July 12, 2023
BANGKOK – With food waste in Thailand continuing to increase due to excessive sales and over-purchasing, Thammasat University has stepped in with a plan to counter the climate-damaging methane gases polluting the atmosphere from decomposing organic matter in landfill.
According to Dr. Racha Thepsorn, lecturer at the university’s Department of Science and Technology, the food waste situation is becoming more severe, with Thailand generating 17 million tons of food waste in 2022 alone.
He also believes that the situation will worsen with the production of substandard quality food, which accounts for approximately 30% of what many of us eat. This is significantly high when compared to the population who lack access to food. Additionally, food waste occurs due to inadequate consumption or failure to consume food before it spoils, resulting in it being discarded as waste.
While the increasing popularity of Thai cuisine has had positive effects on the overall food industry, its success is overshadowed by the harm waste does to the environment. To address this issue and facilitate waste management, it is important to consider the underlying causes. On the production side, excessive quantities or over-preparation of food leads to much of it being thrown out. It is thus crucial to establish quality-assured production systems that help minimise food waste.
On the consumption side, meanwhile, consumers tend to stockpile large quantities of food without advance planning, resulting in a significant amount of that food remaining in refrigerators until it expires and needs to be discarded, a cycle that is repeated week after week. To address this issue, consumers should carefully check expiration dates and plan their meals, making sure to use items that are nearing their ‘best by’ dates first.
Adding to the problem are tourists who try various dishes based on social media reviews only to find that they are not keen when they taste them. Manufacturers can address this issue by providing important information about the menu items they sell, including the ingredients used. This can help tourists make informed decisions about their food choices. This will not only help reduce the problem of food waste but also raise awareness of food waste management in the tourism industry.
One issue that cannot be overlooked is the buffet-style food business, which inevitably generates a significant amount of food waste. Buffets offer a wide variety of dishes, and operators need to prepare a large quantity of food to attract customers, resulting in over-preparation.
While consumers expect value for money when dining at buffets, the issue of food waste is a concern that involves the entire food supply chain, including producers and consumers. All parties must take responsibility and be aware of this issue together.
The Faculty of Science and Technology is proposing four important processes that can be used as effective approaches for food waste management:
1. Shortening the food supply chain: If the food supply chain is long, it means that the food remains in the system for a longer period before reaching consumers. It is necessary to shorten the food supply chain and establish regulations for purchasing processed food and ingredients. For example, avoid buying food when hungry, purchase only what is necessary, and do not succumb to marketing strategies such as buy-one-get-one-free promotions to cultivate discipline in food purchasing.
2. Increasing the value of near-expiry food: This can be achieved by transforming food to extend its shelf life. Thailand has plenty of traditional knowledge in these areas, such as drying, heat treatment and fermentation,
3. Upcycling food waste to create value or additional benefits: For example, utilising food waste for biogas production to reduce environmental burden.
4. Proper disposal methods: Although burying is the most common method of food waste disposal, it is essential to reduce food waste before reaching this stage.
Some European countries have enacted legislation to reduce food waste. For example, France has laws to manage excess food from retail businesses, including tax incentives for producers who can reduce the amount of food waste. They also regulate food safety measures for donation or creative menu creation using leftover ingredients, something which is popular in Japan, where leftover food from refrigerators or unconsumed meals has become a trend, leading to the sharing and dissemination of interesting methods.
In Singapore, yellow-tagged food items are distributed to residential communities. This helps people access premium-quality surplus food that is still clean, suitable for cooking, and reduces the burden on the government in managing food waste.
Dr. Racha stressed the importance of recognizing food as a valuable resource that will become increasingly difficult to access as climate change affects agricultural production. With so many natural ingredients and a wide range of delicious foods, Thailand must work harder to become a leader in food security and in the sustainable management of food surplus.