This op-ed is part of AASYP’s Digital Dialogues 2021, which is a programme that aims to provide a platform and forum for future leaders from across the region to contribute to the policymaking and diplomacy sphere by engaging in issues relating to Gender and Diversity, Green Recovery, and Emerging Economies.
Is it true that your relationship with food has been affected since the pandemic outbreak? Sleep. Eat. Work. Eat. Repeat. At least, that’s what the majority does when working from home during COVID-19 quarantine and isolation.
The COVID-19 lockdown has significantly influenced consumer behaviour, including food purchase and consumption habits. Consider the spirals of global panic-buying phenomenon at the grocery stores, with the headlines: “Brunei – Panic buying of chicken could become self-fulfilling prophecy”, “Australia caps toilet roll sales after panic-buying”, “Singapore – Cabby jailed for posting fake COVID-19 ‘intel’ on food outlet closures, urging panic buying”. Unfortunately, these worldwide behavioural changes are due to the negative shock of the coronavirus as well as the fear of food supply chain disruption, leading to sudden flocking to supermarkets, stockpiling trolleys of essentials and food from grocery stores and retails, more than they can consume.
The aftermath? Consumers realise their bins are overflowing from spoilt and leftover food. Not to forget food packages from takeouts and food deliveries. Single use-plastics such as straws, cups, plastic bags, containers and cutleries, all are just something used to carry and deliver your food in one-piece to your doorstep. Today, the abundant effort at banning single-use plastics to reduce marine pollution and soil pollution pre-COVID-19 has rebooted.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global food waste is estimated at 1.3 billion tonnes per year, which comprises of 45 percent of the global food production, with food waste from residential homes as the largest waste produced. UN Environment Programme (UNEP) published the ‘Food Waste Index Report 2021’ reporting household food waste around the world, including 10 ASEAN Countries, as follows:
- Brunei, 34,742 tonnes/year
- Cambodia, 1,423,397 tonnes/year
- Indonesia, 20,938,252 tonnes/year
- Lao PDR, 618,994 tonnes/year
- Malaysia, 2,921,577 tonnes/year
- Myanmar, 4,666,125 tonnes/year
- Philippines, 9,334,477 tonnes/year
- Singapore, 465,385 tonnes/year
- Thailand, 5,478,532 tonnes/year
- Viet Nam, 7,346,717 tonnes/year
Influence of food waste during COVID-19
Has food waste increased or decreased? Despite the stockpiling, emptying of supermarket shelves, and panic-purchasing at every grocery store, lockdown measures have steered many restaurants and cafes to close. However, the booming of takeout and deliveries after several months of restrictions allows various food outlets that offer food delivery services to sustain their business. Although the level of food purchases escalated at the beginning of the pandemic outbreak, the general public has been less frequently bulk shopping for groceries.
Instead, people are increasingly engaging more in online grocery shopping, online food ordering and doing trendy quarantine home-cooking. The changes in consumerism behaviour in the ASEAN and Australia region managed to reduce food waste at a household-food waste level. The reliance on home-cooking in preparing ingredients that are only needed; fewer commuting hours to grocery stores or work, and more time managing their food-management skills and improved household efficiency all constitute as factors that resulted in less food waste.
Imagine this. I do not cook, but you like to cook, so you enjoy home-cooking and you can reconnect with a healthy and happier eating habit. On the other hand, I love to call in for food deliveries. So what happens next? You get to save two big rolls of money from spending less on impulsive food purchases whilst I gained two big rolls of—belly fat.
Success stories from young green entrepreneurs tackling food waste issue in ASEAN and Australia
The COVID-19 pandemic has offered us an opportunity to redesign our economies through green recovery solutions. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study in 2015, a rise in ASEAN’s entrepreneurship has dominated the creative and entrepreneurial industries driven by young and ambitious entrepreneurs. Today, as the market grows, businesses are required to implement green solutions for survival imperatives such as strategic plans to endure climate crises. Commonly, youth-led green entrepreneurs build their company around resolving environmental concerns utilising business practices with Sustainable Development Goals (17 SDGs), including cutting global emissions and reducing energy and resources consumption following the vision and goals stated by the UN General Assembly in 2015.
An entrepreneur is by nature, an ambitious, innovative, and resilient individual. They are capable of turning environmental challenges into opportunities for green economy growth — such as accelerating sustainable green transition towards net-zero emissions, remodelling the circular economy for climate adaptation and mitigation, and protecting our planet’s biodiversity. The unique opportunity to build sustainable, eco-inclusive enterprises and projects for future green jobs that also takes into account inclusivity of the youth demographic, is one of ASEAN’s priorities and makes sense for a green economic recovery plan.
Several enterprises in Australia and the ASEAN region that merit being highlighted as honourable mentions include: Kilang ReRoot (Brunei), Compost City (Cambodia), Rebricks (Indonesia), GrubCycle (Malaysia), UglyFood (Singapore), Cocopallet (The Philippines), ListenField (Thailand), and Goterra (Australia), among others. These enterprises are examples that showcase support for long-term climate action from an entrepreneurial perspective, incorporating the adoption of green recovery spirit for food waste solutions.
What can we do for food waste as Environment Champions?
The increased attention and awareness of food loss and waste across the world has significantly prompted many of us to re-evaluate our relationship with our food habits and daily consumption. In 2021, as we celebrated UN Food Systems Summit on 23rd September, International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste on 29th September, World Food Day on 16th October, and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) on 1st -12th November, we have less than 10 years to achieve our 2030 climate goals and our role is to fight against food waste to curb poverty and hunger.
Young eco-conscious entrepreneurs are important more than ever. Now is the time to become environment champions!
This article was written by Siti Jaafar, edited by Lutfil Azmi, and reviewed by the AASYP Publications Team.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer and in no way represent nor reflect the position of AASYP and members of the AASYP Publications Team. The AASYP Horizons Blog provides a platform for the free expression of opinions and intellectual discourse.