Food waste awareness high but action sadly lacking


PETALING JAYA: Malaysians love their food but unfortunately, many have no qualms about wasting it.

Food waste makes up half of the 33,000 tonnes of solid waste generated every day, according to the national solid waste management department (JPSPN).

A look at discarded food would show 10-15% is untouched and still edible.

Food wastage awareness has increased over time but specific waste treatment is still low in households, according to waste management specialist Theng Lee Chong.

He said this was because the quality of food waste from households was inconsistent. Therefore, it is not easy to segregate the waste according to their type.

“As a result, most of the food waste is disposed of at the landfill,” Theng told FMT.

When we talk about landfills, cost comes to mind.

While Theng believes food waste could be turned into fertiliser, he said it was not economically viable as the operational cost would be more than the revenue from the product.

He added that in Malaysia, the halal and haram issue also came into play when dealing with the treatment of food waste.

“If we do composting of food waste from mixed sources, can we give an assurance that the fertiliser or compost produced is acceptable to produce edible fruits or vegetables?

“This is still a big challenge for food waste treatment on a larger scale in Malaysia,” Theng said.

It all comes down to Malaysians trying to change our attitude and stop being wasteful whenever we eat, especially during Ramadan, when there are a lot of buka puasa (breaking of fast) events.

“Malaysians have been staying in our comfort zone for too long.

“We have mamak restaurants that are open 24 hours. To keep food wastage in check, Malaysians need to be educated from early childhood.”

Theng said Malaysia had already prepared a National Strategic Plan for Food Waste Management, with guidelines on proper food waste treatment.

“This is common in many developed countries. In Japan, it is called the Food Recycling Law,” he said.

Malaysia has an act on mandatory separation of waste at source since September 2015.

The implementation of the new rule is being done in stages under the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Act 2007 (Act 672).

According to government data, full implementation has been carried out in eight states, namely Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Pahang, Johor, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Perlis and Kedah, since 2015.

Food waste and incinerators

JPSPN has been making sure its solid waste management facilities are in place and there is proper mobilisation of 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) centres at the community level.

Its policy and strategy chief assistant director Faisal Ariffin said households are required to separate their own solid and food waste.

“JPSPN is collaborating with the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) to develop an initial awareness programme and campaign on food wastage management,” he told FMT.

Through this corporation, JPSPN has initiated collaborative efforts with MYSavefood and the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) to promote the reduction of food loss and food waste.

However, Faisal said waste disposal sites are fast overflowing.

Land optimisation by way of building incinerators or waste-to-energy (WtE) plants on these sites is one of the ways to prolong the life expectancy of waste disposal sites.

WtE plants are said to be a more environmentally-friendly way to dispose of waste by converting it into energy in the form of electricity or heat.

“We need to look at building these WtE plants. Right now, the government is looking into building WtEs at locations generating more than 1,000 tonnes of waste,” Faisal said.

The government is in the process of building a WtE plant at the Solid Waste Transfer Station at Taman Beringin in Selayang as an alternative effort in managing solid waste disposal in Kuala Lumpur.

A transfer station is a rubbish collection point where waste is compacted and then loaded onto larger trucks for transportation to a landfill.

Theng, who has walked over 50 landfills in Malaysia, seems to have the same thought.

“Nearly 90% of landfills in Malaysia are open dumps. They cause pollution and the waste will stay there for hundreds of years.

“They contaminate the soil, water surface and underground water, which can also emit harmful gas emissions. Just because these landfills are far from residential areas, nobody cares about them,” he said.

Be like the Japanese

Citing case studies in developed countries, Theng said Japan started building incinerators about 100 years ago.

“Many of their incinerators are within their housing areas. They are basically safe with stringent environmental standards.”

Nevertheless, Theng said a proper study should be done by the government to ensure Malaysia has the capability and technology to handle a waste incinerator.

In the end, it all comes down to the attitude of the people.

“Regulations by the government are also required to ensure industries and commercial concerns do their part in conserving food,” Theng added.

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