- Food waste makes up half of the 1.5kg of waste discarded daily by Singaporean households.
- From 2007 to 2017, the amount of food waste in Singapore jumped from 558,000 tonnes to 810,000 tonnes.
- In 2019 Singapore generated roughly 744,000 tonnes of food waste.
- For 2020, the total food waste generated by Singaporean households amounted to $342 million.
- Less than one in six Singaporeans are aware of the country’s food wastage problem
- 393,000 tonnes of fruits, vegetables, seafood, and eggs are lost due to spoilage or improper handling.
- From 2018 to 2019 Singapore’s food wastage fell from 763,000 tonnes to 744,000 tonnes.
The 21st century is one defined by excess.
While some may see this as a good thing, too much of anything is always bad… even when it pertains to something as essential as food.
In Singapore alone, half of the daily waste produced by households is made up of food waste. The other half is made up of a combination of paper, cardboard, and electronic waste.
Over the course of a year, this amounts to hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wasted food. Based on previous studies, this figure has steadily grown over the past 10 years, as illustrated by this data gathered from the National Environment Agency:
Singapore’s food waste production saw a significant upward trend from 2014 to 2017. Due to this excess waste, the country’s waste disposal system has been under extreme stress.
Of the three landfills in Singapore, only one is still open for waste disposal. The other two, namely the Lim Chu Kang and Lorong Halus dumping grounds, were filled to capacity in 1992 and 1999 respectively.
Current studies state that the Semakau Landfill is projected to reach maximum capacity by 2035. If this occurs, The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has stated that digging another landfill would be out of the question.
When pressed on plans to address future waste, The National Environment Agency hinted at projects that would permanently close Singapore’s waste loop. Beyond this, there is only speculation, as the NEA has offered no further answers.
The Root of Singapore’s Food Waste Dilemma
In response to the growing volume of food waste, Singapore has begun to implement food recycling practices. One promising recycling prospect is the use of waste-to-energy incineration plants.
These plants effectively reduce waste while also preserving space in an already crowded Singapore.
At the moment, however, these recycling practices as a whole are still lacking in impact: only 18% of food waste was recycled in 2019.
As a result of this, many experts agree that part of the solution to this pressing issue is one rooted in consumers.
Among Singapore’s waste streams, the largest contributors by far are paper/cardboard, plastics, construction debris, ferrous metals, and food waste.
According to various studies by the Singapore Environment Council, food waste now makes up over 10% of all waste produced by Singapore. A significant portion of this is directly contributed by Singaporean households.
Cumulatively, the domestic sector produces an average of 26,000 tonnes of wasted food each year. Unfortunately, the premature disposal of good food is not just a waste of produce.
As a matter of fact, when good food is wasted, the effort and energy taken to produce that food are also lost. Because of this, the domestic sector has generated roughly 342 million Singapore dollars of wasted food, labor, resources, and energy.
To make matters worse, some portions of the Singaporean population are still largely unaware of their contribution to this issue.
To learn more about consumers and their contribution to growing food waste, Milieu Insight conducted a survey briefly summarized by the figure above.
Of the many reasons for discarding food, the survey revealed that one of the main reasons was that it had gone bad after being forgotten.
It was also found that one in four Singaporeans tends to shop excessively for groceries. And almost half of the entire survey population stated they never bought from reduced-to-clear sections at supermarkets.
These are significant findings as much of Singapore’s domestic food waste consists of uneaten spoiled groceries.
Of the 1000 respondents, 86% said they prepared more food than necessary for gatherings and parties. Along with this, more than half of the respondents said they never took home unfinished food from restaurants.
This data serves to underline the lack of concern that some Singaporeans have with regard to food wastage.
Commercial Food Wastage
Though the domestic sector plays a large role in food wastage, commercial entities also make a significant contribution. As a matter of fact, in 2019, approximately 393,000 tonnes of food were lost during production and processing.
This accounts for nearly 53% of Singapore’s total food loss in 2019 alone. Much of this food wastage occurs due to poor production standards or improper handling.
