Every day last year, each person in Singapore wasted an equivalent of one packet of economy rice or nasi padang.
All this added up to an astounding record of 796,000 tonnes - the weight of about 1,420 fully loaded Airbus A-380s - of food waste, according to National Environment Agency statistics released this month.
This marks a steep 13.2 per cent rise from the 703,200 tonnes dumped in 2012, and is the sharpest spike in at least six years. Before last year, food waste had typically gone up between 1.6 and 6.7 per cent year on year since 2007.
"It's an extremely steep rise and it's rather disturbing that there is a distinct lack of awareness and nonchalance to food security issues," said Singapore Environment Council chief executive Jose Raymond yesterday.
The amount of food waste, which includes cooked food and expired packaged products, last year is a 42.4 per cent leap from the 2007 figure, far outpacing the 17.7 per cent growth in national population.
Mr Raymond blamed rising consumer affluence, a growing food industry that is "constantly bringing new delicacies to the table", and a lack of public awareness on food waste.
An affluent society has resulted in habits such as "not finishing up our food (because) the taste is not up to par or the inclination to load up our plates when in front of a buffet line", said Food and Beverage Managers' Association (FBMA) president Cheong Hai Poh.
He revealed that FBMA has already been studying food practices in Europe.
The problem has also permeated every link in the supply chain, said Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman in Parliament last week.
Among those culpable included food manufacturing and catering industries, food and beverage outlets as well as hotels.
The latest statistic has surprised Restaurant Association of Singapore president Andrew Tjioe, who is also the executive chairman of Tung Lok Group.
"I have seen restaurants with waiters who keep customers from over-ordering," he said. "People also dabao (take away) leftovers, it is not shameful. I do so even if I have only a little bit of food left."
He believes catered occasions, such as buffets and banquets, were the prime wasters.
People also tend to cater more food than required, said Mr Tjioe. "But caterers wouldn't dare to cut down in case the demand is there and food is not enough."
He suggested reducing Chinese banquet courses, which can have as many as nine dishes, or to cut the size of portions.
Open-concept kitchens at restaurants such as Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts also help chefs gauge how much food is still available to diners, said its general manager Patrick Fiat.
Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association president Thomas Pek, who said he will raise the problem at an association meeting later this month, urged more companies to work with charities in giving away food that is nearing its expiry date.
He also suggested that more supermarkets and bakeries could mark down prices of their fresh produce near the end of the day.
Despite the massive amount of food being disposed, recycling remains low. Last year, only about 13 per cent of the total was recycled, up 1 per cent from the previous year. This comprises mainly clean food waste such as spent grains from beer brewing and bread waste, which are converted to animal feed.
Said Mr Raymond: "With the amount of food waste being generated, it is probably timely for Singapore to revisit the possibility of food waste recycling."
This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 19, 2014
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