SINGAPORE - Where there are hungry university undergraduates, there are innovative ways to get free food.
Organised systems have sprouted up in universities in Singapore, namely Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU), to help mobilise armies of hungry students to help clear up leftovers at buffets on campus.
A chat group on the messaging app Telegram was set up on Sept 21 by first-year NTU students Marisa Lee and Valerie Wong, both 20, reported the Nanyang Chronicle. There are currently more than 1,800 people in the group as of Tuesday (Oct 17).
They were inspired to start the group after noticing full trays of rice, meat and vegetables being swept into a bin, while leaving a lecture.
The Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information students figured they could save money if they had access to the leftovers, and decided to take action.
"Food is often over-catered (at buffets). After the guests have finished eating, the leftovers often go to waste," Miss Lee told the Nanyang Chronicle.
The group's popularity has surged, with students praising it for reducing food wastage, widening their food options on campus and helping them cut meal expenses.
Third-year School of Social Sciences student Cherine Quek, 23, who was "amused" when she found out about the group, said: "It's a combination of two things that Singaporeans love: free things and eating."
Over at SMU, a Telegram group titled SMU Buffet Clearers has sprung up. It currently has about 1,670 members.
A pinned note instructs members to send the location and ending time of any buffet they come across.
It informs members to first get permission from the buffet organisers that they indeed no longer want the food, before mobilising the masses.
The administrator of the group, who wants to be known only as Jolene, 20, a Smart-City Management and Technology major, told The Straits Times she had started the chat with three project group mates from a module on sustainable cities.
They had just ended a project meeting when some people invited them to help finish a buffet where there was some leftover food.
"I think there was a talk going on. So we started a chat as a joke to spread the word. Three weeks later, there is over 1,600 people inside!"
The chat is a completely student-run initiative and they have not received any instructions from the school about stopping its activities.
"We help to save a lot of leftover food, so there is no longer a lot of food wastage. Also, it gives us university students the opportunity to eat free food."
Civil Engineering major Daniel Lim, 21, had joined the group at the end of September.
The freshman had been added to the group by a classmate from a module, and told ST he has gone for one of the "buffet clearing" sessions so far.
"I am quite satisfied with this initiative. It reduces food wastage and helps lessen the burden on our wallets."
Meanwhile, NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan has personally lauded the efforts of NUS' organised buffet clearing community in an interview at the start of the month.
The "buffet response team" is an informal group set up by its undergraduates to help finish the food leftover at buffet receptions on campus.
Professor Tan commended it as an example of how students are thinking out of the box, saying: "(This is) quite creative thinking. You're matching excess food with a group of people who wouldn't mind having a meal, and in the process reducing wastage."
According to results of a survey by appliance maker Electrolux Singapore released on Monday, the average Singapore household throws away about $170 worth of food and beverage a year, adding up to over $200 million annually.
It said that food waste accounts for about 10 per cent of total waste generated here, and has shot up over 40 per cent in the past decade.