Though Singapore does produce some local foods, more than 90% of the country’s food stream is imported. Among these imported foods, around 144,000 tonnes are lost by the time they arrive in Singapore.
From an annual perspective, the country loses 167,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables as well as 25,000 tonnes of fish and seafood. To top this off, 5,500 tonnes of eggs are also lost locally each year.
These figures amount to a sizable monetary loss in Singapore’s food sector. Cumulatively, the country throws out $2.54 billion worth of produce.
Upon conducting studies on the matter, The Singapore Environment Council discovered several factors for food loss.
The key drivers were identified as poor disease and pest management, over the importation of food items, fragmented cold chain management, and poor infrastructure. These factors can be extremely difficult to address due to the amount of logistical coordination required.
Because of this, the Singapore Environment Council identified eggs to be the most viable food option to reduce wastage.
Egg production in Singapore has a well-developed supply chain and efficient transportation, as well disease management technology. This is why eggs are the most resource-efficient food source that the country can currently produce.
Food Waste Disposal in Singapore
Given the island’s limited space, Singapore’s government has been forced to use innovative waste disposal practices. As mentioned earlier, one such practice is the creation of waste-to-energy plants.
It is estimated that these plants reduce solid waste volume by 90%, primarily through combustion.
The remaining 10%, which is primarily ash, is then transported to the landfill to be buried.
The space-saving ability of WTE plants holds much promise as a waste disposal practice. This is why the government has invested $25 million in the waste-to-energy program.
Of course, this is not without its drawbacks, as the burning of waste also releases harmful gases. For reference, coal-burning plants produce roughly 915 grams (32 ounces) of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced.
In contrast, natural gas plants produce 549 grams (19 ounces) of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour.
WTE plant emissions sit in between coal and natural gas plants at 580 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.
Along with carbon dioxide, food left untreated also produces methane after breaking down. Because of this, Singapore has taken steps to reduce air pollution in other industries through legislation and air quality monitoring.
Previous projections originally placed the Semakau landfill’s final year of service at 2045. But the country’s increasing waste production has put a serious strain on this timetable.
To reduce this strain, the government has implemented e-waste bins and various recycling projects. All of these projects center on educating citizens about proper recycling practices.
The first step is the creation of blue recycling bins with explicit instructions and indications for the products that can be disposed of. Following this, the government has also begun drafting and posting banners near recycling bins.
The banners aim to reduce the contamination of recyclables by stating that no products with leftover food or liquids may be disposed of in the bins. Additionally, Singapore’s recycling trucks have also been given an identical blue paint job to make them easier to identify.
Last, but not least, the government has relaunched its “#RecycleRight” information campaign to urge consumers to recycle properly. All of these measures are a result of Singapore’s newly launched Zero Waste Masterplan.
Zero Waste and Resource Sustainability
To extend the Semakau landfill’s life beyond 2035, Singapore has drafted the Zero Waste Masterplan. This project aims to do this by reducing the country’s daily waste production by 30%.
Realistically to achieve this, Singapore would need a waste reduction from 0.36kg per capita to 0.25kg per capita. For individuals, this means cutting down from 800g of waste per day to 640g of waste per day.
The success of the Zero Waste Masterplan would ultimately result in a significant extension of the Semakau landfill’s lifespan. It would also give the country more time to find a more permanent solution to waste build-up.
In tandem with the Zero Waste Masterplan, Singapore’s parliament has also passed the Resource Sustainability Act.
Having taken effect on January 1, 2020, the law aims to target the three main sources of waste in Singapore. These three waste streams consist of e-waste, packaging waste, and food waste.
In the case of food waste, all large-scale food waste generators will be required to segregate their food waste for treatment.
Such establishments include hotels, malls, housing developments, food caterers, and food storage warehouses. Additionally, newly developed buildings with the potential to generate large amounts of food waste will also be required to have onsite waste treatment facilities.
With all these measures in place, changes have already begun to show in Singapore’s waste production.
