Food – the low hanging fruit in tackling Climate Change
Current global food systems are one of the key causes of climate change. Apart from the obvious resources – water and land use for growing, carbon emissions from transportation, energy and plastic for packaging – there is another insidious problem – food waste. We recently had a chance to speak with Gwyneth Fries, Senior Sustainability Advisor at Forum for the Future to get some insights into the nature of these challenges.
Food Waste contributes to 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions (with 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide). To put things in perspective, the world’s largest contributors of greenhouse gases are China and USA respectively, but if food waste were to be a country, it would be third. In Singapore alone in 2015, there were 785,500 tonnes of food waste generated. This could fill up 670 Olympic-size swimming pools! Luckily, food waste is also the easiest one to tackle.
Who is responsible?
Farmers and Supermarkets
In America, supermarkets are throwing away 10% of the food that they sell at their stores because they overstocked, or are past their expiration date. But wait, that’s not all! Before food is even sold by supermarkets, an estimated 30% of food that is grown by farmers is rejected because they are ‘ugly’. That is to say that ⅓ of food that is grown for human consumption, doesn’t even leave the farm because they are not the right shape or size, or have some kind of physical imperfections.
Food Services (Restaurants, hotels, food centres)
Unsurprisingly, food service operators have a huge part to play in contributing to food waste. Food waste generated by food services have been estimated at 10%. That is just purely food that has been purchased, but are thrown out before that make it to the diner’s table. And additional 17% of food is thrown out once they reach the diners, people like you and I – everyday consumers.
It’s not jarringly obvious to us, but when we leave that half-eaten plate of rice because we ordered too much, or throw away that can of expired sardines that we left at the back of our cabinets – we are contributing significantly to food waste.
Like most things, we are unable to fathom the scale of our individual actions in comparison to the larger scheme of things. But did you know that of the total amount of food waste, 33% is contributed by consumers themselves? That means that approximately 259,050 tonnes of food wasted in Singapore is because of consumers throwing away their food!
What can we do?
Now that we have identified the main culprits, there are some simple steps that we can all take to reverse the trend of food waste.
Farmers and Supermarkets
Take the lead in educating the public that ‘ugly’ food is the same as other food and start selling it in store. The mindset that “ugly” fruits and vegetables are not fit for consumption needs to be changed. Currently 65% of Singaporeans are willing to purchase such produce at a lower price, which is a good start. What this means for farmers and supermarkets is to not throw out these ‘ugly’ food – it makes no financial sense – and if they educate consumers to purchase such food from the bottom up, then from the top down, they need to make it available for consumers to purchase too!
There are many ways in which food services can reduce their food waste, such as donating their leftover food to organisations like the Food Bank so that they can be distributed to the needy. Or, take the lead from Marina Bay Sands, which measures and analyses food wastage information to be able to prepare appropriate quantities subsequently. Or go a step further and make use of machines to convert food waste into non-potable water that can be disposed of into the sewers. We spoke to Kevin Teng, Head of Sustainability at MBS, on other ways in which they are tackling food waste.
Do not over-order. It’s just that simple! Order what you can consume, and if you need to, tell the uncle at the economical rice stall that you want less rice, they are more than willing to oblige. Or if you fall into the trap of buying too much food from your local supermarkets when they are having a promotion, and then forgetting to consume them before their expiration date, then download an app called Foodfully where you can be reminded of when your food is close to expiration. Alternatively, if you want to save some extra cash, then download a app called pareup where you can stay updated on where to buy fruits and vegetables that are close to their ‘expiration’ date, at a discounted price!
FoodFully, an app that seamlessly integrates food purchases and provides spoilage notifications so you remember to eat food before it happens!
Waste no time in reducing food waste
It’s clear that everyone has a part to play, right from the beginning of the supply chain – with the farmers – to the end – with the consumers. There are so many simple steps that can be taken to reduce food waste almost instantaneously. And not only does it save you money, it impacts food security and the environment as well. With the myriad of technological innovations that can simplify the process, there’s no better time than now to begin!
This article is part of our monthly series of insights to help business leaders discover business value through a social and environmental purpose.
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