SINGAPORE: During the festive season, food waste is expected to go up by about 10 to 20 per cent, according to the non-governmental organisation Zero Waste. Some organisations have been looking tackle the problem.
The increased waste comes from preparing more food during the festive season.
"I think if you organise a party during the festive season you might cook too much or order too much food,” explained Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of Zero Waste. “For F&B companies during the festive season, they might anticipate more crowd or customers, so they might prepare or cook more food.”
However, some food establishments have been trying to tackle the problem. For example, while Grand Hyatt hotel sees a 10 per cent increase in customers during the festive period it said its food waste has only gone up marginally. About 900 to 1,000 kg of food waste is generated daily.
"We collect a lot of data on what gets consumed at the hotel and we listen a lot and talk to the guests about what they like or dislike. In a buffet, sometimes people’s eyes are bigger than their bellies so to speak, so people may put more onto the plate. We manage that through portion control, having chefs at the buffets to talk to our guests,” said Mr Lucas Glanville, executive chef at Grand Hyatt Singapore.
“We don’t want to go down the path of having smaller plates, or smaller glassware or somewhere where it’s going to create an awkward situation or discomfort to the guest. We want to be generous, we want to be authentic, we want to give the guests a great experience, so by having a chef there to explain what’s on the menu and how the food is produced, it gives the guests an option then of how much they want to consume."
Food left over on the buffet line, which is still edible but cannot be reused at the hotel, also gets packed away after each meal service. It would then be sealed, frozen and eventually passed on to Kerbside Gourmet, a social enterprise which picks up the food once a week to deliver to needy families. The programme has been going on for about a year.
A vacuum waste system and food digester is also being installed at the hotel, and that is expected to eventually keep all the hotel's food waste out of the landfill. “We’ll save 55,00 rubbish bags a year, we’ll save a lot of time and manual labour of moving this food around and also ultimately moving food out of the hotel,” said Mr Glanville.
RECYCLING FOOD WASTE
One establishment that has already seen benefits from food recycling is Mandarin Orchard hotel. It has seen 30 per cent more diners during the festive period but its food waste has not gone up.
It has had a food waste recycling machine known as the Eco-Digestor for about a year, and it recycles an average of 20 tonnes of food waste each month. Microbes in the machine break down the food, producing reusable water that gets pumped back to the system, and a small amount of residue.
"We have the recognition from NEA (National Environment Agency) to share our best practices, we also see a substantial savings of about S$2,000 per month, which is about 20 tonnes per month,” said Mr Freddy Tang, assistant F&B director at Mandarin Orchard. “Annually, it's more than S$20,000 of savings. We have to identify the source of where the food comes from. We use the prominent colours with a label with locations by kitchens, and that allows us to track where the food source come from."
The hotel said the greater awareness among staff has also resulted in a 10 per cent cut in food waste.
According to the NEA, food waste accounts for about 10 per cent of the total waste generated in Singapore. Last year, about 789 million kilogrammes of food waste was generated - equivalent to each person in Singapore throwing away two bowls of food every day. Statistics also showed that only 13 per cent of food waste was recycled last year. The rest gets disposed at incineration plants and sent to the landfill.
But food waste management company Eco-Wiz, which has Mandarin Orchard among its clients, said there have been some positive signs, as there has been a growing interest among companies looking to recycle their food waste.
"Last year we have about 30 installation sites, and this year we are actually receiving orders of about two times of what we already have at the moment. We feel that the increase in numbers is because of the awareness that the government is creating,” said Mr Michael Lee, senior sales manager at Eco-Wiz.
“The clients that we face right now are more knowledgeable and receptive to food waste recycling. Years back, when we were dealing with clients, when we talk to them about food waste recycling, most of them are more sceptical. They had to do food waste segregation, then they have to prepare the waste and put it into our digester system instead of doing it the traditional way and sending it to the incineration plants. But over time, they have more understanding on how the system works and what they can do to contribute to the environment.”
Another study by NEA showed that 80 per cent of Singaporeans prepare food at home, but about 40 per cent of them had leftovers after a meal.
About 30 per cent also bought more than enough food for consumption, and about 70 per cent of them said that was because they wanted to ensure household members had more than enough to eat.
Zero Waste said it is exploring how it can collaborate with culinary schools to develop recipes for leftovers that Singaporeans can use easily.
"We probably have not started that in Singapore yet. In the UK, there’s a website that develops recipes for leftovers. So even for this Christmas period, they have recipes for Christmas leftovers, what to do with your leftover turkey and ham and things like that,” said Mr Tay. “So that’s something we could also do. We shouldn't be wasting our leftovers because I think we spend about 15 to 20 per cent of our monthly expenditure on food, so if we're wasting food at home it means we're wasting money as well."
USING TECHNOLOGY TO CUT WASTE
The group is also hoping to work with undergraduates from National University of Singapore, who have developed a mobile app after noticing a large amount of food waste at school events with catered food.
"It's an app that collates all the available places where there are leftover food and then it will reach out to the users and notify them within a certain proximity, telling them that there’s a certain amount of food available within a certain time frame and they are free to come down to enjoy the food and help finish it up,” said NUS undergraduate Yu Gao Fei.
"We’re thinking of expanding to other schools - I know NTU and SMU also have the same issue. The population is about the same,” said undergraduate Tracy Leong. “We’re also thinking of extending it to government organisations, especially during the festive period because there are a lot of Christmas parties, and during Chinese New Year there are a lot of events and during those events there are a lot of catered food."