Based on the tabulated data collected from the National Environment Agency, there is an evident decrease in food waste production. From an all-time high of 810,000 tonnes in 2017, Singapore’s food waste dropped to 665,000 in 2020.
Along with this, the recycling rate also rose proportionally with each succeeding year, beginning with 2017. These numbers are a direct result of the Zero Waste Masterplan as well as waste legislation.
Private Sector Food Waste Programs
In conjunction with government efforts, Singapore’s private sector has also turned its gaze towards sustainable food waste practices.
Ento Industries, a private biotech company, is fielding fly larvae to help deal with Singapore’s food waste dilemma. The small insects are able to consume up to two times their body weight in biomass.
Once the larvae have had their fill, they can be turned into fish feed for farms all over Singapore.
With various grants, the company is currently planning to construct a waste management facility to decompose and repurpose 10 to 20 tonnes of waste each month.
To help eliminate food packaging, another startup by the name of TRIA is manufacturing a biodegradable food package. Dubbed BIO24, TRIA’s product is capable of going from a food package to compost within the span of 24 hrs.
In order to help reduce the amount of wasted food, culinary app Flavorgator is identifying the dishes most preferred by citizens. This helps restaurants steer clear of disliked foods that would otherwise end up half-eaten and then binned.
These projects from the private sector have played a role in reducing Singapore’s food waste output for 2020. As they continue to develop, one can hope to see even more significant changes in the country’s food waste levels.
Singapore’s Waste From a Global Perspective
On the international stage, Singapore produces a relatively low amount of food waste compared to other Southeast Asian countries. Currently, the country with the highest amount of wasted food in Southeast Asia is Indonesia.
Recent studies report an astounding 300kg of food per person is wasted each year there. Taking Indonesia’s population into account, this amounts to almost 13 million tonnes of wasted food.
Allocated properly, this amount of nourishment could have fed around 28 million people. Figures such as this serve to indicate that food waste is not just a local issue but rather, a global dilemma.
Globally, Singapore also ranks relatively well, producing around 37% less annual food waste per person compared to the US. When compared to Japan, Singapore produces just 9 kg more.
As Singapore’s food waste projects continue to develop the country may also hope to be on par with Japan in terms of food waste generation. In managing its own food waste, Singapore may very well provide the means for other Southeast Asian countries to follow suit.
Hope for the Future
With various projects and legislation to cut down on food wastage, Singapore is well on its way to becoming more sustainable and food-efficient.
Thanks to strict implementations and cooperative consumers, the country has begun to see a 10% decrease in food waste production from 744,000 tonnes to 665,000 tonnes. This change was recorded in 2020 alone.
If the trend continues, it is highly likely that the country will reach its goal of a 30% decrease in daily waste production within the next few years.
As a means to achieve true sustainability and future efficiency, the country has also launched a 30-million-dollar fund to boost local food production. Ideally, this increase in local production could reduce Singapore’s dependence on foreign food imports.
If even a 10% reduction is seen in Singapore’s food imports, the country could very well save millions of dollars in spoiled produce. Over the next two years, these investments will create significant changes in the country’s food waste production.
So long as Singapore continues to practice proper food consumption and disposal, food waste may very well become manageable by 2030. Alternatively, if left unchecked, the country’s higher local food production could once again put a strain on the Semakau landfill.
However, with the combined efforts of the government, citizens, and the private sector, it is highly likely that the former will take place as opposed to the latter.
Ultimately, with its revolutionary plans and a strong sense of discipline… Singapore may yet become a fully green, sustainable country in the future.
- Food Waste Management. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nea.gov.sg/our-services/waste-management/3r-programmes-and-resources/food-waste-management
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- Liu, V. (2020, November 22). Food too good to waste. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/food-too-good-to-waste
- Singapore aims to cut daily waste sent to landfill by 30% by 2030 to extend Semakau’s lifespan. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/singapore-aims-cut-daily-waste-sent-landfill-30-2030-extend-semakaus-lifespan
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