Food for thought

To make food waste management more robust, the government needs to establish more centralised food waste management facilities.

Malaysia may become a world leader in food waste without even planning to be one.

According to the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies of Universiti Malaya, on an average day, Malaysians generate 38,000 tonnes of waste, 44 per cent of which is food waste. In a very peculiar Malaysian fashion, we talk of food security while dumping nearly 17,000 tonnes of food waste daily.

Malaysians need a reminder by way of the crack of the whip, to put it in the language of the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP). Have a heart, Malaysians.

Recent data from the World Food Programme (WFP) should wake us up from the deep apathy that we have fallen into. As many as 829 million people go to bed hungry every night, says WFP. If that is not enough, the number of those who are facing acute food insecurity has soared from 135 million to 345 million since 2019.

Data released by CAP last year showed Malaysians dumped 4,046 tonnes of edible food daily, an amount that can feed three million people with three meals per day. This is a shame.

It is time for Malaysia, a proud promoter of Sustainable Development Goals, to crack the whip against food waste. Dumping of edible food is a violation of Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. This in a world where one person is estimated to be dying of hunger every four seconds. This is an outrage that we should not see happen.

Sure, Malaysia alone can’t stop the world’s spiralling hunger crisis, but it can take decisive action that can put a stop to food waste. Malaysia has long been stuck in the awareness phase when it comes to getting the people to reduce food waste.

Yet, MySaveFood, an initiative by the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute was added to the awareness programme pile. For a problem that is decades old, awareness programmes have long gone beyond their use-by date. Time for the government to use its legal and policy tools. Last year, the Local Government Development Ministry did propose a law on sustainable food waste management, but details have not been forthcoming. This doesn’t mean the government can’t introduce regulations to penalise hotels, restaurants and eateries, the main contributors to food waste.

Besides raising moral issues, food waste has economic and environmental costs. It costs the government about RM210 a month or RM2,600 a year to dispose of food wasted by each Malaysian household. When food goes to landfill, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas which is said to be more potent than carbon dioxide. In a WWF study, between six and eight per cent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food.

Malaysia may have to look to Japan to see how the country with limited land tackles food waste. Japan has several policy and regulatory interventions that Malaysia can emulate.

One strategy is to minimise food waste at source as much as possible. Less there means even less at landfills. Related to this strategy is one that turns food waste into resources at source. Call it treatment at source.

To make food waste management more robust, the government needs to establish more centralised food waste management facilities. All this to ensure food doesn’t go to waste.

Source: NST Leader, NST (4 August 2023)