborated with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore AVA to produce a “Food Waste Minimisation Guidebook for Food Manufacturing Establishments”. The guidebook contains information on what food manufacturers can do to avoid food wastage and to recycle food waste.

The guidebook and more waste-combating strategies can be found on NEA’s website. It encourages food businesses to engage consumers to reduce food wastage, and to donate their unsold or excess food to food distribution organisations such as The Food Bank Singapore.

Taking a leaf from the book, last September, the Treatsure app was launched with 10 merchant partners, mainly bakeries and confectionery stores, to sell off surplus food at the end of the day at a discount of 20% to 30%.

Similarly, in Japan, the largest mobile carrier NTT Docomo Inc in January trialled its EcoBuy app​ to reward shoppers who buy food items that are close to their best-before or consume-by dates.

Edwin Seah, head of communications of Food Industry Asia, said other large foodservice companies in Singapore such as Marina Bay Sands and Neo Catering have also been trying to do their part, having installed their own on-site composting machines.

Food industry latest

According to comments from members of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, discussions are ongoing between the Food Standards Committee (FSC) of the industry-led Singapore Standards Council and Standards Development Organisations and SPRING Singapore on the drafting of new standards for a code of practice for food waste management for food processing or manufacturing establishments.

SPRING Singapore is an agency under Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry responsible for helping Singapore enterprises grow, as well as functions as a national standardisation body for industries.

At the time of publishing, SPRING Singapore had not responded to our repeated queries on the collaboration between food manufacturers and the agency and the new code of practice.

Scientists’ contribution

In Singapore, academics have also being doing their part to help reduce food waste in food manufacturing or food processing.

Associate Professor Liu Shao Quan and the research team from the Food Science and Technology Programme at the Department of Chemistry, National University of Singapore (NUS) have been transforming waste and by-products from soy milk and tofu production into food ingredients or food products of their own.

In November last year, they first bio-transformed okara, a by-product of tofu and soy milk production, into a tasty and nutritious food ingredient​ — containing antioxidants, and being low-GI and higher in soluble fibre.

This was quickly followed by the first alcoholic beverage made from tofu whey​ — sachi. Tofu whey is the other main by-product in soy milk and tofu production.

The big picture

Singapore produced 7.7 million tonnes of waste last year, compared to 7.81 million tonnes in 2016. The total amount of recycled waste decreased to 4.72 million tonnes, compared to 4.77 million tonnes in 2016.

However, the overall recycling rate remained unchanged at 61% from 2016, despite government efforts to encourage citizens and businesses to recycle more.

One difficulty in recycling food waste is that if food is not properly or cleanly disposed of, it can contaminate other recyclable matter and compromise the possibility and amount of recycling.

NEA had previously estimated, at the current rate, 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 especially alarming considering tiny Singapore’s land scarcity.

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