Food waste drops during MCO, rises soon after

KUALA LUMPUR – Remember how bread, rice, eggs, mineral water and other essential items flew off the shelves at grocery stores and supermarkets when the government announced the Movement Control Order (MCO) in March?

The panic buying scenario repeated recently when the Conditional MCO (CMCO) was reimposed in certain states to stem the spike in COVID-19 cases.

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When too much of a certain food item lies uneaten and its shelf life has expired, it inevitably ends up in the garbage bin. This brings to mind photos of unopened packages of bread lying in a pile of rubbish which went viral on social media during the MCO and invoked the wrath of netizens.

Food wastage is a perpetual problem in Malaysia and according to SWCorp Malaysia (Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Corporation), the households sector accounts for 44.5 percent of the 16,667.5 tonnes of food waste generated in Malaysia daily.

About 24 percent or 4,005 tonnes of the food waste is classified as still edible, with the quantity sufficient to provide three meals to 2,970,000 people for a day.

Silver lining

The MCO period, nevertheless, had a silver lining as there was a marked decrease in the quantity of food waste that ended up in landfills.

According to SWCorp Malaysia Federal Territories director Mohd Zahir Shari, during the month of March, including the period before MCO was enforced on March 18, food waste generated daily in Kuala Lumpur averaged 2.1 tonnes and in April, it went down to 1.7 tonnes a day, reflecting a 0.3-tonne reduction in food wasted daily.

The decrease was attributed to most restaurants catering to takeaways and home deliveries and their shorter operating hours, as well as the cancellation of all wedding functions and other events and gatherings.

The fact that hotels and restaurants were not allowed to offer buffets during the MCO also resulted in the decrease as buffets are known to be among the biggest contributors to food waste.

“During that period, most people stayed at home and either cooked or opted for packed food from outside but they consumed all the food since they were home-bound,” said Mohd Zahir.

However, he told Bernama, when the MCO went into the conditional and recovery phases, food waste figures in Kuala Lumpur started creeping up again to an average of 2.2 to 2.3 tonnes a day in June and July when movement restrictions were eased and most economic sectors reopened.

And, according to SW Corp’s waste composition study, the average amount of food waste generated during the MCO period and Ramadan month showed a 40.9 percent reduction compared with last year.

“We hope people will continue to take the initiative to reduce the amount of solid waste disposed of daily through self-regulation and change in attitude,” added Mohd Zahir.

Excess food

Pointing out that food waste can be categorised as ‘avoidable’ and ‘unavoidable’, he said the former includes uneaten foodstuff while the latter comprises fruit peel, bones and other kitchen scraps that cannot be consumed.

The unavoidable waste can be turned into compost which can be used as fertiliser for the garden.

Mohd Zahir said SWCorp is collaborating with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and waste management concessionaire Alam Flora Sdn Bhd to compost food waste into fertiliser using its anaerobic digestion plant located at its innovative recycling facility in Precinct 5, Putrajaya.

“The anaerobic digestor can fit up to 50 kilogrammes of food waste and we are encouraging residents from surrounding areas to make use of this facility,” he said.

Meanwhile, to cut food waste Yayasan Food Bank Malaysia chief executive officer Ab Wahab Long said it is working together with several other NGOs and supermarkets to collect surplus unsold food and channel it to needy people residing in People’s Housing Project (PPR) flats and welfare homes, as well as the homeless community.

They are able to collect more than 1,000 kilogrammes of food a day from hotels, supermarkets, wholesale markets and food manufacturing factories located in the Klang Valley, he said.

“Wholesale markets, for example, tend to dispose of lots of unsold vegetables, fruits and raw food that are still in good condition. We go to such places to ‘save’ the foodstuff from the landfill,” he said, adding that during the MCO period they also collected dry foodstuff and other edible items nearing their expiry dates for distribution to university students who were stranded on their campus.

Their noble efforts are also good for the environment as less solid waste at disposal sites means lower emissions of greenhouse gases.

Ab Wahab said his organisation, which was established in January 2019, has proposed to the government that a National Foodbank Month be introduced to create more awareness among the people on the ills of food wastage.

He said to date, Yayasan Food Bank Malaysia has distributed surplus unsold food to 622,726 households and 77,251 students from 195 universities.

— BERNAMA