PETALING JAYA: Every year, an average Malaysian household throws away more than one month’s salary on food they don’t eat, research by Solid Waste Corporation Management (SWCorp) concluded.
The food that Malaysians waste not only affects their pockets, but it is estimated to be enough to feed millions daily.
The research found that about a quarter of the food is wasted by Malaysians during preparation, production and consumption.
“In one study conducted by SWCorp, a household with five people spends an average of RM900 on food alone.
“If we take into account the fact that a quarter of food is wasted during preparation, production and consumption, the value of food thrown into the trash can every month is equivalent to RM225,” said SWCorp Technology Research Division environmental control officer Agustina Fithri Kasmaruddin.
This would total a whopping RM2,700 a year, which is more than RM2,400, the mean monthly salary for an individual in an urban area, according to the Department of Statistics’ Salaries & Wages Survey Report 2014.Another study conducted by SWCorp showed that Malaysians generated 38,000 tonnes of solid waste daily in 2016, of which 15,000 tonnes was food waste.
It found that 20%, or 3,000 tonnes, of this food waste was avoidable.
Avoidable food waste, Agustina explained, was food that could still be eaten when it was thrown, adding that “people rarely finish the food on their plates.”
“Based on SWCorp’s study, the average weight of an individual’s meal is 0.45kg a meal.
“15,000 tonnes of food waste can feed 11 million people with three meals a day,” said Agustina.
Avoidable food waste, using the same logic, could feed 2.2 million people three full meals a day of perfectly edible food.
“It’s very worrying. Looking at the economy right now, people are suffering. Some can’t even afford to eat,” said Agustina.
The issues of food loss and food waste are becoming more and more prevalent as key matters for leaders to address as Malaysia’s food security becomes increasingly a national concern.
Food loss here means the loss of food between the farms and the retailers, in the case of the produce damaged during harvesting and transportation.
Food waste, on the other hand, is the food that is discarded by retailers and consumers, for instance unsold food that is destroyed by a supermarket after they pass their expiry date as well as uneaten food at hotel buffets.
“The issue of food waste is relatively new in the Malaysian context. It was very recently that the FAO said that food waste was important to food security.
“If we can reduce food waste, we can improve the food security situation. After post-harvest losses, the main issue in food security is food waste,” said Mardi’s Economic and Social Science Research Centre director Dr Rozhan Abu Dardak.
But what can the average Malaysian do to reduce food waste?
According Dr Ainu Husna M S Suhaimi, head secretariat of the MYSaveFood Initiative, it is all about proper planning and awareness.
“It all starts with planning, if you plan your shopping well, you can reduce food waste.
“Use a basket instead of a trolley, use cash instead of credit card.
Dr Ainu also said that overeating was itself a form of food waste and that reduced portions were encouraged.
“Malaysians believe it is better to cook more than being insufficient, but it should be the other way round,” she added. Leftovers should be frozen for later consumption and whatever that remains can be composted or fed to pets.
Passing this information on was part of the MYSaveFood initiative agenda, she explained.
“The MYSaveFood initiative gathers a network of government agencies, private companies and NGOs and informs everyone that everyone wastes,” she said.
They do this mainly through awareness programmes and forums such as the forum that was held last week in conjunction with the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry.
Initiatives by other agencies have also helped to bring food waste into the forefront, including the Lost Food Project that was recently launched.
The project introduced a food surplus collection service in partnership with Jasons Food Hall that pools together products and delivers to five charities twice a week.
“Everyone can do our own bit. Food waste is definitely a change of attitude and mindset, while food loss is more about technology,” said Dr Ainu.