Why so much edible food is thrown away in Asia, and how to fix it

SINGAPORE: They would have made juicy hen breasts, drumsticks, legs and wings, sufficient for tons of of hundreds of Singaporeans. But these chickens don’t make it to your dinner plates.

Because that is the quantity of hen meat being wasted at slaughterhouses right here — day by day.

Social entrepreneur Nicholas Lim was shocked when he noticed it together with his personal eyes, after a hen provider let him on a little-known market drawback: The provider was throwing away seven to 15 tonnes of completely good, usable hen components day by day.

That is equal to 70,000 to 150,000 meals of hen. And there are various extra suppliers in Singapore — about 13 distributors provide greater than 90 per cent of the recent hen merchandise right here.

Tonnes of chickens like these are discarded daily in Singapore

Tonnes of chickens like these are discarded day by day.

“I was like, ‘How much money are you guys throwing away every single day?’” stated Lim, co-founder of TreeDots, a start-up that redistributes food provides.

“And then it hit me. It’s not just seven to 15 tonnes of food being wasted, but seven to 15 tonnes of lives that are being thrown away.”

It is occurring not solely to chickens both. Singapore, together with many cities in Asia, is shedding all types of food.

In 2019, Singapore generated 744,000 tonnes of food waste, whereas greater than half of world food wastage occurs in Asia. Most of this occurs earlier than customers purchase their food, so all these assets used in food manufacturing are wasted too.

A farmer in Taiwan. A good amount of his efforts and resources used in his fields will go to waste.

A farmer in Taiwan. quantity of his efforts and assets used in his fields will go to waste.

In a three-part sequence, CNA Insider hits the regional food path – from the retail and distribution levels all the way in which to the farms – for a deeper take a look at why these food provide issues exist, and the efforts on the bottom in locations like Indonesia, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore to battle food waste.

And as it seems, customers can even assist to be sure that extra food turns into obtainable for all as an alternative of being misplaced.


On the floor, there appears to be little danger of supermarkets right here operating out of food — an assurance given even on the top of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And to ensure of that — for instance when it comes to recent hen — supermarkets and different retailers have a tendency to contractually bind their suppliers to carry in a ten to 20 per cent buffer inventory day by day, simply in case.

Singapore's fresh chicken supply rolls on.

Singapore’s recent hen provide rolls on.

These are dwell chickens imported from farms across the area and slaughtered right here. But if there is no surge in client demand, retailers don’t want to take the excess inventory.

“(Suppliers) try to sell it. If they can’t, they store it. If they store it for too long, they throw it (away),” stated Lim, 28. “They need avenues to try and clear it every day … Storage space is expensive.”

Buffer shares are thus one of many largest contributors to food waste. While retailers do make gross sales projections, these aren’t 100 per cent correct.

“In theory, if you’re 70 per cent accurate in your forecast, you’re considered very accurate already,” stated Lim. This makes buffer shares “the easier way out” in contrast to “trying to improve on the forecasting model”.

DBS food waste 1d

TreeDots co-founder Nicholas Lim.

“(Retailers) kind of need the buffer because households can’t stand the fact that certain common products are out of stock,” he added.

“For example, if I … want to buy a chicken whole leg, and if a supermarket doesn’t have chicken whole legs, it’ll cause quite a big fuss in the supermarket.”

If there is overstocking, then again, there are “no repercussions” for retailers. The competitors between suppliers means retail consumers name the pictures.

“(A supplier) would rather have a buffer than have … a buyer go to another supplier,” Lim stated. “The cost of lost sales is higher than the cost of buffer stocks or the disposal of buffer stocks.”

Competition between fresh chicken suppliers in Singapore means retail buyers call the shots.

Retail consumers name the pictures.


Since 2018, Lim has been trying into the methods companies generate meat waste in Singapore. And he discovered that these conditions come up for causes so simple as “cosmetic” filtering.

Even the burden of a hen can decide what retailers promote or select not to. The normal hen dimension, for instance, is 1.2kg. But “there’ll be situations where they’re just not the weight that’s stated” — both undersized or outsized.

“They can still be eaten, but simply because of cosmetic business requirements, they get lost in the end in the entire process chain,” he stated.

Sometimes the chickens undergo damaged bones or get bruises whereas being transported to Singapore. These are additionally rejected by consumers, in lockstep with client notion that “that’s not a normal chicken anymore”.

About 13 distributors supply more than 90 per cent of the fresh chickens in Singapore.

Destined for consumption, or waste?

“Because supermarkets have to display the nicest out there … this becomes your standard perception of how food should look,” he stated, citing hen rice stalls as one other instance that reinforces the thought of how “nice” food ought to look.

“But in reality, it’s not the case … When you catch a chicken to slaughter it, (it’s) going to struggle and … get injuries.”

Colour makes a distinction too. For instance, beef that is darker than the standard vibrant purple, however of fine high quality and simply as secure, doesn’t usually make it to grocery store cabinets.

Even centimetres matter, like in the case of mushrooms. Ban Choon Marketing, Singapore’s main importer and wholesaler of recent produce, has to measure the dimensions of its mushroom heads as a result of consumers are unwilling to settle for uneven sizes.

