So much food waste, so little recycling in Singapore

Experts say scarcity of land utilising compost, costs, halal guidelines all add to challenge
Rachel Tan Straits Times 11 Aug 13;

Singapore produced enough food waste last year to fill 600 Olympic- size swimming pools, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The amount soared to 703,200 tonnes last year, a 26 per cent rise from 558,900 tonnes in 2007, outpacing the 15.7 per cent growth in population during the period.

The food recycling rate, however, slowed to 12 per cent last year from 16 per cent in 2010.

This situation is unlikely to improve in the immediate future, experts say. Scarcity of agricultural land that utilises compost, costs of food recycling and cultural considerations such as halal guidelines pose challenges to food waste solutions, they add.

The NEA is monitoring food waste recycling systems at various premises to assess their effectiveness in curtailing food waste.

Food recycling requires users to separate organic from inorganic waste. But the agency said any large-scale effort to cut the amount thrown away "would depend on the economic viability, effectiveness of the system and whether the end-product such as compost can be fully utilised".

These barriers facing Singapore are not unique, say experts like Mr Rowan Williams, regional market development manager for Biodegradable Polymers Asia Pacific.

"In some countries, just recycling glass, paper or cardboard is not well established," he said. "So to get people to think about source separation or organic waste, it's just another level of confusion."

Ms Amanda Tan agrees. The sales manager with Eco-Wiz, a food recycling company that works with the NEA, said that adaptability to such changes has been a challenge faced by many organisations.

Costs remain a key hurdle when it comes to recycling.

"We have the technology to recycle the amount of waste that Singapore is churning daily," said a spokesman for GreenBack, a local fertiliser and compost manufacturer. "But financially it is not viable because both the front and back ends of the business are not paying enough."

He added that making a tonne of compost from food waste costs more than just incinerating it, and landscape contractors are unwilling to pay the $230 per tonne for compost.

Halal requirements also hinder the usability of the compost while the warm weather does not help either.

"Composting is a great practice," said Bacchanalia restaurant executive chef Ivan Brehm. "But due to Singapore's warm climate, we need to be wary of pests."

Some companies, however, have found sustainable ways to get rid of leftover or excess food.

Executive chef Massimo Pasquarelli of the Ritz-Carlton Millenia said: "We've always ended up transferring fresh bread and pastries to the employees' cafe, Hardwork Cafe, and Food from the Heart." The latter is a charity that collects excess bread from more than 100 food outlets and distributes it to the needy.

At The White Rabbit restaurant, meat trimmings are used to make sauces. Reusing animal parts is a practice promoted by groups such as the Food and Beverage Managers Association and culinary schools like At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy.

Online supermarket RedMart implemented stock-keeping technology last month in a bid to cut its food waste by half.

Exercising smaller portions and cook-to-order service helps Four Seasons Hotel and restaurant Sakae Sushi minimise waste output.

Noti Restaurant and Bar buys fresh food daily to eliminate almost all waste. Said owner Toni Rosetti: "The only frozen food we have is the ice cream."

Additional reporting by Walter Sim