Along The Watchtower

Published: Wednesday July 1, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday July 1, 2015 MYT 8:37:20 AM

From taste to waste

Malaysians complain a lot about the rising prices of food and yet waste so much of it.

TWO wedding dinners and a Ramadan buka puasa buffet over the weekend were reminders of how much food is wasted in Malaysia.

I was late for all three events and most of the guests had finished eating by the time I arrived, but there was still so much food left on the tables.

The leftovers would have ended up in a landfill somewhere as part of the 270,000 tonnes of solid waste expected to be dumped this month.

The estimate is from the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Manag­e­ment Corporation (SWCorp).

Its chief executive officer Datuk Ab Rahim Md Noor said last week that much of the 9,000 tonnes of food discarded daily could still be consumed.

As he cogently put it, the 270,000 tonnes could feed 180 million people or six times more than Malaysia’s population of 30 million.

It is such a huge waste in terms of money, too.

The cost of managing solid waste in the seven states under SWCorp – Federal Territory, Pahang, Johor, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Perlis and Kedah – came up to a whopping RM1.4bil last year.

It’s such a paradox isn’t it? Malaysians complain a lot about the rising prices of food and yet waste so much of it.

We generate some 33,000 tonnes of garbage a day and about 15,000 tonnes, or 45% of it, comprising junked food. Less than 5% of this is recycled.

Per capita, our wastage of food is certainly high but we are not alone. Food wastage is a global issue.

Based on Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) statistics, one third of all the food produced in the world, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes, is lost or wasted in production or before consumption.

In the United States, the wastage of food amounts to a staggering US$162bil (RM612.04bil), according to findings by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In Malaysia, the unconstrained increase in waste and the poor management of our garbage have become major environmental issues leading to the pollution of water, soil and air.

From Sept 1, the states under SWCorp will be subject to the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act 2007 (Act 672) under which households would have to sort out recyclable and non-recyclable wastes.

For the first two days of the week, disposal contractors will only take food wastes while recyclables like plastic, glass and paper will be collected on the third day.

Notices will be issued to those who do not do so and from next year, fines of up to RM1,000 will be slapped on those who do not segregate their wastes.

Many are not even aware that Act 672 is going to be enforced in two months time, as checks with some of my friends in Malacca showed.

But is segregation of garbage the answer to our problems in the long run?

One brilliant scientist and inventor who holds eight patents does not think so.

The Bangalore-based Dr Rajah Vijay Kumar, who was in Malaysia last week for a wedding, said source segregation of waste has never been successful, even in educated societies.

A recent report in the Washington Post gave credence to his view.

It said recycling bins in the US still contained things which should not be there and that it was costing too much to sort the stuff out.

According to the report, contamination and a changing market were causing cities and counties to lose money on recycling.

Dr Kumar, a pioneering researcher in biophysics, radiobiology, nanotechnology and sustainable energy, shared some of his new technologies for the management of urban solid waste and wastewater recovery at an informal gathering on Sunday.

I first met him at his Scalene Energy Research Centre (SERI) five years ago while on an assignment in Bangalore.

He had then patented his Realistic Geometry Cartographic Imaging (RGCI) which can be applied to a wide range of fields from medical science to tsunami detection, and the Cytotron, a non-invasive hope for millions of cancer tumour patients faced with death or conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

Three of his latest patented technologies have names which are more than mouthfuls to pronounce – Dynamic continuous extra high pressure leachate extraction methanisation, Fine particle shortwave thrombotic agglomeration reactor (FPSTAR), and Thermomegasonic deagglomeration reactor (TMDR).

His explanations of the technologies, however, were clear.

The integrated system turns every bit of the waste, except for concrete, into useful products like compressed natural gas, refinable crude oil, fertiliser and pesticide.

In all of the processes, no chemicals are used and nothing is sent to the landfills.

The FPSTAR technology, which is also used to treat polluted or even toxic water, uses a reactor which mimics a similar mechanism found in nature.

Ultra-fine particles remain continuously in motion due to electrostatic charge (often negative) which causes them to repel each other.

A shortwave radio technique is used to cause flow turbulence, neutralising their electrostatic charge.

The finer particles collide and combine, forming larger and heavier particles called thrombus (clots).

Dr Kumar, who has introduced his technologies to the Nether­lands, Spain, Germany and Mexico, said waste management was set to be the biggest business, next to food, by 2025.

He said decentralisation of waste management and sustainable, non-polluting systems were the future because no one wanted to live near dumpsites or land-fills.

According to him, segregating waste is “a waste of time”.

Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Pope Francis: Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.

Tags / Keywords: M Veera Pandiyan, columnist

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