Editorial: Waste not, want not

SINGAPORE - Blame it on the buffet syndrome. The amount of food waste in Singapore hit a record high last year as 703,200 tonnes was generated - a 26 per cent spike from the 558,900 tonnes produced in 2007.

People generally order more food than they can eat in restaurants, coffee shops or foodcourts. At buffets, they take more food than they can finish, piling up their plates with every dish that is on the buffet table.

Restaurants should, as a rule, charge diners for food taken and not consumed.Some already do it, but it must be an industry-wide practice so that people learn to take only what they can finish.

Also common is the practice of providing a lavish spread for corporate functions such as an annual general meeting, when serving drinks will do.

Even departmental-level meetings within organisations serve sandwiches and snacks when all participants want is to get through the meeting and clear out of the room. Restaurants should work with non-governmental groups to deliver leftover or day-old food to welfare homes.

At present there is at least one such group, Food From The Heart, which ensures that unsold bread and pastries previously thrown away by bakeries go instead to the less fortunate. There should be more such groups and the food should not just be restricted to bread.

On a global scale, almost as much as half of the food produced in the world - equivalent to two billion tonnes - ends up as waste every year, according to a report published this year by Britain's Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Up to half of the food that is bought in Europe and the United States is thrown away by consumers.

With a projected three billion more people to feed by the end of the century, the challenge is a growing one. Governments, development agencies and organisations like the United Nations should work together to help change people's mindset on waste and discourage wasteful practices.