PETALING JAYA: Every day, Malaysians produce enough food waste to fill seven Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp).
This means that out of the 38,000 tonnes of domestic waste daily, 45% – or 17,000 tonnes – are food waste, out of which around 4,080 tonnes are still edible.
This is enough to feed some three million people three meals per day.
SWCorp is seeking to raise public awareness to decrease food waste as a way of reducing pollution and global warming effects via its Value Food, No Waste campaign, which has now returned for the sixth year.
“The dumping of food waste at landfills contributes to environmental pollution and global warming due to the release of methane gas resulting from the decomposition process.
“Methane, as a greenhouse gas, has an effect on global warming as much as 34 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide.
“Based on 2019 data, solid waste has increased by 15%.
But for 2020, there was a 7% decrease in solid waste due to the absence of Ramadan bazaars because of the Covid-19 outbreak as well as the movement control order by the government, ” said SWCorp in a statement.
During the launch of the campaign on May 4, Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ismail Abd Muttalib had urged Malaysians to be careful when planning their daily meals.
He said measures that could be taken included making a grocery shopping list, keeping meals properly according to their expiry dates as well as prioritising the use of perishable food items and those nearing their expiry dates.
Malaysians, he said, could also get creative by using leftovers for a new dish, donating food to the needy and cooking just the right quantity for each meal.
For urban areas like Kuala Lumpur, SWCorp Federal Territories estimated that in 2020, food waste contributed 41% to the total weight of waste components, followed by diapers at 23.7%, plastic at 19.3% and paper at 7.8%.
Out of the 41%, it estimated that an average of 62.44% were unavoidable food waste while 37.56% were avoidable.
According to data from SWCorp Federal Territories, from March to June 2020, there was some reduction in total food waste generated, mainly due to the MCO.
Urging urbanites to be more mindful, SWCorp Federal Territories said continued wastage would lead to increased impact of pollution due to leachate such as soil, river and groundwater pollution.
“It will also cause diseases due to the breeding of insects and pests as well as drive up maintenance costs for landfills, ” it said.
Environment and waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong described food wastage as an attitude problem, saying that there was a need for an attitude shift among Malaysians.
“From my previous study in 2015, about 45% of total waste in Malaysia was food waste.
“Out of this, about 10% to 15% of it was avoidable wasted food. This means, statistically, only 4.5% to 6.75% of the total waste in Malaysia was avoidable wasted food.
“But the SWCorp figure is now showing a very high percentage of food wastage, five to six times more than before.
“If the information revealed by SWCorp is true, I think it is a very worrying situation because 37.6% of the food waste that we throw everyday in KL areas are good and edible food, ” he added.
Theng said while the MCO might have significantly impacted waste generation from some sectors, especially hotels and eateries, reduction from households was not likely to be significant as people still had to cook at home or buy takeaway meals.
Food waste in Malaysia, he added, was not a matter of low awareness but rather a problem rooted in an individual’s attitude, behaviour and mindset.
“Students in particular should practise ‘no food wastage’ from a young age and bring the good habits home to influence their parents.
“But it was observed that food wastage is serious even in schools – from primary schools to universities – with so much good food wasted from the cafeteria, ” he said.
Commercial and industrial sectors, he said, were also better targets for reduction as they were bigger generators of food waste compared to households or individuals.
“Impose more stringent regulations on other sectors of food waste generators such as the food and beverage industries, hotels, markets, eateries, shopping malls and others.
“The ‘carrot’ approach sometimes doesn’t work for these entities but the ‘stick’ approach will be required with effective enforcement, ” he added.