SINGAPORE: Vegetable peels, fruit waste and coffee grounds – all this organic waste does not simply go down the garbage chute at the Dover campus of the United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA).
Instead, these are given a second life as compost for the school’s gardens. In 2012, UWCSEA started a composting project in a bid to reduce food wastage. Getting the project underway was not easy – it involved a few high school students setting up a composting site within the school and collecting pre-cooked waste such as vegetable peels and fruit scraps from the canteen daily.
The food waste would be composted in composting bins placed in the school for up to two months.
“It's a lot of hard work to start with. I didn't realise how much natural waste we put away each day and having to carry that was a bit of a pain. But I think it's just a great way to reuse the waste that we have,” said 17-year-old student Hugh Crombie, who would collect compost from the bins once every two weeks to fertilise the school’s gardens.
Grade 12 students Jae Hyun Shim (left) and Hugh Crombie (right) would add compost to the garden soil every week.
The project was so successful that it was extended to all of UWCSEA's grade five students last year. The students will take turns to collect 50 litres of pre-cooked waste from the canteen every day and mix it with dried leaves and water in the designated compost bins.
However, the school faces limitations in composting cooked food and waste that was scraped off of plates. About 20 litres of such wastes are thrown away each day on campus.
“The problem with post-consumer waste is because we have a mixed dieting which includes meat and eggs. That is only compostable in an enclosed environment at a high temperature. We don't have that facility at the moment so everything has to be thrown away and we know that is not a sustainable solution," explained UWCSEA's director of Sustainability Nathan Hunt.
But come December, with the start of a district-level food-waste recycling trial in Clementi by the National Environment Agency (NEA), all this food waste will be collected and transported to a demonstration facility at the Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant for co-digestion to generate energy.
The school will also work with NEA to segregate the food waste properly, said Mr Hunt.
“We have to make sure that at our tray return areas, where the waste is going to be collected, is feasible. Currently, the kids know how to segregate their waste properly but we just have to design that collection point to make it more obvious so they will know the plate goes here and food waste goes here, etc.,” he said.
UWCSEA’s Dover campus is part of the food-waste recycling trial which was first announced by then Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu during the Committee of Supply debate in 2015.
The aim of the trial is to identify the challenges premises owners and waste collectors would face in collecting and transporting food waste to an off-site treatment facility as well as to assess the economic viability of the project.
Besides UWCSEA’s Dover campus, other premises such as Bukit Timah Market and Food Centre, Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, the National University Hospital and National University of Singapore will also be involved in the trial which will end in June 2018. Veolia Environmental Services, the company that has been awarded the tender, will work with the organisations to implement proper food waste segregation and collection.
SINGAPORE NEEDS TO IMPROVE FOOD WASTE RECYCLING RATE: SEC
The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) lauded the programme as a meaningful one. But it also noted that large quantities of food continue to go to waste every year.
Singapore generated about 785,500 tonnes of food waste last year, slightly lower than 788,600 in 2014. This means each Singaporean contributes about 142kg of food waste yearly. Of the total food waste that was generated, only 13 per cent was recycled.
“Singapore manages to only recycle 13 per cent of its food waste, which is low and it consists mainly food waste from food manufacturers. This is an area we must improve,” said Ms Rachel See, an environmental engineer at SEC.
“Combating food waste is the responsibility of every individual and does not and should not rest solely on the Government. Buying what we need and taking only what we can finish are critical in the fight to reduce food waste.”
However, instead of recycling, Singapore should focus on reducing food waste from the source, said Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of Zero Waste, a local environmental group.
“We need to go upstream and look at reduction and redistribution of edible food. If there is edible food, it should be redistributed to food charities. And for food that is not edible, then it should be recycled. There should be a hierarchy to it … now you are going straight to recycling."
"In other countries, they have a Good Samaritans Act. That means companies would donate food to food charities and not be liable if anything happens. If we have a similar law or some guidelines, more companies will be encouraged to donate food to charities," he said.