Stop Wasting Food!: Malaysia’s Struggle with Excess Food

Written by Nur Hidayah Umaira Ramli @ MyraRamly

Figure 1: Food wastage problems in Malaysia.

Food wastage is one of growing problems happening in Malaysia, and up till today the authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are trying to sweep over these issues. The amount of Malaysia’s wastage is almost similar to the 88-storey PETRONAS Twin Towers, looming over Kuala Lumpur at 1, 483 feet. Now, imagine that this iconic skyscraper is filled with piles of food. This is the actual amount of food wastage that is generated in just 18 days by Malaysians. If this problem is unstoppable, the whole Malaysia would be filled with food trash. According to Solid Waste And Public Cleansing Management Corporation, or better known as SWCorp Malaysia, as a government agency they provide a service that mainly deals with solid waste and organizes it well. SWCorp Malaysia also stated that Malaysians generate approximately 38,000 tonnes of waste per day. 15,000 tonnes of it was contributed by food waste.

Figure 2: Food heaven in Malaysia.

Basically, what links to this problem is that Malaysia as a multiracial and multiethnic nation which indirectly become a food heaven. Food is no stranger as part of every tourism campaign, boasting the diverse dishes the Southeast Asian nation has to offer. This can be seen from a popular traditional Malay food, nasi lemak to Indian banana leaf rice. Furthermore, food is also tied to Malaysian hospitality.

Thus, it is not surprising when SWCorp found that food waste can rise up to 50% during the festive season. This is happening due to ignorance by Malaysians about problems that the nation is struggling with. What we can see now is how Malaysians take food for granted. We can see food everywhere, and everywhere we go, we are expecting a big feast and never come across in our mind that there are people who are poor and suffering to get a single meal.

Figure 3: People in Philipines collect the food from the dump-site.
Figure 4: Pagpag food.

For example, in the Philippines, there are over 8 million of its citizen who become food scavengers and sadly it has become a norm for many families there. They directly collect the food from the dumpsite, and they clean the leftover food by dusting it off (pagpagin). To be extra careful, they wash the leftovers before boiling or frying someone else’s leftovers and turn it into someone else’s breakfast. It’s quite saddening and frightening to realize that the gap between our country and the Philippines when in Malaysia, we did not even finish our meal but for them, it becomes a meal.

Figure 5: Space is running out.

The reality, however, is that the food waste is still ending up in Malaysia’s landfills and it is scared to know that space is running out. As of 2016, Malaysia has 170 waste disposal sites, and only 14 has “sanitary landfill” status. This status will keep decreasing every year if Malaysians are not aware of this problem. It is because when the amount of waste increases, it will also influence the cost of managing it while at the same time providing more space in landfills. The other implication towards this issue is when the food goes to the landfill, it will decompose and disintegrate too, emitting the greenhouse gases like methane that may affect our atmosphere and also bring to the consequences of climate change and also to global warming. Hence, to avoid this problem, some of the state governments have introduced a waste segregation law and also the government itself plays their role in MYSaveFood programme and partnering with of FAO and SWCorp to educate and encourage Malaysians on food wastage.

Therefore, as a Malaysian, there are so many things we can do to avoid food waste. Basically, it should start at home. We should plan and make a list on our weekly menu. Because this simple steps will help to salvage the leftovers at home as well. For instance, vegetables can be removed from the leftover fish curry before it froze. Then the curry can be reheated at a later date with fresh vegetables, instead of throwing the whole lot out and it is such a waste. Another thing that we can do is by planning our meals and it can be cost-saver too. Moreover, to buffet lovers, especially during the Muslim fasting month, try to minimise the amount of food intake. Hence, throwing the food away isn’t the ultimate answer.

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