Hawker centres try out recycling of food waste

Food waste recycling machines have been installed at two hawker centres here, potentially cutting the waste generated there each day by up to 80 per cent.

The machines, which make use of micro-organisms to convert food waste into water and fertiliser, are on trial at the Tiong Bahru Market and Ang Mo Kio Block 628 Market.

Together the two centres generate 5 tonnes of food waste every day from 342 and 218 stalls, respectively. This means up to 4 tonnes could be recycled.

During the two-year trial, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will be assessing how economically viable the machines are and how well they work to reduce food waste. The machine at Ang Mo Kio is managed by Eco-Wiz and can convert 1 tonne of food waste into water within 24 hours.

It works by mixing the waste with microbes, which digest and decompose the waste into water that is then reused by the machine for self-cleaning. The recycled water can also be used for non-potable purposes such as to clean the bin centre, said Mr Michael Lee, senior sales manager at Eco-Wiz.

The machine at Tiong Bahru is managed by VRM Operations (Singapore). It grinds up food waste and mixes it with micro-organisms. The resulting mixture is then stored in 1,000-litre-capacity tanks.

The tanks of food waste are transported to an off-site facility every three days, where the waste is converted into fertiliser and used for agricultural purposes.

VRM Operations aims to convert 1 tonne of food waste per day.

The two firms won an NEA tender worth about $257,000 in October last year to trial food waste recycling machines. Since then, the NEA has taught hawkers and cleaners at the two centres how to segregate the food waste properly so it can be recycled.

Each stall has been given a plastic bucket to store its food waste. Cleaners have also been provided with separate containers for food waste and other waste such as tissue paper and disposable cutlery.

Mr Chen Pak Seng, 66, owner of Original Tiong Bahru Golden Pig and Roasted, said the process was a bit troublesome but he is getting used to it. "In the past I just dumped everything, but now, with this programme, I can do my part for the environment," he said.

Part-time cleaner Arunsin Bamrungchit, 64, who works at the Ang Mo Kio market, said she found it hard initially to remember to separate the different forms of waste, but has now got the hang of it.

Food waste accounts for about 10 per cent of all waste in Singapore but only about 13 per cent of it is recycled. In 2014, Singapore threw away 788,600 tonnes of food, equivalent to two bowls of rice a person, every day.

Speaking at the launch of the trial yesterday, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said steps to cut food waste have to be taken now. "We envisage that, over time, with a growing population and increasing affluence, as well as the fact that food will remain close to the hearts and stomachs of Singaporeans, the amount of food waste generated is going to increase if we do not do anything about it now," she said.


This article was first published on January 22, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.