Measuring the size of mushrooms using vernier callipers to check if they are acceptably sized.

Measuring the dimensions of mushrooms utilizing vernier callipers to test if they’re acceptably sized.

“I think it’s because consumers want the best when they pay,” stated government director Michelle Tan. “That trickles down to perhaps (our) customers being more stringent in their requirements.”

It additionally trickles down to farmers, who typically should go to nice lengths to meet the expectations of shops and customers.

For instance, Hou Chun Nan in Taiwan used to stick paper on his ponkan (a kind of mandarin orange) to forestall pores and skin discolouration, which occurs if one aspect of the fruit is at all times uncovered to direct daylight whereas it is rising.

And if the pores and skin color of a fruit is uneven, it could be eliminated through the grading course of. “It doesn’t sell well in the market because when we buy fruits, we tend to choose the prettier ones,” he famous.

WATCH: Why are we throwing away completely edible food? (16:13)


Food additionally tends to go to waste when it has handed half of its shelf life, even when there are six months to a 12 months left earlier than expiry. This impacts dry merchandise and processed meals, for instance.

“If these products … aren’t moved at the rate that we’d agreed upon or a rate that we thought would be optimal, then that results in products sitting out here in our warehouse with less than that required period,” stated Tan.

If the food is already on the cabinets, retailers would sometimes return it, as customers have a behavior of shopping for food with the most recent manufacturing date.

Chilled gadgets, with a shorter shelf life, are notably prone to wastage.

“We used to throw (away) 100 tubs of yoghurt … about 50kg of yoghurt whenever we had issues with flight delays,” stated Hay Shiwei, the founder and director of food distributor Atasco, which focuses on supplying online grocers.

Some of the yoghurts that food distributor Atasco supplies in Singapore, mostly to online grocers.

Some of the yoghurts that Atasco provides.

Its natural yoghurts, for instance, have a 14-day shelf life. “So when we list the items, whatever they buy has to have a minimum shelf life of eight days,” he cited.

“When (one) shipment was delayed for five days … we had only nine days of shelf life left when the product finally arrived in Singapore. So we only had one day to sell everything that we’d planned to sell for a week.”

In supermarkets, food equivalent to milk is organized accordingly, with gadgets nearer to their expiration date displayed on the entrance. But there are customers who take those with an extended shelf life as an alternative.

Retailers additionally return food that is approaching its best-before date, whereas some customers have no idea the distinction between the best-before and use-by dates. The latter is the date after which the food should not be offered.

The best-before and expiry dates can pose a problem for food distributor Atasco in moving its goods.

The best-before and expiry dates can pose an issue for Atasco in transferring its items.

“I’ve had lots of products way past their best-before dates, and they’re still very good for consumption,” famous Hay.

So each time there’s wastage, I’d assume, ‘How am I going to use these products? In what way can I save them? Would anyone want them if I were to give them away?’


The 38-year-old discovered the solutions in June 2019 when he found Treatsure, a cellular platform connecting suppliers and companies like resorts which have surplus food to on a regular basis customers.

“Where we come in is as a secondary channel for them (companies) to start selling items that they couldn’t have (sold through) other channels,” stated Preston Wong, the 31-year-old chief government and lead innovator at Treatsure.

“Consumers see whatever there is (put up by suppliers), then they go about ordering as you would on an e-commerce platform.”

Preston Wong is chief executive and lead innovator at Treatsure, a start-up out to cut food waste.

Preston Wong co-founded Treatsure in 2017

In the previous 12 months, the variety of subscribers to Treatsure’s app has grown by 3 times and now stands at over 20,000 customers who’re seemingly not so fussed about food that comes with little dings or are nearing expiry.

They are saving not solely food but additionally cash, as Treatsure works out a “special rate” with its companions for his or her extra merchandise.

In Hong Kong, a gaggle of younger folks have gone even additional.

The three founders of GreenPrice — who had been college college students once they began their social enterprise — have opened shops that promote nothing however near-expiry items, also referred to as short-dated food. The objective: To change Hongkongers’ angle in the direction of these meals.

“They aren’t that willing to purchase items that are short-dated … thinking that the quality would’ve deteriorated,” cited GreenPrice co-founder Terence Hon, 23.

A GreenPrice shop front in Hong Kong. GreenPrice sells nothing but near-expiry goods.

A GreenPrice store entrance in Hong Kong.

This is why the younger co-founders “put a lot of energy into developing stores” — to educate customers in regards to the totally different product labels with a little bit private consideration.

“Our staff usually go up to customers to introduce them to the best-before dates and the use-by dates,” stated Hon.

“(We) even provide some samples for (customers) to taste the products … so that they can make the right decision and have confidence in short-dated items.”

That confidence is rising “bit by bit, year by year”. Based on customers’ “acceptance” ranges, GreenPrice sells food gadgets that go up to three months previous the best-before date.

GreenPrice, in Hong Kong, sells food items that go up to three months past the best-before date.

A GreenPrice worker in motion.

