Thailand is an agricultural land where 46 percent or almost half of the country’s area is for production. It is also a major exporter of agricultural and food products of the world, especially rice, sugar, cassava, fruits etc. It is considered to be a country with abundance resources, as reflected in a well-known proverb “in the water there are fish, in the fields there is plenty of rice”.
However, the population has increased, therefore the demand for food is accelerated, while the resources are limited, this requires rethinking to reduce wastes at every stage of the food production process. In addition, information from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations or FAO ten years ago, pointed one third or more of the food produced worldwide is lost in the process and become food wastes. The awareness on this issue is gradually increased especially the aspect of food security, while some are also concerned on the environmental aspect because in addition to the various wastage, food waste is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Wastage from food waste:
waste opportunity on land use,
waste limited resources on earth in the production process,
waste production capital of the entrepreneurs,
waste consumer's expense
waste opportunity on food for the disadvantaged,
waste budget for food waste management, and
waste opportunities on good environment
It’s a global crisis
Analysis of this problem in the food value chain, it is classified as food loss and waste that occurs in the production process. From the production area, through transportation and storage of produce and processing. After this, there will be a chance to become food waste in the process of food selling, food service, and consumption that we are all involved.
This problem occurs all over the world. In developing countries, the "food loss" is also occurred in the cultivation fields, due to the limited transportation system, utilities, logistics and lack of good product retention system. Especially for vegetables, fruits, edible root plants, cereals, milk, meat, etc. While the developed countries face the problem of "food waste" from leftover food in supermarkets, restaurants, and residences in large quantities and seriously need to deal with.
The issue has received widespread attention and is set as one of the goals under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): “Halve the world's food waste at retail and consumer levels, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses by 2030.”
There are other global forums that focus on this issue. For example, the "World Food Summit" in 2017 has raised concerns about food security and food shortages in some regions of the world. Therefore, urges consumers to reduce food waste, and they should be aware of the values rather than worrying about the impact of the waste. While a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continues to point to food waste as a source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounted for 8-10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, there is a need to accelerate management to help solve the climate crisis.
From food to food waste
There are several reasons why the food that is produced for people to eat has become "food waste". Both from lacking adequate planning and attention, and the presence of limitations in various aspects. For example, there are many agricultural products that have to be transported for a long distance. There were crushes during the transportation, causing undesirable blemishes in the market. Moreover, there is a big lot wholesale trading, resulting in having products in which shapes, sizes and colors do not meet the criteria mixed in the sale lots.
Therefore, being discarded a lot each day. In addition, hot and humid weather is one of the reasons that food deteriorates faster, and unfortunately turning into food waste.
Leftover food due to large quantities are being sourced for selling, catering, or eating, as well as food on big plates or big pieces, or inappropriate snacks in meetings, and food with unfavorable taste.
Discarded food which is often due to wholesale or retail shops have certain criteria to purchase, therefore if the products do not meet in terms of sizes, colors, shapes, they would be discarded. This also includes products with packaging or tags damaged from transportation or placement, and the food nearing expiration date according to the regulations.
Deteriorated food from keeping longer than the shelf life for each type of food, or kept in the wrong place during the time weather is too hot or too humid causing the food to deteriorate prematurely. And also includes the deteriorated food because of expiration.
Although some entrepreneurs have clear policies to reduce food waste with a system to monitor and track chain and franchise stores, as well as information system for procurement, warehouse management, product storage and placement, that has enabled accurate management planning. However, there are still a number of food and merchandise sources where there is excess food from selling or catering, including food that is about to expire that will be destroyed and discarded mixed with general food. Instead of choosing to donate. Even though there are several non-profit organizations established to help distribute those excess food. But there is still no promotion and supervision on the issue to help support and build confidence among those who wish to donate food and the recipients.
Consumers also play an important role in making food waste, from shopping behavior such as squeezing fruits to determine whether it is suitable for eating or not, or touching until the product and the packaging is damaged, taking too much food when eating at the buffet and not finishing the food until having to throw away, etc.
Let’s together stop food waste
While Thailand is conducting a study to examine the rate and the amount of food waste, in order to develop a road map and a clear food waste management action plan. Stakeholders which including retailers, wholesalers, service providers and consumers can help prevent and reduce food waste to reduce losses. Starting from planning before buying to suit your needs, considering the FIFO - First in First Out, or sell to those come first, or come first eat first. The placement of the products or foods need to be easy to take out. As well as keep learning.
Finally, when there is food deterioration, which is food waste that is not suitable for eating, however still can be used for other benefits and must be sorted in order for the relevant agencies to collect for further management.
End of “abundant food era”
An urgent thing to do to tackle food waste is to jointly set goal for food waste reduction for the country or in each specific area, and clearly make plans based on 4P: Public-Private-People Partnership. There are several areas that government agencies have to lead, include promoting behavior change, controlling the amount of food waste from large sources, innovative development for long-lasting food storage, as well as developing technology and food waste management system that is suitable for urban society, supporting investment in food waste disposal and local food waste management. And include having an agreement to distribute excess food between those involved.
Because we still have many challenges ahead, either global warming, droughts and other disasters, as well as the unexpected outbreaks of disease and potentially reduced productivity. We have to help each other think and do more to reduce wastage that will occur from food waste.
Office of Natural Resources and Environment Planning and Policy. (2019). Final Report on the Study of Food Waste Management Practices for Sustainable Consumption Project
FAO. (2011). Global food losses and food waste. Extent, causes and prevention.
UNEP. (2014). Prevention and reduction of food and drink waste in businesses and households - Guidance for governments, local authorities, businesses and other organizations.
By Benjamas Chotthong and Nutnicha Yeelungka
Thailand Environment Institute