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NEA: Food waste accounts for half of waste disposed by Singapore households

National Environment Agency (NEA) has found that food waste accounted for about half of the waste disposed of by each Singapore household a day.

This was discovered through its household waste study and NEA noted, "Of this, more than half of the food waste could have been prevented through actions such as not over-ordering, over-buying or over-cooking,"

The study said that the amount of avoidable food waste is equivalent to each household throwing away a 2.5 kg bag of rice every week and in addition noodles and bread are the most commonly wasted food items.

NEA states that the study was conducted from November 2016 to March 2017, where representatives from 443 households were interviewed to understand the public’s sentiments on food waste management.

Waste samples were then collected from 279 of these households over three days in a week, and sorted to determine the amount of avoidable and unavoidable food waste that each household disposed of.

The study then found that more can be done to raise awareness among consumers of what they can do to avoid food wastage. Half of the 443 household representatives interviewed acknowledged that steps could have been taken to avoid food waste arising from leftovers after a meal, food expiring or becoming spoilt, and throwing away of blemished fruits and vegetables.

According to the agency, about one in four households (27 percent) interviewed said that their households had leftovers after a meal at least half of the time, while, about a quarter (24 percent) said that they often threw away spoilt or expired food, and the top two reasons for doing so were a result of buying too much, and having food items hidden at the back of the fridge.

Asked whether food retailers and manufacturers could help them reduce food wastage, 54 percent of the household agreed more could be done on that front, giving suggestions such as packing food into smaller portions at supermarkets, and the offering of different food portion sizes by food retail establishments.

NEA noted that the amount of food waste generated in Singapore has increased by about 40 percent over the last 10 years. In 2016, the amount of food waste generated was equivalent to the weight of over 3,500 MRT trains.

"Wasting food is also a waste of the resources and effort that go into growing food and delivering them to our tables. At the current rate of waste disposal, we will require a new waste-to-energy plant to be built every seven to 10 years, and a new landfill to be built every 35 years. This is not sustainable given Singapore’s land scarcity constraints," NEA said.

"Therefore, it is important for every individual to take actions to minimise food wastage," it stressed.

NEA encouraged consumers to buy, cook or order only what they need. Some 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.

Ms Gladys Wong, Chief Dietitian/Senior Manager Nutrition and Dietetics at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital gave some advice on food storage, "In Singapore’s warm temperature, most raw foods not consumed within three to four days should be refrigerated to minimise the nutrition loss as well as bacteria spoilage. It is important to store all raw foods dry and cleaned from dirt in the refrigerator. If possible, store foods whole. Cut or peel only before eating or cooking as the cut surfaces of the foods when exposed to air can result in some nutrients loss."

More food wastage reduction tips and innovative recipes to make use of leftovers are available in NEA’s food wastage reduction handy guide, which can be viewed at the Clean & Green Singapore website.

As Singapore imports a large proportion of its food, NEA said that many resources are required to produce, transport and store food, including energy and fossil fuels.

"Therefore by wasting food, we are also wasting these precious resources which then increases our carbon footprint," it noted.

At a grassroots event on Sunday (3 December), Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environment & Water Resources emphasised the need to take action now to reduce food wastage.

She said, "Food waste is an important issue to tackle as part of our efforts to move Singapore towards our vision of a Zero Waste Nation. 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. This in turn reduces our carbon footprint. So let us all work together to make 2018 the year of Climate Action, and build a sustainable future for generations to come."

Since the launch of the Food Waste Reduction Outreach Programme in 2015, NEA stated that it has been ramping up efforts to engage stakeholders to take actions to tackle food waste and recruited and trained more than 400 Food Wastage Reduction Ambassadors (FWRAs) to date, providing them with knowledge on food wastage reduction and encouraging them to share the tips with their friends and family.

NEA added that it has also been supporting various organisations and communities to kick-start ground-up food wastage reduction initiatives.

Earlier this year, NEA partnered National Geographic to organise a week-long event where food wastage reduction advocate and award-winning author, Mr Tristram Stuart, was invited to share his insights on the topic with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), youths, community leaders and other members of the public.

To date, NEA has collaborated with close to 40 organisations, including supermarkets, food retail establishments and schools, to promote food wastage reduction.

"The push to raise awareness on food waste has also led to community groups starting initiatives on their own," said the agency.

Tampines North Citizens’ Consultative Committee has started an initiative which involves two fridges being placed at a void deck in Tampines where residents can place their excess food into these fridges for people in need.

Schools have also been enthusiastic in playing their part, with more than 150 schools having organised food wastage reduction activities this year.

NEA’s ‘Love Your Food @ Schools’ Project, which involves introducing closed-loop food waste management systems in 10 schools, has seen positive results. For example, food waste has reduced from 17.9 kg to less than 10k g per day in Greendale Primary School, and from 24 kg to 17.5 kg per day in Admiralty Primary School.

As NEA’s waste study findings highlighted, it noted that businesses also need to take on a greater role in our efforts to minimise food waste.

NEA urges food retail establishments, food manufacturing establishments and supermarkets to make use of the food waste minimisation guidebooks that have been developed. In addition to providing tips for businesses to reduce their food waste, the guidebooks also encourage businesses to engage consumers to reduce food wastage and donate their unsold or excess food to food distribution organisations. The guidebooks can be viewed here.

Ms Nichol Ng, Chief Food Officer of The Food Bank Singapore said, "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. Besides, if food is redistributed to those in need, companies are adding value to their CSR activities. So do consider food donation before dumping your excess produce into the bins. "

NEA also invites interested communities, schools and organisations to collaborate with it on the Food Waste Reduction Outreach Programme and to implement the food wastage reduction initiatives and interested parties can contact NEA for more information or visit the NEA Food Waste Management webpage for more information on areas of collaboration.