Food Waste in Singapore [Part 1] – The Big Picture

In 2019, 744,000 tonnes of food waste were generated in Singapore and only 18% were recycled. To implement solutions, one must first understand where food waste come from and why. In this first article, we will explore some of the key concepts to have in mind to effectively address this challenge.

1.1 What is the journey of a food product?

Every single food product originally stems from biomass such as fruits, vegies, grains, fish, or meat. Before such products can be eaten by humans, it will go through a process for which we can distinguish 5 major steps:

  1. Production
  2. Handling and storage
  3. Processing and packaging
  4. Distribution and retailing
  5. Consumption

1.1.1 Production

Production typically refers to the process for growing a fruit, vegetable, or grain until it is harvested (taken away from the plant or ground).

For meat (such as pork, beef, chicken…), the production refers to the process for growing the animal from birth until it is slaughtered.

For animal products (such as milk for dairy products, or eggs), the production refers to the process of looking after the animals until the collection of the product.

1.1.2 Handling and storage

As soon as the raw product is collected, it must be conditioned for handling and storage. For instance, grains will be dried to maintain the moisture content under a specific threshold and then stored in silos. Fruits will be stored in refrigerated chambers with a high concentration of CO2 to slow their maturing process so fruits can be delivered to consumers throughout the year. Milk will be cooled down to limit bacterial growth, etc. The conditioning process dependent on the type of food product and must be conducted within a specific timeframe.

1.1.3 Processing and packaging

From there food products will be processed and packaged. The processing step can be a very simple process such as sorting fruits for delivery to supermarkets or transformation into a refined product such as jam or fruit snack bars… The final goods are finally packaged in order to be delivered to the final end-users (such as restaurants, retailers, factories, etc.).

1.1.4 Distribution and retailing

Once packaged in their final form, goods are distributed to F&B outlets or to retailers.

1.1.5 Consumption

Finally, food is consumed by individuals in F&B outlets or in their homes.

Each step involved a wide variety of businesses and organisations to ensure the safe delivery of your favourite food.

1.2 What is the timeline for a food product?

It depends on the type of food products, the way it is handled, and to which actor you are asking the question. For a food professional, the key term to consider is “self-life”. Consumers will tend to be more aware of ‘Best before’ date and ‘Used by’ date. Here are the definition of these terms:

  • Shelf life can be defined as a period of time after processing and packaging during which the food product maintains a minimum level of quality acceptable for consumption. [1]
  • ‘Use by’ dates are for highly perishable food such as milk and yoghurt. You are advised to not consume them if they have passed their ‘use by’ dates.
  • ‘Best before’ dates are for food with a longer shelf life such as cereals. They indicate how long the food will be at its best quality. ‘Sell by’ dates inform retailers when to take the item off the shelves.

However, the safety of a food product is not dependent on its expiry date alone. Products not stored or handled properly can be unsafe for consumption too. So, remember to check for signs of spoilage before consuming them! [2]

You can see the storage guidelines for different type of food products here: https://www.sfa.gov.sg/food-information/food-safety-education/good-food-safety-practices

Below is an illustration of a timeline for fresh food products. For a professional, the goal is to extend the duration of the “good for sale” (i.e., shelf life) in order to increase the chance of selling the product.

Fresh food product timeline

1.3 How is the logistics impacted by food products?

On a logistical point of view, there are three food categories:

  • Dry
  • Chilled
  • Frozen

Depending on the category of food product, suitable transportation technologies must be used. Transportation of food can take hours, days, weeks, or months depending on its origin, destination, quantities, food categories, final usage of the food products.

For instance, bananas to be sold in supermarkets will be transported by airplanes due to their very short shelf life. Grains (such as wheat) which need to be refined into new products (such as flour) and which have a long shelf life can be transported by ships.

Loading of grain into a bulk carrier

Figure: Loading of grain into a bulk carrier

1.4 In Singapore, where does the food come from?

Singapore has an industry dedicated to the production of fruits, vegetables, eggs, and fish, mostly for local consumption.

Despite the local production, Singapore imports over 90% of the food consumed in the country. The food at our local markets mainly comes from overseas. In 2018, the local farms produced a small amount of food consumed in Singapore:

  • 13% of all the vegetables
  • 9% of all the fish
  • 24% of all the eggs

1.5 In Singapore, who are the key actors?

Every single company that produces, handles, transforms, and sells food products must be properly licenced.

