It’s high time to apply lean concept developed by Toyota to achieve zero waste on our food supply chain. Toyota has transformed into a world-class company with its zero waste production system.
In UK, it’s estimated 30% of food is wasted in the supply chain from production to consumption cycle. Although there is no study on this subject in Malaysia, the finding by CAP is not a surprise to me.
Eliminate wastes or non-value added processes in the food supply chain with lean concept will save trillion dollars in food production cost and also save billion of poor people in the third word from the chronic famine.
Our shameless waste of food
N.V. Subbarow had a curious itch last month to check out the trash cans of every major hotel and some restaurants in the city, to see how much food was being thrown out.
So one fine night, the veteran Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) officer found himself going around the island with disposable gloves, literally rummaging through garbage bins in the back alleys of these establishments.
And what he saw confounded him. Everywhere he went, there were heaps upon heaps of perfectly edible foods, many left untouched by diners, discarded like plain rubbish. Fresh fruit and vegetables, cakes and all manner of cuisine that can be imagined were dumped without a care, to rot away under swarms of flies, in complete waste.
In a picture of perfect irony, not far away from one particular five-star hotel, a long line of destitute hungry folk would gather every day at a temple compound to receive meals prepared by a charity.
It is certainly one of society’s great paradoxes that while there are people gobbling down their food and throwing away so much at will, there are many others who are left starving for even the tiniest morsels. Perhaps it is true that the more affluent we become, the more we fail to appreciate how precious food really is. The more we take our next meal for granted, the more do the bare facts of hunger and poverty elude us.
For Malaysians do waste food. According to CAP, in 2005 alone, the country generated 7.34 million tonnes of solid waste – enough to make 42 heaps the size of the Petronas Twin Towers. Of this, it is estimated that 45% comprised food waste. In fact, the country’s solid waste generation is expected to reach 30,000 tonnes a day by 2020.
CAP president S.M. Mohamed Idris has described as “sinful” that there should be such enormous quantities of leftovers put to waste at fast-food eateries, coffee shops, food courts, restaurants and our own homes. Even more is left uneaten at official functions, birthdays and wedding receptions.
But the disturbing facts of food wastage are not confined to us alone. The Japanese throw away one-fourth of their available food, CAP said, while in the United States, up to 30% of foods, worth some RM130 billion, is discarded every year. If this amount was given away or redistributed, it could feed four million people.
Australians waste RM20 billion in food each year, a sum that could feed the entire nation for three weeks. And in Singapore, some 558,900 tonnes were left wasted last year – an increase of 6.2% from 2002.
Now contrast these statistics with the level of hunger existing in the world today. According to the United Nations World Food Organisation, about 920 million people are starving around the Earth – and a third of these are children.
Just 5% of leftovers in the US could feed four million people a day, while France’s leftovers could feed all the hungry in the Congo, and Italy’s could feed the undernourished in Ethiopia, says the Yomiuri Shimbun.
Idris, a long-time proponent of sustainability and consumer rights, has now called for a campaign against food wastage. “The campaign,” he says, “should encourage proper planning of meals, saving leftovers, ordering sensibly when eating out and using a doggy bag for leftovers.” It should encourage consumers to exercise restraint during festivities and celebrations.
“Buying food which you do not consume,” says Idris, “also gives rise to a false demand for the food.”
The trend of purchasing food that is eventually left uneaten can merely hike up their prices, burdening low-income consumers the most.
The whole idea is moderation. There should be a mass awareness exercise of moderation in our daily consumption patterns. Companies and government agencies could undertake a practice not to go overboard on the amount of food ordered and served at official functions. Restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets could give away their unsold edible food to charities. There are some restaurants that have already started a policy to “fine” customers who leave certain amounts of leftovers on their plates. But these are few.
There is a Buddhist saying that one should eat for a meal only as much as what fills into the up-turned cusps of both palms.
It can certainly be argued that throwing away food while there are people going hungry is as ethically unacceptable as it is financially wasteful and environmentally harmful. But to continue indulging in such waste – even aware of the enormous hunger and poverty around us – would be as Idris puts it, akin to “tossing our moral compass into the trash can together with our uneaten food”.