The Looming Shadow of Food Wastage (and overcoming it)

29 Jun 2022



Vegetables and fruits grow in soil. In the end, all waste goes back into earth. So how much does food waste really affect the environment?

Doesn’t make sense, does it? It should be okay to waste food – it’s all biodegradable, after all! And, it’s going into the soil, enriching it. So, what’s the big deal?

Each year, Singapore alone wastes 9 million kgs of unsold food – and this is just the food dumped by restaurants and eateries.

Let’s take a step back – why does it matter? Well, we must start at the source –

1. Production

The highest loss occurs pre-and post-harvest; High-income countries face the problem of overproduction, while low/middle-income countries battle premature harvesting, often indulged in by farmers who are in serious need of cash inflows, and clear lands = new crop!

2. Handling, storage, and transportation

Careless handling can cause further wastage, taking out 3-5% of the produce, such as vegetables, fruits, or even fish.

3. Processing

With a large amount of food wasted in canning facilities, slaughterhouses, and treatment plants. Fresh produce like crops, fruits, and vegetables are ‘sorted’ and meat trimmings are discarded. These are all discarded rather than being used or donated.

4. Retail and Distribution

Regulations based on the ‘aesthetic’ of produce for ‘best by’ and ‘expiration dates’. Differing temperatures during product handling, storage, and transportation affect the food as well. However, the real enemy here is overstocking – especially done by retailers in higher-income countries, contributing to food and packaging waste. Both retailers and consumers have a part to play in curbing waste.

5. Consumption

Overpurchasing, overordering, and undereating – all lead to tremendous food wastage by individuals. Wasting leftovers, cooking too much for guests, ordering too much food – the crimes are endless. Singapore’s F&B Industry alone wastes 9 million kgs of food annually, while 70% of all food wastage in the United Kingdom happens at the household level.

Boston Consulting Group identified 5 key drivers of food waste:

Awareness

Lack of resources looking into the causes, factors, and drivers of food waste lead to further lack of information.

Supply Chain Infrastructure

Food is lost even before it reaches consumers.

Supply Chain Efficiency

Problems like this require solutions, not by ONE, but by everyone in the supply chain to solve their own problems.

Collaboration

A lack of coordination among stakeholders along the value chain, especially between raw material producers and processors, contributes majorly to inefficiency, loss, and waste.

Policy Environment

With no laws around the food wasted/dumped by establishments, ‘dumping’ comes out on top as the easiest and cheapest option to let go of any unused/extra food.

With the extreme challenges that come with measuring food waste and the full extent of its damage, it’s hard to imagine what we could do with ALL the food that’s wasted. However, change begins with us. Exercising conscious and intuitive eating, and conscientious habits like not over-ordering and taking away leftovers will certainly help the world move to a better place when it comes to food waste.

REGROWING PRODUCE

We’ve also got a few tricks up our sleeve when it comes to making the most of produce – our current obsession is regrowing!

Yes, you read that right.

We’ve got spring onions, mint, and romaine lettuce on today’s roster 😉

Spring Onion

Prep: Cut off the bottom 5 cm from a spring onion (with the roots). For the growth of the spring onion, it’s best if the roots are still fresh and strong. The upper part of the spring onion can be stored or used immediately!

Water: Put the ends of the roots in a container filled with tap water and leave them for about 5 days in a bright place, for example, on the windowsill.

P.S.: Change the water daily so the roots don’t rot!

Replant: After a few days, the roots will become stronger, and you can plant the spring onions in the soil. Especially suitable for this is potting soil, as the roots will form more strongly. Make sure that the roots are completely covered with soil, but the upper part of the plant still peeks out.

It’s not entirely necessary to transplant spring onions into soil. They also grow in water, but the taste becomes less intense due to a lower nutrient supply.

Harvest: You can either harvest the entire spring onion or cut off the green part with a knife and let the rest sprout again - a gift that literally keeps ‘giving’!

Mint
Though it requires some more patience, you can grow a variety of plants using this method. Typically, herbs are sold in plastic packaging. Since we often only need small quantities of herbs, it is especially worthwhile to grow them yourself and harvest them as needed, save some dollar bills and reduce plastic waste while we’re at it!

Prep: Herbs can be propagated with the help of cuttings. For this purpose, many types of herbs can be regrown - such as rosemary, basil, coriander, or mint. Use a knife to cut off a strong shoot about 10 cm long. If you make the cut below a branching point, you make it easier for the plant to form roots.

Water: Place the shoot in a small bottle/vase with moderately cold water. The lower end of your shoot should always be in the water and the water should be changed regularly. It usually takes a while until the first roots appear. It may be helpful to remove some of the upper leaves to speed up the process.

Replant: Observe your cutting. When roots form, should be planted in soil. Again, growing, or herbal soil is recommended. Keep removing withered leaves; If the cutting is well supplied with water, a new plant will grow soon!

Romaine Lettuce

Prep: Separate the stalk of the lettuce from the remaining leaves with a straight cut. It should still be about 5 cm high because a shorter piece makes it difficult to resprout.

Water: The lettuce stalk also goes into a container with water, with half the stalk immersed in water. Find a bright place for your lettuce by the window and change the water every 2 days at least. After about a week, you’ll notice fine roots on the stalk.

Replant: Once you can spot the roots, it's time to plant the lettuce in soil. Remember to keep the regrowing leaves above the soil.

Get cutting so you can grow and save!

What's even better, is gardening has been linked to better mental health, and an overall improvement in mood too.

Written By
Avni

Currently an intern, Avni came over to sunny Singapore to further her studies and is a firm believer of sustainable practices.

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