A Solution to Asia's Drastic Food Wastage? There Might be One



According to United Nations, about a third of food is lost or wasted globally and is estimated to cause around 8-10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The Asia-Pacific region is responsible for half of the food squandered globally. Growing awareness about sustainability is now cornering restaurants, caterers, and retailers, interrogating their methods to reduce food waste and to be an example for the broader community. 

Looking at the global picture, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that one-third of the world’s food produced and packaged for consumption is lost or wasted and accounts for 1.3 billion tons a year. Around 50 percent of food wastage happens in three Asian countries: China, Japan, and South Korea, according to Food Navigator. Moreover, it’s observed that China’s average food waste alone could feed about 100 million people.

Today, Asia is looking to the concept of food sustainability to fight food waste. As food waste reduction programs not only demonstrate sustainability credentials but also reduce operational expenses and create a sound business case for action. Some restaurants are looking to startups, apps, and artificial intelligence (AI) to help solve the issue.

Smart Trashcan

A Singapur startup named Lumitics developed a food waste tracker called Insight. The system, similar to a smart trashcan, employs sensors and image-recognition technology to determine which meals are being thrown out in restaurant kitchens. It generates data using AI that includes, for instance, the volume of a dish that is often not consumed or the proportion of a dish thrown out after a buffet closes. According to Lumitics, its Insight can reliably identify even the most complicated things, such as individual ingredients or menu items. Insight works across various large restaurant chains, helping customers reduce food waste by 30 percent and lowering food costs by eight percent. It also promises to help restaurants estimate how much food is wasted, as the latter can use that information to plan for better future services.

An App Estimating Money and Food Waste Saved

Grub Cycle, a self-described social venture that has created an app called Grub Bites to assist restaurants and cafés in reducing extra food before it goes to waste, is another Southeast Asian startup addressing the issue of food waste. Customers can browse the restaurant options on the app and buy a deal that appeals to them. When a customer visits a restaurant to pick up their food, they are given a code on their receipt. Additionally, the app helps determine the amount of money and kilograms of food waste that the individual has saved. According to the company, more than 15,000 tonnes of food are wasted in Malaysia every day, of which about 3000 tonnes were edible and could have fed over two million people three meals a day.

Cooking the Leftovers

Instock, a Dutch restaurant brand, has expanded to three locations and a food truck. Instock develops daily meals using food from supermarkets like Albert Heijn that hasn't been sold but is still perfectly edible. They have developed a successful, contemporary restaurant brand that not only nourishes people but also encourages them to cook with leftovers. It's been compared to using a fork to fight food waste. Even Instock's leftovers are not thrown away; instead, they are used to prepare meals for the staff, given to welfare organizations, or converted into biogas.

Turning Food Waste Products into Saleable Again

Another startup in Singapore called UglyFood, on the other hand, collects produce that would otherwise go to waste from wholesalers, distributors, importers, and owners of wet-market stalls before processing it into 'delicious saleable food items' sold at the Singapore University of Technology and Design and through pop-up stores. Additionally, a subscription-based scheme is being developed.

Feeding the Hungry

Partnering with nonprofit organizations to assist less fortunate consumers is another way to reduce trash. Tesco Malaysia gave the Food Aid Foundation and Kechara Soup Kitchen 610 tonnes of edible food last year. Fruits, veggies, and baked products were provided.

Garda Pangan, an Indonesian business, aims to end food waste and contribute to the eradication of hunger by 'rescuing' food from the hospitality sector. The food it collects that is fit for human eating is given to underprivileged households, while the remaining food is delivered to farms to be turned into compost or animal feed.

Not only are foodservice establishments attempting to reduce food waste, but retailers are also doing so more and more as a result of client demand and growing environmental consciousness.

The 900-store S-market chain in Finland introduced the first ‘grocery happy hour’ concept last year. By 6 o'clock, all perishable items are on sale, and by 9 o'clock, unsold food is discounted by 50 percent until the store closes.

This increases consumer demand right when the chain would have otherwise had to throw away the food, as well as foot traffic to the stores, where shoppers may be more likely to make impulsive purchases of additional items.

In the meantime, Starbucks began the year by announcing a comprehensive worldwide sustainability initiative, including issues like single-use packaging, sustainable farming, and reducing food waste. The ultimate objective is to become "resource positive."

The capital expense of food waste treatment systems is covered by a $1.76 million food waste fund provided by the Singapore National Environment Agency. The fund assists businesses in purchasing machinery for food recycling that can turn food waste into animal feed. The Singaporean government is also conducting a pilot experiment at seven hawker centers to see if it is feasible to use on-site food recycling technology.

Food loss and waste are serious problems that call for several preventative strategies throughout the food value chains. To prevent food loss and waste, several stakeholders must work together.

By establishing policies and programs aimed at reaching the 2030 SDGs target, governments and non-governmental organizations play crucial roles. More importantly, businesses along the food value chain can significantly reduce food loss by enhancing the productivity of their production, processing, and shipping operations. To avoid food waste, any extra food can be donated, reused, or recycled at the end of the value chain.

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