Food waste is a worldwide problem with roughly 1.3 billion tons – around one third of the world’s food – going to waste each year. There’s no doubt that this figure is staggering, especially when you consider that almost 700 million people today are going hungry, whilst three billion cannot afford a healthy diet. Although these are global figures, Asia is facing it’s own food disposal crisis as the region is responsible for more than half of the world’s food waste.
Why is food waste such a problem for the Asia-Pacific region?
Whilst household food waste is a significant part of Asia’s problem, businesses are also disposing of edible food during every stage in the supply chain. As a result, companies across the region are keen to seek out new innovations to help put a stop to the problem of food waste, and to increase existing efforts to cut the amount of food wasted in Asia-Pacific countries.
The rapidly-expanding Asian dairy products industry is an interesting example. Asia currently represents the fastest growing region for the consumption of dairy products and although the Asia-Pacific market has a rosy future for fermented dairy products, the sector is beset by problems including fragile supply chains and comparatively short product shelf-lives. As a result, the developing markets’ consumption of dairy products is significantly contributing to worldwide food waste, with up to 20% of all global dairy wasted each year.
The dairy industry is just one example though and food loss occurs in all food industries, with much of the waste spoiling early on in the food supply chain; most frequently in post-harvesting, processing and distribution. A number of problems are responsible for food loss ranging from a poor harvest or the death of animals, issues with transport and insufficient storage. In addition, failure to access consistent, reliable refrigeration is a huge problem for many developing nations; contributing significantly to food waste. Of course food waste also happens at a consumer-facing level too; from grocery stores and restaurants throwing away unsold stock, through to homeowners forgetting about items stored at the back of the fridge!
Tackling food waste is important not just in terms of combating hunger, but because of the environmental impact it has too. Massive amounts of edible food goes into landfills, whilst much of the food waste is incinerated and therefore exacerbating the climate crisis. In Singapore, for example, food waste is the second largest waste stream for incineration. Not only does burning food waste support a linear economy which needs a continual supply of energy and resource waste, huge amounts of the greenhouse gases which drive global warming are released.
What can be done?
There’s no doubt that the facts behind the global food waste problem are shocking but what are businesses in the Asia-Pacific region doing to combat the problem? Some companies such as Tesco Malaysia, for example, are taking action by redirecting excess stock and is the first retailer in the country to reveal that it had donated over 600 tonnes of edible food to charities, giving away unsold vegetables, fruits and bakery goods.
Meanwhile in Japan some businesses are carrying out extensive research to explore how weather data and technology could be used to reduce the amount of food waste at sources. A tofu company, for example, have been using weather data in an effort to predict sales of tofu which are influenced by the temperature, ensuring they only make enough to meet current demand. Strategies such as this are not only helping to cut food waste, they are also helping businesses to save money too.
Another approach is being tied by Good For Food, a start-up in Singapore which is aiming to help food service businesses to manage their food inventory better by tracking different types of food waste via a smart ‘dustbin’ called Insight. This innovative device is designed to be attached to a normal kitchen bit and will record the type and weight of food which is being thrown away. The resulting data provides a useful tool for managers, enabling them to target items which they are over-buying. According to Good For Food, early indications show that restaurants and cafes are reducing food waste by up to one third within the first five months of using Insight.
In Bangladesh a business group called Golden Harvest has joined forces with the United States Agency for International Development to develop the country’s very first cold chain network which is designed to keep produce, meat and fish from spoiling during the early stages of the supply chain.
Other measures which could help to reverse the current food waste problem include better designed and more adequate food packaging, increased flexibility in the regulations and standards for vegetables and fruits, and finding solutions to address problems in post-harvest management.
Clearly, food loss or waste aren’t straightforward problems which can be fixed overnight. However, technology could and already is, playing a pivotal role in helping to create more streamlined supply chains, providing stakeholders with the tools they need, whilst educating consumers on ways to limit the amount of food they waste.
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