Four years since its first retailer opened, GreenPrice has 4 shops now serving to almost 700 suppliers to promote these items, primarily to youthful, eco-conscious and white-collar prospects.


Over in Taiwan, social enterprise Goodwill Foods is serving to farmers to minimise food waste by rising using “off-grade products” as much as doable, stated co-founder Lin Ya Wen.

Hou is one among these farmers who promote the so-called “ugly” fruits in their harvest to Goodwill Foods, which turns them into jams on the market.

“This kind of ponkan is very suitable for the processing industry,” stated Lin, explaining that the aspect of the orange extra uncovered to daylight has much less juice, which aids in the drying course of.

“We tell the farmers directly that you just sell us the off-grade products that we need. Whatever price you want … we’ll accept.”

Staff from Goodwill Foods, a social enterprise in Taiwan, turning off-grade pineapples into jam.

Goodwill Foods employees turning off-grade pineapples into jam.

The jams are utilized by a number of food and beverage companies, and doing so nicely that they’ve received awards. “As long as the products you’re making don’t rely on the fruit’s appearances, you can use these ‘ugly’ fruits,” Lin famous.

Goodwill Foods has additionally collaborated with DBS Bank and different “large companies in recent years” which have purchased the social enterprise’s merchandise, which embody dried fruits and a soon-to-be-launched fruit beverage.

TreeDots is doing likewise in Singapore, by in search of out food companies which are prepared to purchase undesirable, surplus meat and seafood. That consists of animal components which are much less common, equivalent to hen breast.

“When a supplier or slaughterhouse terms a product as ‘unpopular’, it’s because they don’t devote resources to look for that small, niche segment that these unpopular products could cater for,” stated Lim.

“Healthier stalls, salad bars and stuff are more than happy to use fresh chicken breast … And all the gym people and (such) are happy to consume all this breast meat.”

Gym diets are helping to reduce food waste.

Gym diets are serving to to scale back food waste.

TreeDots is now redistributing food to greater than 1,300 companies at discount costs. Last 12 months, it reached out instantly to customers too, and now has 82 group-buy communities who store with it.

For instance, Rachel Lum and her neighbours in their condominium purchase their groceries in bulk each week, and don’t thoughts a little bit imperfection in their food.

“We do this group buy so that everybody can enjoy the benefit of having cheaper prices of food,” she stated.

TreeDots is additionally teaming up with The Food Bank Singapore and DBS to donate provides to underprivileged households, with a separate app for this initiative in the pilot section.

TreeDots is partnering The Food Bank Singapore and DBS to donate food, with an app being piloted.

The pilot app.

TreeDots, Treatsure and GreenPrice are supported by DBS Foundation, whereas Goodwill Foods and The Food Bank Singapore are DBS neighborhood companions.


In the three years since TreeDots began, it has saved about 2,300 tonnes of food, or the equal of 23 million meals. Lim referred to as this “a drop in the ocean” of food waste in Singapore.

“We’re not even near to clearing what the market requires us to,” he stated, citing worldwide estimates that 80 per cent of food waste comes from companies.

He is “hopeful” about much less food loss “because (he) can see the results of whatever we’ve done so far”. But he additionally is aware of that altering customers’ notion is “not as easy as we thought”.

For occasion, there are new TreeDots prospects who ask why their hen seems yellowish or has blood or feathers, or why their codfish has bones. Nonetheless, he treats these complaints as a “good” factor.

Lim with a rescued piece of salmon fillet deemed to be below Singaporeans' usual beauty standards.

Lim with a rescued piece of salmon fillet deemed to be under Singaporeans’ normal magnificence requirements.

“They raise (these questions) in group chats. So when we answer them, we see that as an opportunity to also educate everyone else in that particular group … There might be a ripple effect,” he stated.

“They could tell their kids or their friends … that these products are okay.”

TreeDots is additionally gaining extra attain by working with supermarkets like Hao Mart to have a section of shelf area for the social enterprise’s non-cosmetically-filtered merchandise, beginning with purple meat.

“We want people to start to recognise that this is an issue,” Lim stated. “The root cause (of food loss) comes from demand that’s flawed … (The needle) won’t move if consumers are still demanding super perfect products.”

Some beef that has discoloured but is perfectly edible, according to TreeDots, a social enterprise.

Some beef that has discoloured however is completely edible, in accordance to TreeDots.

Consumers also needs to cease pondering that they can not make an satisfactory impression as people, in accordance to Singapore University of Social Sciences senior lecturer Tania Nagpaul. “People need to rise above these misgivings,” she stated.

“Once they become a part of the solution, albeit a very small part of the solution, they begin to influence others and take others along with them.”

Echoing this, food waste professional and Hong Kong Baptist University assistant professor Daisy Tam stated: “Consumers would say, well, supermarkets offer only these kind of choices. And then the supermarket says, well, consumers are only after these particular selections.

“So I think both have a responsibility.”

This article by CNA Insider was executed in collaboration with DBS. To be taught extra about why we’d like to work collectively in the direction of zero food waste and how DBS is elevating consciousness on this challenge, click here.


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