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Malaysians throw away 16,688 tonnes of food daily, a quarter of which is edible. -NSTP/MUHD ZAABA ZAKERIA

SOME 800 million people throughout the world go to bed hungry. Of this, 20,000 die of hunger daily.

Damning statistics. And yet Malaysians throw away 16,688 tonnes of food daily, a quarter of which is edible.

Come festive seasons, an additional 15 to 20 per cent hit the landfills. Sadly, this happens in Ramadan too, when moderation should be the order of the day.

Add a piece of irony to this: Malaysia coughs out RM40 billion to import food. According to Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) data, households produced the largest food waste at 38 per cent last year, followed by wet markets (24 per cent), restaurants (23 per cent) and hotels (7 per cent).

How do we solve such an old problem that refuses to go away? The answer must lie somewhere between product and plate (and in the case of agriculture, somewhere between spade and fork).

Take the case of an edible product, say a packet of biscuits. Depending on the brand, such products have a shelf life of six to 12 months. The fact is biscuits do not get bad that fast, provided they are stored properly. Such things must be made to last.

According to the JapanToday news portal, the system in place in the United States and the United Kingdom is two and 1.25 times longer respectively. Producers know this and yet their profit motive takes them on this wasteful path.

Households — the leading food discarders in the country — need to rethink the way they treat food.

Siti Wahidah Abd Ghafar of Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute’s Centre of Promotion Technology, who quotes a 2015 study by SWCorp in her paper titled Food Waste in Malaysia: Trends, Current Practices and Key Challenges, says a Malaysian household — there were 7.5 million of them in 2016 — spent close to RM900 a month on food and that a quarter of that food is wasted during preparation, cooking and usage. This means about RM220 goes into the dustbin every month, or RM2,650 a year. Money is not the only concern.

It is also a blatant waste of resources, which the world is fast running out of. Discarded food in landfills too contributes to climate change. Imagine 16,688 tonnes of food turning into greenhouse gas daily in landfills throughout Malaysia.

Dr Mohd Pauzie Mohamad Taha, the deputy chief executive officer (Technical) of SWCorp, calls on households to adopt a few easy steps.

Households should only buy what is needed. This should be stored or refrigerated accordingly. Inappropriate storage is a big contributor to food wastage. Cook only what is needed. Eat everything on the plate. Finally, if there is waste, recycle or turn it into compost. Simple steps, but seldom followed.

Azrina Sobian, a fellow at the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia’s centre for Science and Environment Studies, says food wastage can be tackled if three things are done in tandem: education, legislation and technology.

Happily, the first is being done. The second, is on the drawing board. The third, needs working on.

With hope, these actions won’t go to waste.

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