Production of food usually leads to increasing food loss and waste. The recent COVID-19 pandemic crisis may further have an effect on this issue. Previously, according to FAO, about 1.3 billion tonnes of food loss and waste have been reported in 2009. Meanwhile, about one third of world food has become waste. In 2016, Malaysia, with a population of more than 30 million, produced up to 15,000 tonnes of food waste in a day as reported by the Food Aid Foundation.
Food loss is defined as food that is originally produced for human consumption or non-food use due to error during the preparation, processing and production phase (as shown in Figure 1). These losses are mostly caused by wasteful behaviour. The food supply chain is the system of organisations, people, and activities that is related to moving food from producer to consumer. However, it mainly comes from primary production of agricultural, industrial and domestic activities.
Can we avoid food waste?
Food waste can be categorised into two different groups, which are unavoidable and avoidable food waste that will end up as waste in the landfill (Figure 2).
1.Unavoidable food waste: consists of waste that comes from food and beverages preparation. Examples are apple cores, banana skin, tea leaves, coffee grounds and inedible slaughter waste. It also may come from food that is sorted out due to specific quality criteria/grading system.
2.Avoidable food waste: refers to edible food materials that are lost during the consumption phase that leads to wastage. Food products kept for extended storage or beyond the expiry date may jeopardise their quality and may lead to unnecessary waste.
Food waste as valuable sources of bioactive compounds
Previous research showed that by-products resulted from processing of plant materials contained valuable nutrients that could exploit and developed into production of new functional ingredients.
These waste materials can be exploited as valuable sources of high value components such as proteins, polysaccharides, fibres, flavour compounds or different phytochemicals. These bioactive compounds can be extracted, purified, concentrated and reused as functional ingredient in food industries. Besides, these bioactive compounds also can be valorised in pharmaceutical, cosmetic, health care and other products on top of animal feedstock.
Facing the challenges in Malaysia: Recycling food waste
Ironically, about 90 per cent of food wastes in Malaysia are biodegradable and easy to recycle. However, the awareness of recycling food in order to reduce food waste is still poor. This shows that Malaysia still has a long way to go and needs more effort put in to overcome food waste issues.
Thus, education through campaigns such as 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) and incentive policy must be implanted to increase general awareness. This method of recycling needs to be implemented and widely used to encourage consumers to practise the recycle and reuse method due to the low number of food waste recycling and reduction activities due to lack of participation from the public.
In Malaysia, it has been observed that the rate of food waste reuse and recycle is relatively low (5 per cent) in comparison with paper (60 per cent). This is due to no specified disposal method for food waste rather than recycle and reuse of paper and plastic. This practice is not well used as the food waste source separation is limited and food waste composting is not practised on a large scale.
In the effort to manage food waste and achieve sustainable agriculture some local institutions such as Universiti Malaya and Universiti Putra Malaysia have set up a pilot scale food waste digester (Cowtech CTM-100, CH Green Sdn. Bhd., Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) which is able to process food waste into liquid fertiliser and biogas at a capacity of 100kg/day. Thus, this will change the perception of people that food waste is a bad influence on the environment.
Implications of food loss and waste
In future, food production will be affected by the increase in population, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. This will turn to be a big challenge in order to maintain food security while reducing the impact on natural resources. These issues can also contribute to other sustainability challenges such as further climate change issues and natural resources shortage. Additionally, it will also cause a shortage of available landfill sites for disposal and food depending on rising population, causing higher consumption rates and increasing food demands for agricultural commodities.
Water quality issue
Food loss and waste can also decrease the water quality. Decreased water quality is a critical issue as it’s related to soil quality and leads to production of low quality crops. Food loss and waste will increase if the food quality is in an unfavourable condition. Higher risks of dirty and contaminated water usage are predicted. Food tends to be waste too if it does not meet the requirement/standardisation and also can be hazardous to health. Furthermore, animals are also at danger as they consume dirty water and obtain improper sources during growth. Animals that consume bad quality water can have their health affected and this also gives an impact to humans who consume the meat. This situation not only leads to food loss and waste but it can also lead to a decrease in the health status as, initially, the sources of dirty water can be hazardous not only to human health but also cause a decrease in the quality of crops and animals.
Freshwater, cropland and fertiliser issues
Food loss and waste majorly impact other natural resources, which are freshwater, cropland and fertilisers. In terms of freshwater, water is scarce in many regions. This lack of sufficient available water resources exerts pressure and becomes challenges faced by the human population. This issue of freshwater is held responsible by the agricultural sector for 70 per cent of global freshwater withdrawal and 90% of consumptive water use.
Food waste not only affects freshwater, it also affects cropland as further expansion of this cropland will lead to environmental degradation. Meanwhile, fertilisers used for food production are usually in synthetic form. Although these synthetic fertilizers contain natural resources such as phosphorus, it still may have negative impacts on biodiversity and water quality.
Thus, this concludes that humans should use these resources efficiently and sustainably as all the resources are limited in nature. Increasing food production not only leads to food loss but also causes ecotoxicity from pesticides, eutrophication, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and organic matter loss. Feed people and NOT landfills!!
Dr Raseetha Vani Siva Manikam is a Senior Lecturer, Food Science and Technology Programme, Faculty of Applied Sciences, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Shah Alam, Malaysia.
Nur Farhana Adila Roslan is a Master Student at the School of Industrial Technology, Faculty of Applied Sciences, UiTM Shah Alam, Selangor, under the supervision of Dr Raseetha.