Malaysia throws away 17,000 tonnes of food daily

The percentage of edible food wastage can easily feed some 2.9m people 3 meals a day


THERE is an urgent need for Malaysia to look into curbing food waste in the country, as up to 17,000 tonnes of food waste are recorded on a daily basis.

According to data by landfill operator SWCorp Malaysia of this figure, 24% or 4,005 tonnes are still edible, or simply put, avoidable waste.

Non-profit organisation The Lost Food Project (TLFP) alone has rescued and distributed over 1.17 million kg of surplus up until November 2021, which averages at about 26.5 tonnes of food surplus weekly, or 3.8 tonnes on a daily basis.

“Going by the SWCorp’s data, 4,005 tonnes of edible food thrown away on a daily basis can easily feed 2.9 million people three meals a day,” TLFP GM Mohd Syazwan Mokhtar told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview.

“It is difficult to contextualise food waste in financial terms especially for the country given the fact that the value of food varies.

“For TLFP, according to our findings based on the food that we’ve rescued up until October, the value of all food rescued comes close to around RM14.65 million for one million kg of food surplus,” he added.

This, he said, does not take into account price fluctuations at different points of time during the year.

All food surplus provided to TLFP are on a donation basis and comes at no cost to the organisation.

Asked whether there was a reduction of food waste during the pandemic, Mohd Syawan noted that there were periods that saw declining food waste, especially during the first Movement Control Order (MCO) in 2020.

Mohd Syazwan said this is corroborated by SWCorp’s data which showed that Malaysia averaged around 1.7 tonnes of waste a day in April 2020 (once MCO was in full force), from an average of about 2.1 tonnes in March 2020.

Still, he said the numbers went up again around June-July to around 2.2 tonnes to 2.3 tonnes daily once the restrictions loosened up.

He explained that there is obviously an environmental effect from this food waste, as every food that gets thrown away at landfill contributes towards pollution by way of CO2 emission.

Food waste currently is one of the largest greenhouse gas (GhG) contributors globally, with more than 11% of the total GhG emission coming from the food system. This results in larger issues such as water pollution, air pollution and climate change.

For every 1kg of food thrown at landfill, it is equivalent to 2.5kg of GhG being emitted.

Last year, the government announced Malaysia’s commitment to become a carbon-neutral nation by 2050 and to reduce the GhG emissions intensity of GDP by 45% in 2030. Therefore, reducing waste at all levels is pertinent.

“There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure there are no gaps in the supply chain that can cause all this food to be wasted, first and foremost,” he said.

“Once it has been produced and reaches the shelf, the retail sector then needs to ask what can we do with the food that is not sold? There are food banks like TLFP and other charities that are more than willing to help clear the shelf and provide the surplus to the underprivileged.”

He questioned what steps are being taken to ensure people do not waste food or that the industry is incentivised to give out their surplus?

“From our experience, when the Food Donor’s bill was introduced in 2019 and subsequently gazetted last year (Malaysian Food Donors Protection Act 2020), many within the food industry were convinced to give out their surplus without fearing repercussions and this resulted in TLFP being able to get more partners to donate food. This shows the impact that policies have to address this issue,” he said.

Other possible policy changes may include tax incentives for those that donate food, because right now in-kind donations are not incentivised as opposed to financial donation, for example.

He added similarly, in European countries like France, there are regulations in place to ensure food at supermarkets are not thrown out to landfill and this creates an impetus for supermarkets to donate their surplus.

“From our perspective, there are several overarching effects from wastage. First is of course, we are depriving food from those who are desperately in need,” Mohd Syazwan explained.

Generally, lost food also means lost resources.

“We clear lands to make food, we use gallons of water, the human resources needed to produce them are plenty and the money that goes into it is nothing to scoff at. Therefore, every time we waste food, we are actually wasting each and every one of these resources in a big way.

“Throwing away food practically means we’re throwing away all resources connected to it — money, energy, water, land use and biodiversity,” he said.