By Angela Pang and Dawn Ng
Food waste continues to be one of the most under-recycled waste streams globally, and unfortunately, this trend holds true in Singapore. The data released by The National Environment Agency (NEA) Singapore showed that the recycling rate of food waste stood at 18% in 2022. Worryingly, this figure has remained static over the course of four years from 2019 to 2022. In contrast to this stagnation, Singapore has established ambitious plans to transform into a Zero Waste Nation. The Zero Waste Nation Master Plan outlines a goal of achieving an overall recycling rate of 70% across all waste streams and a recycling rate of 30% for domestic wastes by 2030.
Will Singapore be able to make such a leap in the span of only six years from now? The gap between the current recycling rate for food waste and the desired recycling rate seems daunting. This stagnation over the past years suggests that current initiatives may not be sufficient to meet the 2030 goals. There is argument for a more nuanced and comprehensive approach for businesses to be incentivised and supported for their effort to reduce food waste. This stems from the scale of the issue of food waste, along with the diverse sources and drivers across the food value chain that present opportunities for businesses to address the gaps for food waste recycling.
Figure 1: Graph of food waste recycling rate against the 2030 goals of overall and domestic recycling rate.
NEA Singapore has taken multiple initiatives to encourage responsible consumption through approaches such as the Food Waste Reduction Outreach Programme. Launched in 2015, this programme aims to educate the public on making smart food purchases, practising proper storage and preparation methods to reduce food waste at source. Similarly, the “Food Waste? Don’t Waste!” pilot project executed in 2018 targeted communities to recycle their food waste by depositing them in food waste recycling bins located around residential blocks.
Even though progress has been made among consumers, more attention needs to be given towards businesses on the topic of managing their food waste. Based on NEA’s Food Segregation Roadmap, large commercial and industrial food waste generators are mandated to segregate their food waste for on-site or off-site treatment by 2024. This policy is a vital step which aligns with NEA’s prior initiative: “Food Waste Funding Scheme” in 2020. Aimed at supporting organisations in Singapore, this scheme subsidises the initial capital costs of food waste treatment. Successful applicants will receive a maximum of S$100,000 to cover the costs for infrastructural adjustment and installation of food waste treatment systems as well as auxiliary equipment (e.g. bins, bin lifters, weighing mechanisms). The fund also addresses the collection, logistics, transportation, processing, and recycling costs to further solidify Singapore’s commitment to a more sustainable food waste management.
While the funding scheme highlights Singapore’s commitment to address the issue of food waste, it is not without its challenges. For instance, the funding payout is administered only after project installation and commencement of operation, which leaves Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) vulnerable without the necessary initial capital to begin a project. Following this, initiatives such as on-site food waste treatment necessitates a buffer period and may have a slow gestation phase before tangible results are observed. To put simply, these processes need time to become effective. This inevitably underscores a conspicuous gap in current food waste management strategies, where businesses are often left to their own devices in navigating the complexities to manage their food wastes.
Fortunately, businesses in Singapore have not remained passive towards the issue of food waste. Many have executed robust food waste management systems. This indicates a sign that companies recognise the importance of environmental stewardship, where corporate responsibilities extend beyond the conventional focus on profits and financial metrics. In Singapore, large food retailers and hospitality companies are one of the primary industries responsible for generating the bulk of food waste. Rather than being part of the problem, many of these organisations have started to align themselves with solutions. Several leading names such as NTUC FairPrice, Sheng Siong Group, Marina Bay Sands and Grand Hyatt Singapore began to resonate with NEA’s Food Segregation Roadmap, implementing initiatives showcasing their active commitment to reduce food waste.
For instance, NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong Group have been proactive in rolling out food waste reduction programs, which include optimising supply chain processes to minimise spoilage, promoting the sale of imperfect but perfectly edible produce, and recycling unsellable products into animal feed or compost,. Similarly, Marina Bay Sands and Grand Hyatt Singapore have introduced innovative measures within their kitchens, such as employing smart technologies to track and analyse food waste and training staff on sustainable food preparation techniques,. Refer to Figure 2 for detailed descriptions of their initiatives.
Figure 2: Food waste recycling and reduction initiatives by large food retailers and hospitality companies in Singapore.
These initiatives highlight genuine business opportunities and an open window for businesses to begin or scale up current efforts to manage food waste. They not only comply with the forthcoming regulatory mandates by NEA but also demonstrate that it is possible to merge business objectives with ecological responsibility. By setting precedents and providing workable models, these food retailers and hospitality giants are laying the groundwork for a broader industry shift, offering evidence that environmental stewardship need not be at odds with commercial success.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore are also increasingly taking the lead in pioneering initiatives that align with the nation’s vision of becoming a Zero-waste society. For example, Ento Industries has adopted a novel approach to food waste by utilising the Black Soldier Fly. This ingenious method allows them to upcycle diverse food wastes into valuable feed ingredients for the agricultural sector. Similarly, Eco Wise has made commendable advancements in recycling food waste from production plants. They transform by-products such as spent barley grains, soya residue, and excess milk powder from local food processors into enriching additives for poultry feed to be distributed throughout the Southeast Asia region. Beyond merely signalling a rising consciousness about food waste recycling, these endeavours by SMEs underscore the potential for businesses, regardless of size, to play a pivotal role in mitigating food waste.
The criticality of food waste is that it does not merely disappear, but persists to pose environmental impacts even after being disposed of. As food wastes in Singapore are directed to Waste-to-Energy Plants, the GHG released contributes to the accelerated warming of the planet, impacting weather patterns, ecosystem and human health. The slow progress of recycling rate for food waste over recent years indicates that more transformative measures should be considered to propel Singapore towards the goal of 70% overall recycling rate. The lessons learned from these pioneers and SMEs can guide other businesses and the government alike, fostering a collaborative environment in which both regulation and voluntary action work in harmony to turn the tide on food waste in Singapore. The alignment of these initiatives with NEA’s roadmap is an indication that the battle against food waste is gaining momentum, slowly transforming the food value chain from linear to circular, serving as a robust model for others to follow.
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