About 8,000 tonnes of the food wasted daily in Malaysia is avoidable food waste. FILE PIC

Food waste is a bigger problem than many people realise.

HAVE you, like me, ever wondered why many Malaysians don’t finish the food on their table when they eat out?

Never mind the fact that most would never clean up after their meals, finished or unfinished (just go to any of the food courts near you, and you will know what I mean).

Malaysia evidently has a long way to go in many areas, especially etiquette and sustainability.

But we cannot afford to slack off anymore, as the implications of not minding issues of food wastage run deep.

Statistics tallied by SWCorp Malaysia show that Malaysians generally produce 38,000 tonnes of waste per day, and from the pile, about 15,000 tonnes make up food waste.

About 8,000 tonnes, or 60 per cent, of the food wasted daily is avoidable food waste (which refers to disposal of edible food such bread crusts, juice pulps etc).

If you think that’s not alarming enough to get you questioning your habits, think again: of the 8,000 tonnes, about 3,000 tonnes is actually still edible. Rationed well and proportionately, the amount could feed approximately two million people.

Folks, that’s more than the size of Kuala Lumpur’s population.

Somehow, these jaw-dropping findings have not stopped many people from rethinking their food purchasing and eating habits, as it’s easier instead to complain about expenses.

But would they consider the fact that perhaps their thinning wallets are due to compulsive buying and very much mindless ways of eating?

That Malaysians spend a quarter of their income on food and beverages alone says as much.

Reports have also shown that we pile about 450g of food on our plates, yet we dare wonder why Malaysia is ranked as the country with the highest cases of diabetes and obesity in all of Asia.

With our perception limited to only our linear observation of day-to-day routines and happenstance, it’s easy to assume that our actions do not have consequences.

But when it comes to food wastage, out of sight is not out of mind.

We may think nothing of the unfinished buns and rice on our lunch plates, or the vegetables rotting away in our fridges, but their ultimate disposal has serious consequences on our environment.

For one, we are steadily running out of landfill spaces on which our wastes are deposited.

Then, there’s also the fact that the daily waste our bin amounts to a bill of approximate RM225; this translates to RM2,700 a year, which is more than a month’s salary for many.

Blind to the socio-environmental gaps that our own overconsumption generates, we don’t think twice of footing up to RM40 billion for imported food.

With more than five million tonnes of food disposed yearly, so it’s rather apt to say that we Malaysians are active contributors to the global statistics of 1.50 billion tonnes of waste generated per year.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the global poll: Malaysia’s food wastage rate is the third highest in the world, after the United Kingdom and Germany.

On an individual level, people must know that wasting food is not okay, as it indicates one’s lack of self-awareness, moral conscience, and respect for one’s surroundings.

When we waste food, we disrespect other people.

Picture ourselves as the poor and needy: how great would we as the starved and impoverished feel when we see others more privileged than us wasting away the energy supply and nutrition that we could have received?

When we buy more produces for our house and order more dishes at the restaurant than we actually need at every given time, we are also really just setting them up as markers for increased carbon footprint and environmental pollution.

The overall solution to food wastage, and ultimately socio-environmental problems, must be a multi-pronged approach.

True change can only take place with the occurrence of the following scenarios:

WHEN people start to realise they can and should examine why they like to waste;

WHEN society (made up of said people) starts to appreciate nature and the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional benefits it provides, enough to want to preserve it; and,

AND sustainable channels for diverting food waste from limited landfills are opened.

Tighter legal enforcements against commercial food wastage and excessive organic disposals should first be implemented to have immediate effect.

We only need to look up to fellow offender, Germany, to take heed: in owning up to its problem, the German government released an official law entailing that individuals who do not finish their food will be fined on the spot.

People are quicker to realise the immediacy of an issue when they are made vulnerable to financial-legal sanctions, but of course, slapping fines onto
civilians is not sustainable on its own.

Corporations and brands across the food industry would also do well to perform as much environmentally focused corporate social responsibility efforts as possible, to tap into people’s awareness.

On top of that, efforts to compost wastes should be made commercial, and perhaps even compulsory, by the government as part of introducing sustainability into our daily living.

All in all, it takes an entire nation to spark awareness surrounding the issue, and we all know that as Malaysians, we often only need the right push.

Ahmad Kushairi is News Editor (Weekend/Probe/Special Report) New Straits Times

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