Opinion: Food wastage is something Singapore needs to start managing

Nichol Ng

Annually, Singapore throws away 800,000 tonnes of food, yet nearly half a million people are food insecure. At The Food Bank Singapore, we try to salvage food that would otherwise be thrown away and channel it to the needy.

The F&B industry is the most visible source of food waste, but I would say that the bulk of wastage comes from the trading and distribution tier. Fresh produce is heavily cosmetically filtered, and other items are also strained out under standard operating procedures; for instance, container loads of fries can be rejected for not meeting standards on length. Misprinted packaging is another culprit, and it’s frustrating when perfectly good food gets wasted for such trivial reasons.

“One of the easiest ways individuals can impact change on broader supply chain patterns is to embrace near-expiry products.”

I believe one key reason for Singapore’s staggering trading and distribution wastage is the absence of quantity control and taxes on food imports. Then there are major brands that burn excess stock because they think that donating would debase market value.

France is a great example of how governments can curb food wastage. In 2016, France banned supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, and made surplus donation mandatory. This gave rise to a whole new ecosystem, such as zero-waste restaurants and supermarkets that sell items that are near their expiry date. Governments can also drive food waste reduction through tax rebates for in-kind donations. The zero-waste philosophy of using every bit of food – like turning ugly produce into jams and pickles – is also gaining traction.

nichol ng illo

Technology is changing the landscape as well. TangoTab, for instance, is a dining app that tries to address food insecurity by working with restaurants to donate a portion of proceeds towards feeding the needy. We are also learning from our Shanghai counterpart, Oasis Green Food Bank, to roll out cooked food vending machines – this way, we can salvage more perishables and feed those without access to power or cooking facilities.

One of the easiest ways individuals can impact change on broader supply chain patterns is to embrace near-expiry products. To shift public perception about shelf life, we started Food Pantry to retail at $1 what we cannot re-distribute, such as expiring foods. If your family finishes a carton of milk every other day, why not take one that’s expiring within a week? When customers are receptive, there will also be less wastage from retailers.

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