There are five major categories of food licences:

  • Food shop: Businesses that require a food shop licence include restaurants, cake shops, eating houses, coffeeshops, food courts, pubs, bars, market produce shops, food caterers, and mobile food wagons.
  • Food stall: A food stall refers to a compartmentalised unit housed in a food shop, such as coffeeshop, eating house, food court or canteen.
  • Food factories refer to AVA licensed food establishments where food is manufactured, processed, prepared or packed for the purpose of distribution to wholesalers and retailers. These food establishments include noodles and pasta manufacturers, bakery and flour confectionery manufacturers, meat and fish processing establishments, slaughterhouses and cold stores used for the storage of meat and/or fish products. These food establishments are subjected to regular inspections and food samples would be collected for laboratory analysis to ensure that the food produced is safe and fit for human consumption. They are also graded and classified under grades ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘D’ according to their food safety and hygiene standards.
  • Supermarkets refer to air‐conditionedretailmarkets that sell meat, fish, fruit, vegetable, poultry, egg, or other article of food (cooked or uncooked) and other household items. They are operated on a self‐service
  • Private markets refer to markets (including any stalls therein) licensed to private operators for the sale of meat, fish, fruit, vegetable, poultry, egg, or other article of food (cooked or uncooked).
Singapore big picture

Figure 1 – Overview of the supply and delivery of food products in Singapore with the number of licenced food establishments at the end of 2018 [3]

Despite the very high number of actors in the supply of food products in Singapore. A relatively small number of large companies concentrate the flow of food products in Singapore.

For instance, about 13 distributors supply more than 90% of the fresh chicken products in Singapore. [4] It is estimated that about 60% of the food retail sales take place in supermarkets, hypermarkets, and modern mini marts, while the rest are sold in convenience shops, traditional provision stores (Mom & Pop stores), petrol stations and wet market stalls. [5]

1.6 Food waste in numbers

Food waste is a major waste stream with high generation tonnage and low recycling rate. In 2018, Singapore generated 763,100 tonnes of food waste, of which only 17% was recycled. Commercial and industrial (C&I) premises account for approximately 40% of the food waste generated in Singapore each year.

Furthermore, a 2019 waste audit of large commercial and industrial premises, conducted by NEA, revealed that:

  • the amount of food waste disposed of correlated positively with food and beverage (F&B) area for malls, and F&B and function area for hotels; and
  • the amount of food waste disposed of in industrial premises depends on the type of commercial activities. [6]

Precise statistics about the quantity of food waste per type of actor are not publicly available for Singapore.

We have described the flow of food products and drew a picture of the major stakeholders in Singapore. In the next article, we will dive into the origin of food waste (for each actor) and opportunities to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

[1] Fruit Juices, Extraction, Composition, Quality and Analysis 2018, Pages 557-569 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978012802230600028X

[2] Pre-packed foods may carry a ‘best before’, ‘use by’ date or ‘sell by’ date. But what’s the difference?, Singapore Food Agency, https://www.sfa.gov.sg/food-for-thought/article/detail/best-before-and-sell-by-date-difference

[3] Statistics Singapore – Yearbook of Statistics Singapore 2019, http://www.singstat.gov.sg/-/media/files/publications/reference/yearbook_2019/yos2019.pdf

[4] Article ” When over 7 tonnes of chicken is discarded daily — the alarming scale of food waste in Asia”, published on 14th March 2021, Channel News Asia https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/edible-food-waste-ugly-asia-expiry-dates-treedots-14387636

[5] Singapore Exporter Guide 2013, by USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, published on 16th December 2013 https://apps.fas.usda.gov/newgainapi/api/report/downloadreportbyfilename?filename=Exporter%20Guide_Singapore_Singapore_12-16-2013.pdf

[6] Press release, “More Than 300 F&B Businesses Required To Segregate Food Waste For Treatment Under New Legislation”, published on 4th March 2020, by National Environmental Agency (NEA) https://www.nea.gov.sg/media/news/news/index/businesses-required-to-segregate-food-waste-for-treatment-under-new-legislation

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About Zero Waste City

Zero Waste City is a consulting business specialised in waste reduction for commercial and industrial facilities. We help companies to save money by reducing waste and to achieve Zero Waste goals. Our services include:

Our services include:

  • Waste audit (quantifying waste streams and identifying immediate cost saving opportunities)
  • Compliance with regulations such as:
    • Mandatory Packaging Reporting
    • Mandatory Waste Reporting
    • Mandatory Food Waste Segregation
  • Project implementation and on-going support
  • Measurement and Verification of savings
  • Guidance to achieve Zero Waste goals and certifications.