EDITORIAL: An end to waste

Taipei (The China Post/ANN) - Waste happens. Everybody knows it. Still, it is shocking to admit that we waste an estimated NT$240 billion (US$7.98 billion) worth of food each year in Taiwan. Based on the Council of Agriculture's latest figures, the local CommonWealth Magazine estimates that 17 per cent of the 567 kg of food we have access to on average per person is lost or wasted every year.

In other words, the Chinese-language publication points out that each person throws away about NT$10,000 per year. In Taiwan, this waste translated into a money pit of NT$240 billion in 2012. That is unacceptable.

In a country where almost two in five residents aged between 20 and 39 years old eat out at least three days per week - and where another one in five dine at "all-you-can-eat" restaurants at least once per month - there is little wonder that you buy more loaves than you need, or that some vegetables have been hiding out in dark corners of the fridge for too long. And Taiwan is not an isolated case.

In France, food waste costs on average 400 euros for a family of four with an annual volume of food waste ranging between 20 and 30 kg per person. The average American household also discards between $500 and $2,000 worth of food a year, according to various sources.

In these difficult times, however, there should be clever ways to minimise waste, such as storing food carefully and preserving it at its peak to enjoy later, or at least let underprivileged people and families benefit from unsold products at a bargain price, like during the horsemeat scandal that engulfed Europe in February.

Instead of throwing the tainted meat into garbage trucks, and against the calls of some in the media, three French charities handed out to the needy thousands of frozen dinners that had been yanked from retail shelves.

In order to decrease the amount of food wasted, Taiwan authorities should first promote the sale per unit in supermarket and convenience stores. By offering consumers special promotions through which they can obtain a bargain product later, we may be able to reduce the volume of products bought before the expiration date is reached.

With a little practice, we can also save hundreds of New Taiwan dollars by just listing daily meals before shopping. At a time when taxes tend to increase, it's nice to save a little without starving. By decreasing the amount of food wasted, businesses can further cut down on their disposal costs. Less food being wasted will translate into less food being composted or landfilled; the latter produces methane, a very potent greenhouse gas.

Wasteful practices at home seem equally as important. A total of 81 per cent of respondents in the CommonWealth Magazine's recent survey admitted they bought more food than was needed at home, and more than one-quarter conceded that they often or occasionally throw out uneaten or uncooked food. Among the respondents who purchased too much for their own use, the magazine stressed that nearly 30 per cent said it was because the items they bought were cheap.

By frequently eating out, chasing bargains and leaving leftovers behind, there is little hope that Taiwanese people will stop wasting food any time soon. But if we learn to cherish food and buy locally grown produce when it is in season, there is a little hope that we will succeed in reducing food-wastage in the near future.

*US$1=NT$30.07

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