Waste not, want not

I doubt many people gave two blinks about last week’s news on Singaporeans wasting a new record high of more than 700k tons of food – more like giving judgmental sideway looks and thinking “nope, not me. I only left out a spoonful of rice (and perhaps one tiny piece of chicken) during lunch!”.

Sure, such amounts of food are almost unnoticeable at an individual level, but just imagine how much food that amounts to when you add it all up!

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For many all-you-can eat restaurants, there’s a clause (normally smacked right in the middle of the table) saying that food wastage will be charged ($5 for every 100g), but really, which restaurant actually enforces that? A group of NTU students highlighted in their project Food Waste Republic that 10-20% of prepared food goes to waste.

While it’s a good deterrent, why would consumers force themselves to finish a meal that didn’t taste so good or a portion that was way too big? Not everyone is as creative as Mr. Bean with his steak tartare!


If I may just project my view as to why people waste food, personally I see paid food as an opportunity cost; whether I finish the food or not, it has already been paid for, so why put my stomach through unnecessary bloating and just enjoy what I can? Essentially, I choose the well-being of my tummy over my unfinished yummy food.

Another friend begs to differ – it’s precisely that the food has been paid, so one should finish it.

Others argue that there should be more proactive efforts in asking for reduced portions. It’s not impossible, but more often than not, we’re not charged lesser for asking for less, so it seems like the only one who benefits from this are the businesses themselves, so why not just accept the worth of the portion?

McDonald’s employees, for instance, never fail to tell you that it’s cheaper to get the value meal than picking and choosing a-la-carte items – I’ve never felt so forced to eat fries, but that’s the reality of it. So not only would asking for less means paying the same amount, in this case, you have to pay more!

The project also revealed that other contributors to food waste include cosmetic filtering, business practices, cultural traditions, and household habits.

So consumers are not the only guilty ones, but the question is, who should take the lead to rectify this?

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Globally, food waste is one of the most pressing problems facing the world today. An approximate 1.3bn tons of food are wasted each year, contributed by both the earlier stages of the supply chain in lower-income countries and consumer behaviour in high-income nations.

Meanwhile, an estimated 870 million people – or one in eight people in the world! – were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012!

How did it come to such an absurd situation in which some people have so much to eat that they can throw food away while others literally die of hunger right next door?? Most importantly, how do we put an end to this absurdity?

I think more effective processes and more efficient technologies could be put in place to help tackle food wastage. Educating and enforcing mindful practices of businesses and consumers would also go a long way.

In Singapore, Save Food Cut Waste, a ground-up movement, was launched last year to educate people and businesses about the environmental and social impact of food waste. Unique individuals such as Derrick Ng were highlighted for growing their own pesticide-free vegetables for family, friends, and communities.

How many people actually do that in Singapore?

That said, there’s still a lack of solid and effective initiatives to address this food wastage issue. In fact, the NEA has yet to initiate any campaigns on reducing or recycling food waste – this certainly calls into questions whether they will meet their targeted 40% recycling rate for food waste by 2030.

Perhaps a little more tough love would be needed from the Government to set a precedent?

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