Building 'circular economy' could help reduce Singapore's food waste: study

Amir Hussain
Senior Reporter
Alongside the estimated $2.54 billion worth of food that is lost each year here, it was also revealed that about $342 million worth of food is also discarded by households annually. (PHOTO: Getty Creative)

SINGAPORE — Building a “circular economy” for food in Singapore could help to reduce the estimated 342,000 tonnes of food that is lost from farm to market here each year, says a new study.

Commissioned by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and consultancy firm Deloitte Singapore, the findings of the study – titled “Advancing a Circular Economy for Food: Key Drivers and Recommendations to Reduce Food Loss and Waste in Singapore” – were shared at the SEC Conference on Tuesday (27 August).

Alongside the estimated $2.54 billion worth of food that is lost each year here, it was also revealed that about $342 million worth of food is discarded by households annually. This latter figure works out to about $6.57 million worth of food per week, and about $258 worth of food per household per year.

Speaking at the event, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said that the government would be working to close this waste loop.

“Today, we take, make, use and toss without a second thought to our impact on the environment,” said Masagos.

“This will be increasingly unsustainable. We must all adopt a circular economy mindset, and seek to close our resource loops,” he added.

He gave the example of how, in Singapore, used water is recycled into NEWater to close the water loop. Together with desalination, the two taps help strengthen Singapore’s water security amid a changing climate, he said, noting that the two “did not come easy, and required a lot of hard work and heavy investments”.

“Going forward, we will pursue the circular economy in the waste and material resources sector with the same determination.”

Masagos’ ministry will launch the inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan later this week.

Fourth ‘food basket’

The study suggests building a circular economy for food to reduce loss by plugging gaps in the supply chain.

Food loss is the food that is lost in the supply chain between the producer and the market, while food waste is the discarding of food that is safe for consumption.

The circular economy could be a fourth “food basket”, the study suggests, alongside the first three baskets: imports, local production, and companies expanding overseas so that their produce can be imported back to Singapore.

Cutting down on food loss and converting it into food for consumers would also help enhance Singapore’s food security and achieve its goal of attaining 30 per cent self-sufficiency in terms of the population’s food needs.

Similarly, reducing food loss and waste will help lower greenhouse gas emissions in Singapore and mitigate climate change, said the SEC.

One of the largest waste streams

Food waste forms one of the largest waste streams in Singapore, the study said. Last year, the country generated 763,000 tonnes of food waste, an almost 30 per cent increase from 10 years ago.

Meanwhile, with climate change and global population growth, global food supplies are increasingly at risk from extreme weather events and poor land management practices. According to some researchers, the world will also face a 56 per cent food need gap, with a shortage of nearly 600 million hectares of agricultural land, by 2050.

“These external factors will exert pressure on the global food system and pose a challenge to our 90 per cent food import dependency”, said the SEC-Deloitte study.

Singapore’s food imports are substantially sourced from countries that deploy traditional farming methods for weather-based agriculture; 80 per cent of crops are still rain-fed, the study noted.

Such forms of agriculture contribute to about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 70 per cent of freshwater use.

Looking at the local egg supply chain

The study identified the supply chain for eggs in Singapore, which generates low amounts of food loss and waste, as a positive example.

“The eggs farms in Singapore use automation to enable maximum output while ensuring minimal loss during production, resulting in around 1 per cent loss of eggs along the food supply chain,” the study said.

“Moreover, good practices in these farms include the use of damaged eggs during production to create by-products such as liquid egg and powdered eggs. Chicken waste obtained from coop is used as fertiliser in vegetable farms in Singapore.

“These characteristics of valorising food from waste generated has the potential to be used as a model to exhibit circularity of food in Singapore,” the study added.

It noted that local fish farms are developing a ready-to-eat seafood product, made from a combination of unsold fish and prawn meat, which would extend its shelf life.

The SEC-Deloitte study involved, among other things, a review of published studies on food waste and loss; an online survey of 1,002 consumers; and interviews with stakeholders along the food supply chain – from farmers to food importers, distributors and retailers.

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