Everyone can pitch in to cut amount of food going to landfills

Bringing containers, setting budget will help prevent excessive buying while NGOs rescue and redistribute surplus.

RAMADAN bazaars were back with a bang this year ‒ with an increase in the number of trading lots and locations.

Subang Jaya City Council (MBSJ) increased the number of Ramadan bazaars to 26 locations and 1,570 lots this year, compared to 16 locations and 1,251 lots in 2022.

According to the MBSJ, the increase is to offer more business opportunities to micro traders and for consumers to explore a wider variety of food options at more locations.

However, a department head from a neighbouring local council said the increase in trading lots also meant an increase in the amount of surplus food left unsold at these bazaars.

"We expect an increase in the amount of surplus food (and subsequently food waste) at Ramadan bazaars this year, since all Covid-19 pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

"There are more traders setting up stalls and more people going out to buy food," said MBSA's Solid Waste Management and Public Cleaning Department director Mohd Azmi Amer Khan.

"An average of 16,000 tonnes of waste are collected in areas under MBSA's purview each month, with the figures increasing during Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri. It consists of food waste and discarded furniture (from spring cleaning)," he said.

Unless there is a platform or collective effort to manage excess unsold food at Ramadan bazaars, oftentimes such items will end up in landfills.

The Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) estimates that food waste increases between 15% and 20% during Ramadan.

It also said studies showed that about 24% of the food that end up in landfills are still edible.

To put things into perspective, social enterprise What A Waste (WAW) said the amount of avoidable food waste generated by Malaysians in 18 days is equivalent to filling up the Petronas Twin Towers to the brim!

Meanwhile, KDEB Waste Management (KDEBWM) reported that the amount of food waste from Ramadan bazaars in Selangor increased by 45% this year compared to last year.

"KDEBWM recorded a total of 73.67 tonnes of food waste daily during Ramadan this year in areas under seven local authorities in Selangor, compared to 50.78 tonnes daily in the same areas during Ramadan last year," the company said in a social media post.

"This follows an increase in the number of trading lots and Ramadan bazaar locations this year, compared to the previous year that had limited numbers due to the Covid-19 pandemic's impact," it said.

KDEBWM is an agency handling rubbish collection in Selangor. According to its social media post, it is responsible for rubbish collection at Ramadan bazaars in seven municipal and city councils ‒ Shah Alam, Kuala Langat, Sepang, Klang, Kajang, Subang Jaya and Selayang.

As of March 31, KDEBWM said Klang Municipal Council recorded the highest amount of food waste with 17.93 tonnes collected while Kuala Langat Municipal Council had the smallest amount with 1.1 tonnes collected.

KDEBWM and SWCorp point out that the effects of uncontrolled rubbish disposal include drainage systems being clogged up and causing flash floods, production of greenhouse gases due to waste decomposition and production of leachate that result in odour pollution.

Fortunately, there are several volunteer groups and grassroots efforts taking the initiative to rescue surplus unsold food at Ramadan bazaars to be channelled to communities in need.

Pemuda Gema is a youth-based organisation that has volunteers stationed at selected Ramadan bazaars throughout Malaysia to collect excess unsold food and distribute them to welfare homes, low-cost flats, surau and mosques as well as underprivileged students.

Its MySaveFood @ Bazaar programme started in 2016 at the Kampung Baru Ramadan bazaar, with the number of locations expanding yearly. This year it covers some 60 locations around Malaysia.

As of April 10, the MySaveFood programme has received more than 17 tonnes of food and drinks. Cakes and kuih, fried noodles and rice-based dishes such as nasi tomato and briyani rank in the top three categories in terms of surplus food collected.

Mindful of food safety, WAW distributes excess unsold food to B40 communities and welfare homes located within a 5km to 6km radius from the USJ4 Ramadan bazaar, one of its collection points during Ramadan. Its beneficiaries also differ daily to ensure fairness.

As consumers, we also play a role in reducing food waste in our everyday consumption.

Online tips suggest that we should plan food purchases in advance and have a budget to avoid overbuying, bring food containers to pack food as this would help one to avoid overbuying besides reducing packaging waste, and use the right way to store food to extend its shelf life.

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