PARTICULARLY in Asian cultures, food has always been associated to be a sign of abundance. One may have all the money and wealth to last several generations, but if they are not eating well… they are not really living their lives to the fullest.
Many of us were brought up to see food as a source of life and because of that it should be treated with the utmost respect. Wasteful behaviour towards food is frowned upon by the society.
However, with the change in lifestyle, urbanisation and rising affluence, the sanctity of food has somewhat dwindled among modern Asian societies. Compared to our forefathers who had to work hard to put food on the table, most of us today have a more laid back attitude towards food and consequently, we are becoming wasteful.
Food wastage is not something to be taken lightly. According to a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FOA), the global volume of food wastage is estimated to be at 1.6 billion tonnes, which translates to about USD750 billion of economic losses or RM3.1 trillion annually.
Food waste not only includes what we throw to become trash. Rejected items, especially food products from farmers or suppliers, are among the biggest contributors to food waste found in landfills.
Most supermarkets will reject ugly or misshapen products and that in turn, will leave the farmers with no other option but to throw these items away. Nevertheless, especially in the past few years, there has been a significant increase in awareness on food wastage and the need to address it accordingly. The issue of food losses is of high importance in the efforts to combat hunger, raise income and improve food security in the world’s poorest countries.
Food losses have an impact on food security for poor people, on food quality and safety, on economic development and on the environment. Food losses represent a waste of resources used in production such as land, water, energy and inputs. Producing food that will not be consumed leads to unnecessary CO2 emissions in addition to loss of economic value of the food produced.
In view of the growing concern, Apec economies are serious in addressing this and the importance of managing food loss and waste are highlighted under Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Through responsible consumption and production, the region targets to halve global food waste at retail and consumer levels, as well as to reduce food loss during production and supply by 2030.
Minister Of Housing And Local Government Zuraida Kamaruddin, in her keynote address during Apec’s Multi Year Policy Dialogue On Innovative Waste Management (MYPD) virtual meeting, recently, said reducing food losses and waste is essential in a world where the number of people affected by hunger has been slowly on the rise, and tons of edible food are lost and/or wasted every day.
The FOA report in 2020, showed that nearly 690 million people in the world were estimated to be undernourished in 2019, which is equivalent to 8.9% from the world population. Globally, around 14% of food produced is lost between harvest and retail where significant quantities are also wasted at the consumption level.
Citing a 2012 report, she highlighted food waste is one of the highest waste generated in Malaysia, of which, 44.5% of food waste is spawned from the household sector, while 31.4% of food waste is from the industrial, commercial and institutions (ICI) sectors.
To an extent, food waste makes up the largest component in landfills. It emits methane which is the main agent in ozone layer depletion and 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. To date, the decomposition of food waste in landfills remains the main source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission from the waste management sector in Malaysia.
Nevertheless, she pointed out that Malaysia’s commitment in reducing food wastage has started to show results – via various top-down approaches and programmes, involving participants from members of the public, government as well as private sectors.
Waste prevention has always been the priority in the quest to avoid waste generation at source as far as possible. The reduction of total food waste generation saves overall waste handling costs to the waste generators and reduces the amount of waste to landfills.
Through various programmes such as setting up of food banks, awareness campaigns as well as organising faith-based programmes, the country has managed to reduce food wastage by 28% food in four communities last year.
Moving forward, Zuraida calls on all Apec economies to adopt a new mindset or paradigm shift, to transform solid waste management from linear economy to circular economy.
However, this is not as simple and straightforward. What works in the context of one economy, may not necessarily work in another one. Yet, Apec economies need to learn from the experience of one another.
Introduction of technologies, innovative solutions (including e-commerce platforms for marketing, retractable mobile food processing systems), new ways of working and good practices to manage food quality and reduce food loss as well as waste are key to implementing this transformation.
It is Malaysia’s hope that the policy recommendations derived from Apec’s discussions serve not only as guidance for all economies in moving towards a more sustainable food waste management but also promoting better cooperation and networking among Apec economies in the waste management sector.
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