KUALA LUMPUR (April 13): Every year during Ramadan, tonnes of food end up in the trash, with the seasonal phenomenon expected to last till end-Syawal as Malaysians hold open houses to keep the traditional Raya spirit alive.
This year’s Hari Raya Aidilfitri open houses are expected to be as joyous as last year as the nation transitioned to the endemic phase from April 2022 after nearly three years battling with Covid-19.
Various levels of the community, whether individuals, housing communities, leaders or government agencies as well as the private sector are expected to take advantage of this annual tradition to strengthen ties and unity.
While it is well-intended, Mohammad Amar Masuri, Pemuda vice-president II GEMA Malaysia, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which works closely with MySaveFood, expressed concern over the trend, which could potentially worsen the food wastage situation due to the lack of awareness among the people.
Furthermore, MYSaveFood’s efforts to save food wastage during Ramadan are not extended till Syawal due to staff shortage.
“Malaysians are a generous lot especially during Ramadan and Syawal with each and everyone joining the bandwagon to provide food to the public. And sure enough, food once again goes to waste in Syawal, taking the second spot after Ramadan.
“From observation, the host usually provides extra food to cater for the guests, and the possibility is high for edible food being thrown away,” he told Bernama.
Food wastage on the rise
This year’s Ramadan saw 18, 276.89kg of food and drinks being saved through the MySave Food@Ramadan 2023 nationwide campaign held for three weeks during the fasting month.
The amount of food saved is higher compared to only 7,795kg during the same period last year.
A study conducted in 2020 showed 38.7 per cent of respondents lost their appetite over the food prepared, 31.3 per cent were spoilt food, 21.1 per cent of food was in surplus, 8.3 per cent exceeded the expiration date and 0.6 per cent did not suit their tastebuds.
On average, a family of four will waste 500 to 800 grammes of food daily causing in monthly losses of RM210 and RM2,600 a year.
Data from the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) shows total solid waste disposed of during Ramadan rose 21 per cent to 2022 from 2019.
Data on food disposal at 23 landfills in seven states that are subject to rules under the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act 2007 (Act 572) shows that in 2019, total solid waste disposed of during Ramadan stood at 208,143.38 tonnes, 2020 — 208,745.51 tonnes, 2021 — 239,988.91 tonnes, and 2022 — 252,521.35 tonnes.
“According to data issued by the United Nations Environmental Programme 2021, Malaysia generates 91kg of annual waste per capita, the highest in Southeast Asia.
“Trends of food going to waste will show a rise especially during festive seasons and not just Ramadan and Syawal. This has caused Malaysia’s food waste to rise to 44.5 per cent compared to other wastes,” he said.
Effects on the environment
Head of Laboratory of Youth in Leadership, Politics and Citizenship, Institute for Social Science Studies, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Assoc Prof Dr Haliza Abdul Rahman said, if the situation persists, Malaysia may be faced with the problem of providing new landfills to dispose the garbage generated.
This is because the life cycle of existing landfills is becoming more critical as they are being filled up rapidly due to the current daily generation of solid waste.
Several solid waste disposal sites in Johor and Melaka are at a critical level given the increasing food waste which has exceeded 16,000 tonnes daily.
Among others garbage disposal sites in Pekan Nanas, Pontian and Jemaluang, Mersing, Johor which have been running for over 25 years, are expected to last for another three years given that land usage has almost reached its maximum.
A similar situation occurs at the landfill in Sungai Udang, Melaka which is becoming critical. At the same time, the solid waste disposal site at Bukit Tagar, Selangor which is expected to last up to 50 more years, will face a similar problem if no immediate steps are taken to manage the waste.
Besides that, Haliza said the issue should not be taken lightly as the landfills generate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential far greater than that of carbon dioxide (CO2).
“Landfills generate methane greenhouse gas, which is 21 times stronger than carbon dioxide, whereby seven per cent of greenhouse gas generated across the globe are attributed to food waste.
“The situation poses a threat to the environment, causing pollution, raising the global temperature, mitigating climate change and resulting in weather disturbance such as rain, which eventually contributes to the rise in disasters such as floods,” she said.
In addressing the issue, Haliza said awareness campaigns in the print and social media are not sufficient, noting that a more aggressive stance should be undertaken by going to the ground via meetings with the relevant stakeholders.
Identify food distribution locations
To resolve the food wastage issue during open houses, Mohammad Amar proposed that event hosts plan their menu and guests’ list ahead by serving packed food that can be taken away by the guests.
Besides that, the organisers should also pack excess food to be distributed to places that they have identified earlier to avoid wastage.
Senior lecturer, Academy of Contemporary Islamic Studies, University Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Dr Mohd Ali Muhamad Don said identifying the food distribution locations is crucial to avoid food dumping to certain groups provided by NGOs during Ramadan.
Trends show that food contributions are usually focused on certain localities such as in city areas and selected neighbourhoods with a concentration of homeless people, causing food to be dumped. In the end, edible food ends up in the garbage bin, resulting in a hike in the nation’s food waste.
“To deal with the wastage issue, I believe that the best way is for contributors to conduct research on the food requirements at a particular place to ensure that more people will benefit from their contributions.
“Villages and remote interiors appear to be marginalised in terms of receiving food aid during Ramadan, and in fact many are still living below the poverty level,” he added.
According to Mohd Ali, with more Muslims seeking pahala (rewards) during Ramadan by merely giving food contributions, the situation will result in wastage, noting that they should focus on other ibadah (religious rituals) such as tarawih prayers which can bring maximum rewards for the worshippers.
“There are many avenues for sedekah (charity) such as tahfiz and madrasah schools which are in dire need of funds for development and operation for ummah (Muslim community) Islamic studies, and as such, now’s the best time to reap the blessings and benefits of Ramadan,” he added. — Bernama