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Teluk Kumbar Market Complex

Nothing shall go to waste, not even the waste itself.

Food loss and waste - why is it an issue?

Until very recently, one of the major challenges facing mankind was making sure there was enough food to eat. From the dawn of agriculture until well into the Industrial Age, mankind’s motto of life was probably that of “eat to live,” where having three square meals a day was considered a luxury.

Today, food scarcity is no longer a threat to mankind’s survival, at least in most parts of the world. As income grows, so too does food consumption. But as so often happens in life, one of the great ironies of human’s achievement is that there is always a downside to it; we eat more than we need and our excessive eating not only affect our health but also the environment. One-third or more of the food we produce each year, around 1.3 billion tonnes, is never eaten and most of it ends up in landfills.

It is a well-known fact that Malaysians have an inherent obsession with food. We can't deny the fact that we just love to eat. But our love for food has come at a cost: a study carried out in 2002 by the National Solid Waste Management Department (JPSPN) showed that food waste in Peninsular Malaysia, made up almost half of the 33,000 tonnes of solid waste generated every day. Penang alone produced 900 tonnes of food waste daily, and in ringgit terms, it would equate to something like RM117, 000 per day, being spent on food waste collection and disposal.

Wasted food is not only ringgit down the drain, but is a drain on the environment as well. It is estimated that food waste is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the planet's atmosphere, according to a report from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. When food is decomposed in a landfill, it produces methane gas, a significant greenhouse gas that is 21 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The environmental impact of food waste does not only confine to air pollution; it affects land use and water bodies as well. Landfills, where most of our food waste will end up, are taking up large amounts of land, while leachate, a by-product of waste degradation processes at landfills, pollutes the groundwater and soil that lies beneath it. Furthermore, while we are wasting so much food, nearly 3 million children across the world die of hunger-related causes annually. Despite being an environmental liability, food waste has the potential to be turned into an opportunity. It is a valuable resource that can be used for power production and fertile compost.