Covid calls for action on food waste crisis in Southeast Asia: Experts

Fruits and vegetables thrown in a waste bin

Peter Diesel | Image Bank | Getty Images

Singapore-Covid-1 is a wake-up call that highlights the urgency of the fight against the global food waste crisis, experts and industry players told CNBC.

Between global lockdowns and stagnant travel, the epidemic reveals weaknesses in supply networks, as disruptions disrupt agricultural labor, transportation and supplies, and increase global food shortages and inflation.

“The epidemic is a very good wake-up call,” said William Chen, director of the food science and technology program at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

“Before Kovid-19, people took climate change less seriously because food came easily. But now the problem is starting to take place in people’s minds,” he added. “I don’t see it as a reason to lose, but the current system is a good opportunity to clean the house.”

Food waste is one of the biggest challenges in the world.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that one-third of all food produced – or 1. Billions upon billions of tons – lost or wasted every year. Another UN report found that food waste also accounts for between 10% and 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Boston Consulting Group, reducing food waste could save 700 billion. And Southeast Asian businesses are jumping on the bandwagon and going to prevent food waste, as well as redistributing and recycling excess food.

Increased appetite in dealing with food waste

In 2020, Singapore generated 665,000 tons of food waste, accounting for about 11% of the total waste generated in Singapore..

Coming out of the epidemic, more hotels and airlines are now tackling food waste and putting stability “front and center” on their priority list, said Rainer Loe, co-founder and CEO of Singapore-based AI Food Waste Management start-up, Lumitix.

This was a dramatic change from a few years ago when food waste was “just on the radar” and conversing with industry players was “incredibly challenging”.

He said the growing acceptance was partly due to increased education, new government regulations and staying higher on the corporate agenda.

The firm has developed an artificial intelligence-powered tracker that has been placed in dustbins to measure and track all food waste. By learning in real time what and how much food waste is generated, chefs can take steps to reduce the amount produced for certain foods in the buffet line.

It reduces food waste by up to 40% and food costs by up to 8%, Lumitics found.

From 2024, owners and occupiers of commercial and industrial premises in Singapore who produce large quantities of food will have to separate their food waste treatment under a new law.

Large hotel chains such as Lumitics Accor, Hyatt, Marina Bay Sands, as well as carrier partners such as Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways.

It plans to expand to 1,000 locations in the Asia-Pacific region over the next five years, starting in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.

“The whole industry is starting to wake up to the idea that food waste is the biggest unused cost-saving opportunity for any kitchen,” Loe said.

Turning food waste into a ‘surprise box’

Another player in the fight against food wastage is Yindii, the launch of a Thai anti-food waste. It has launched an app to connect eco-conscious Bangkok residents with bakeries, cafes, supermarkets and restaurants.

These businesses fill out their unsold list in a “surprise box,” which allows customers to snap at 50% to 80% off at the end of the day and deliver to their home.

Yindii founder and French entrepreneur Louis-Alban Batard-Dupre described the food waste situation in Bangkok as “catastrophic”, with only 2% of food waste being recycled.

In Thailand, about 17 million tons of unused food is disposed of each year, and about 64% of its 27.4 million tons of waste is made up of organic waste, including food and kitchen waste.

The food businesses we’ve seen think they don’t waste too much. When they start calculating fast from 6% to 14% of the extra revenue, we usually get a call back.

Louis-Alban Butard-Dupree

Founder, Yindii

The players in the industry themselves have underestimated the problem.

“Most of the food businesses we’ve met think they don’t waste too much. When they start calculating 6 to 14% extra income quickly, we usually get a call back,” he said.

He said the mindset of traders is also changing as more brands are ready for the future of post-Covid tourism.

Butterd-Dupree said at the time they were “ashamed to generate food waste because it reveals that their store doesn’t sell every day or that it’s a dirty word.” “But telling the world that you’re fighting for this planet is far more powerful than trying to hide a systemic problem in every business.”

Watermelon dumped near the Brahmaputra river in Bangladesh

Andre Pistoli | Stones | Getty Images

To date, Yindii has seen more than 20,000 surprise box purchases. He said redistributing food that was thrown away also helps many people living below the poverty line.

Hindi partners include Hinton Sukhumvit Bangkok, Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit and JW Marriott. In the next few months, it plans to expand to Thailand and other cities in Southeast Asia.

Technology as a way forward

Technology has started to play a big role in tackling food waste.

Southeast Asia is particularly vulnerable to food waste because there are many small farms that rely on intensive livestock farming and lack the means to invest in more efficient agro-technologies, said Chen from NTU, a consultant on Asian development. Banks.

The growing middle-income class also spends more.

One of the UN’s sustainable development goals is to halve food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030 and to reduce food losses in the post-harvest production and supply chain.

The slower we take action on climate change, the more extreme weather we will see and the greater the risk of zoonotic disease – which can lead to increased food wastage.

Audrey Chia

Associate Professor, National University of Singapore Business School

More private-public partnerships will be important, where “enthusiastic small start-ups” can grow with technology and government funding, or work with large multinationals to bridge the gap, Chen said.

Another profitable venture is “upsycling”, which typically takes ingredients that are usually thrown away and processed into new high-quality, marketable products.

For example, Sophie’s Kitchen, a plant-based seafood company, is using soybean residue as a culture medium for microLG cultivation in place of the fast-growing alternative protein market.

Audrey Chia, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore Business School, said other examples include adding high-value ingredients, such as salted eggs, to the skin of commonly discarded fish, or using black soldier flies.

Similarly, predictive technology can also help restaurants and retailers estimate food demand or production.

“Ironically, this is a vicious cycle. The slower we take action on climate change, the more extreme weather we will see and the greater the risk of zoonotic disease – which could lead to increased food wastage,” Chia said.

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