Social Issues

Food Waste ~ A Criminal Offence

Food Waste ~ A Criminal Offence

Last update: 10/07/2018

By Ravindran Raman Kutty

In this write-up by Ravindran Raman Kutty – an avid writer, community worker, award-winning communications practitioner and social activist with a profound love for the environment ? he shares his views on curbing food waste.

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) — We welcome our new government that feels the pulse of the people who are awed by the reform agenda and the daily shake-ups taking place. I am inspired to draw the attention of the newly appointed Housing and Local Government Minister to the serious issue of food waste in our country.

One in every nine people in the world has no access to sufficient food to lead a healthy life. More are reported to die from hunger every day in comparison to AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

On the other hand, nearly one-third of the food that is produced in the world is lost or wasted. Food wastage, which includes both food loss and food waste, is not only morally irresponsible but a huge contributor to economic loss and damage to the world environment.

Food loss takes place as a result of insufficient skills, natural calamities, lack of proper infrastructure and poor practices. Food waste occurs when edible food is intentionally discarded by people when they fail to plan their meals or store food properly until it goes past the expiry date. Food waste can also happen due to oversupply in markets. Retailers tend to reject food that does not conform to their quality and aesthetic standards. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that nearly one-third of all food produced in the world for human consumption does not find its way to our tables.

More than 50 per cent of the waste occurs during the post-harvest handling and storage phase, whilst another 50 per cent is wasted during the processing, distribution and consumption stage.

The FAO report presents a clear pattern in food waste at the global level. While the middle- and higher-income regions showed greater food loss and waste at the consumption level, developing countries were more likely to lose or waste food due to lack of proper harvest techniques and low-quality infrastructure.

When food is wasted along the chain, its environmental impact is greater due to the energy and natural resources expended in processing, transporting, storing and cooking it. If the United States and China are the leading countries ranked according to their greenhouse emissions, food waste would come in the third spot.

SWCorp Malaysia revealed in their report that Malaysians waste 15,000 tonnes of food per day – 8,000 tonnes of which consist of avoidable food waste, including 3,000 tonnes that are still edible – which is enough to feed around two million people.

Food waste that ends up in landfills produces a large amount of methane; excessive amounts of methane, carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons can absorb infrared radiation and heat up the earth’s atmosphere, causing global warming and climate change.

With agriculture accounting for 70 per cent of the water used throughout the world, food waste also represents a great waste of freshwater and groundwater resources. By throwing out one kilogram of beef, you are essentially wasting 50,000 liters of water that was used to produce that meat. In the same way, nearly 1,000 liters of water is wasted when you pour one glass of milk down the drain.

Around 1.4 billion hectares of land, which is roughly one-third of the world’s total agricultural land area, is used to grow food that is wasted. Millions of gallons of oil are also wasted every year to produce food that is not eaten. And all these do not even take into account the negative impact on biodiversity due to activities like mono-cropping and converting wild lands into agricultural areas.

Changes can only take place if we have a law passed by Parliament to prevent food waste, both at the production and consumption level.

In 2016, France became the first country in the world where supermarkets were required by law to channel their surplus food to charities and food banks instead of throwing them away or destroying them. Those who violate this law will be fined between 3,750 Euro (RM18,000) and 75,000 Euro (RM360,700), or two years in prison. Can our lawmakers study this good practice of France and see how we can implement it in Malaysia?

To stop food waste, changes must be brought in at every stage of the process – from the farm to supermarkets and individual customers. As a first step, priority should be given to balancing production with demand. This essentially translates to the lesser use of natural resources to produce food which is not needed. Avoid any oversupply of food, especially vegetables, grains or fruits. The Agriculture Ministry must step in to ensure that there is a balance not only during festive periods but at all times.

Secondly, more effort should go into developing better food harvesting, storing, processing and distributing processes. If oversupply happens, steps should be taken to redistribute the food or to divert it to people who are in need of it. Oversupply must be managed in an equitable manner through the intervention of the government and food producers.

It must be made compulsory for all large restaurants, supermarkets and retail outlets to implement their “food footprint”. Individual consumers can also reduce their “food footprint” by identifying where waste occurs and taking steps to tackle the issue. Fruits which are misshaped or “ugly” are not necessarily bad and can still be bought and used in dishes like soups or even juices or animal feedstock. This must also be monitored by the Agriculture Ministry.

Consumers should also try to buy food in accordance with a meal plan so that they don’t end up wasting edible food. Food may be cheaper when you purchase in bulk, but you are not really saving money when all you are doing is chucking it in the bin at the end of the week.

If the food still ends up unfit for human consumption, it can be used for feeding livestock, thus saving precious resources that would have otherwise been used for producing commercial feed. If the food cannot be reused at all, then we should at least try to recycle it in a responsible manner instead of sending it to the landfills where it continues to rot. An average home can divert about 150 kg of food waste a year from local waste disposal facilities by adopting home composting.

The amount of food waste generated during the fasting month or by hotels during its events is even more heart-wrenching as we see kilograms of food waste going into the garbage trucks and finally ending up in the landfills. There must be adequate laws to curb such wast ages to ensure that no one takes more than their capacity. Every inch of a meat discarded, every ounce of fluid wasted, every grain that is thrown must be charged to the customer, thus creating a sober and sensible consumer society that’s “food waste savvy”.

According to an article by Malaysian Digest in December 2017, social enterprises are now looking at food waste in a more comprehensive manner. Locally, the Robin Food app connects supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and other parties with surplus food to food banks via its platform. They collect the surplus food and repackage it before distributing it to the urban poor and homeless. As of October 2017, via the Robin Food app, 600,000 meals have been distributed. Aside from distributing food to other charity and welfare organisations, dinner is also served at the transit centre for the homeless located at Titiwangsa, here, every Tuesday.

It is the hope of every Malaysian that a law to curb food waste will be tabled in Parliament to address this long-overlooked issue.

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