By Kamarul Ariffin Md Yassin
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s food waste statistics have never been more shocking: daily, households churn out some 3,000 metric tonnes of leftover food that is essentially untouched and still edible and this amount is sufficient to feed two million hungry people.
On the whole, all types of food waste make up about 40 per cent, or 15,000 metric tonnes, of household waste in Malaysia daily.
These figures are based on research carried out by Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Corporation (SWCorp) in 2015.
SWCorp Federal Territory Director Hazilah Gumri said its study also found that a household of five spent an average of RM900 a month on food and that a quarter of that food was wasted during preparation, cooking and usage.
“This means that about RM225 (literally) goes into the dustbin every month, which works out to RM2,700 a year,” she said when presenting a paper titled “How Consumers Can Benefit From Reducing Food Waste” at the MYSaveFood forum recently.
The one-day forum was organised by the MYSaveFood secretariat under the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) and opened by Deputy Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Nogeh Gumbek.
Hazilah said while 80 per cent of the food waste was considered “unavoidable”, 20 per cent was “avoidable”.
SWCorp oversees the solid waste management system in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Kedah, Perlis, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor.
According to SWCorp Deputy Chief Executive Officer Dr Mohd Pauze Mohamad Taha, food waste quantities usually see a 15 to 20 per cent increase during festive seasons.
“It happens during (the month of) Ramadan, Hari Raya and Chinese New Year. During festivals, people tend to cook or order a lot of food for their guests. In the end, one-third or a quarter of all that food goes to waste,” he told a press conference after the opening of the forum.
REDUCE FOOD WASTE
Hazilah said to reduce food waste, households should make it a point to only buy enough chicken, meat, vegetables, fruits and groceries to meet their needs.
“Then, cook the right amount of food daily and if there are leftovers, store them carefully so that they can be eaten later. Otherwise, give the extra food to neighbours. Or feed your pet,” she said, adding that Malaysians should also learn composting and use the compost as fertiliser for their garden.
She added that by cutting out unnecessary spending on food and reducing food wastage, households could not only save money but also lower their carbon footprint and protect the environment through lower methane emissions from landfills.
Hazilah said their efforts could also help to conserve energy and resources as well as prevent environmental pollution associated with the growing, manufacturing and transporting processes and, not to mention, hauling the food waste and then landfilling it.
“Households can support their community by donating to needy people all untouched food that will otherwise go to waste,” she added.
FOOD LOSS ALARMING
On food loss – which refers to food intended for human consumption that is wasted during production, post-harvesting, processing and distribution – MARDI International Networking Programme Deputy Director Dr Ainu Husna MS Suhaimi, who also spoke at the forum, said a staggering 1.3 billion metric tonnes of food – worth a whopping RM4.4 trillion – is lost or wasted yearly worldwide along the food system.
“It (lost food) constitutes one-third of the food produced and is enough to feed three billion people,” she said, adding that annually, Malaysia loses about 28.5 per cent of its harvested rice, worth RM918 million.
“As for our country’s fruits and vegetables, an estimated 20 to 50 per cent is lost yearly, post-harvest.”
MARDI Director General Datuk Dr Sharif Haron said Malaysia’s food loss and food waste numbers were “alarming” and it was costing the government billions of ringgit to manage the wastes.
Speaking at the opening of the forum, he said considering the magnitude and complexity of the problem of food loss and waste, the collaboration and partnership of various quarters would be needed to achieve meaningful results.
“It’s important for all those involved to enlighten society on food loss and waste and to educate them to take the necessary measures to reduce wastage,” he said.