Enjoy - but mind that extra portion

Food waste continues to be a global indictment. On one end of the scale, it exposes the indifference in rich countries towards discarding surplus fresh food. On the other end is the failure in less advanced agrarian nations to conserve produce through better post-harvest storage and distribution. Countless studies by United Nations agencies and international charities have concluded that hunger and malnutrition will never be eradicated although, on a per capita basis, there is ample supply of grain, fresh produce and processed foods to feed humankind.

One estimate suggests that the world's hungry could be fed three times over on the amount of food thrown away each year in the United States, Japan and Europe - which is about half of their copious supply. There is little gain in debating moralities in such behaviour as politics, industry practices and individual attitudes all conspire to work against achieving a fairer share-out of edible resources.

Some success could be achieved by stressing recycling and the conversion of food waste into animal feed and fertiliser. If there is advantage to starting these biomass industries in Johor or Batam to serve local agriculture, Singapore could be an intermediate supplier and the food waste generated here would be less of a disposal headache.

The National Environment Agency's unusual step of making it mandatory for businesses to report waste discharge is best appreciated in this manner. Its audit, taking effect next year, will cover all waste - food, paper, glass, metals, plastics - but food conservation has to be the focus for the simple reason that Singapore depends on food imports to an extraordinary (and permanent) degree. Singapore is becoming a nation of food wasters, as is evident to patrons of foodcourts and hotel buffets. The 800,000 tonnes of food dumped last year worked out to 0.4kg a day for every man, woman and child in the 5.4 million population. Only a small proportion was recycled. It is a sobering reminder to be as sensible about food measures as about water usage.

Another reason for waste management few people think about is the environmental impact. Landfills are not viable long term, for obvious reasons. Incineration comes at a cost in the discharge of gases. Organic waste that is buried decays to release methane that contributes more to climate change than does carbon dioxide. As for inorganic waste, such as non-biodegradable plastics and electrical items like batteries, the links between soil degradation and plant health are another imponderable. Being small does not exempt Singapore from being a part of the world supply and despoiling chain. It is added reason to treat waste with respect.

This article was published on MONTH DAY in The Straits Times.

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