Man­ag­ing waste is fast becoming one of UAE’s main con­cerns. So how can we make a dif­fer­ence? Fri­day finds out.

As UAE’s global food­print reaches mind-bog­gling pro­por­tions, Mri­nal Shekar ex­plores what mea­sures are be­ing taken at macro as well as mi­cro level to com­bat the prob­lem

Friday - - Contents -

The sea­son of lav­ish if­tars just went by. As the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try re­cov­ers from the culi­nary OTT of Ra­madan, here is a fact that will be dif­fi­cult to di­gest. Did you know al­most half of ev­ery heav­ing buf­fet served in ho­tels for if­tar goes waste? 47 per cent to be ex­act. If that is not shock­ing enough, ac­cord­ing to a study con­ducted by Abu Dhabi-based Mas­dar In­sti­tute, it is not just an if­tar phe­nom­e­non. It hap­pens all year long. For in­stance, 54 per cent of buf­fets served at lunches, their re­port says, lands up in waste too.

While mon­i­tor­ing the food waste gen­er­ated by more than 50 ho­tels across the UAE, the Mas­dar In­sti­tute sci­en­tists found more such eye­pop­ping facts. Did you know that the most pop­u­lar way to re­cy­cle food waste among ho­tels is not by dis­tribut­ing it to the hun­gry but to turn it into compost through mas­sive compost ma­chines in­stalled within the premises? So while 36 per cent of food waste be­comes nour­ish­ment for kitchen gar­dens and flower beds in the ho­tels, only 24 per cent goes to those go­ing hun­gry.

And if you think it is just ho­tels who are the cul­prits, then you are wrong. We all are. On an av­er­age, each one of us gen­er­ates 2.7kg of gen­eral waste ev­ery day (the world av­er­age is about 2kg). This dou­bles to 5.4kg dur­ing Ra­madan, 55 per cent of which is food waste. The Mas­dar In­sti­tute re­port, pub­lished in 2015, says, it is es­ti­mated that nearly 3.27 mil­lion tonnes of food is wasted in the UAE ev­ery year. This wasted food is worth $4 bil­lion (ap­prox. Dh13­bil­lion).

The Min­istry of Cli­mate Change and En­vi­ron­ment, the gov­ern­ment au­thor­ity in charge of this sticky is­sue, says that the statis­tics did not show much change in 2016.

If it is any con­so­la­tion, food loss and waste is a world­wide shame. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions’ Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO), which leads in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to re­duce hunger, glob­ally, one-third of food pro­duced for hu­man con­sump­tion – about 1.3 bil­lion tonnes cost­ing around $1 tril­lion – is lost or wasted an­nu­ally.

On an av­er­age, each one of us gen­er­ates 2.7KG OF WASTE ev­ery day (the world av­er­age is about 2kg). This dou­bles to 5.4KG DUR­ING RA­MADAN, 55 per cent of which is food waste

Food wasted in Europe, ac­cord­ing to FAO, could feed 200 mil­lion peo­ple, the ap­prox­i­mate pop­u­la­tion of the world’s fourth most pop­u­lous coun­try, In­done­sia.

As we wrap our heads around these facts, let’s put some con­text to this is­sue and why it has be­come imperative for the UAE to ad­dress it.

When the UAE, along with al­most 200 other coun­tries, signed up to the 2015 Paris Agree­ment, it com­mit­ted it­self to bring­ing about pol­icy changes to en­sure ef­fec­tive re­duc­tion in its car­bon emis­sions – the root cause for global warm­ing – so that the rise in global tem­per­a­ture is less than 2°C. While the UAE is al­ready on its way to pro­duc­ing clean en­ergy, through in­stal­la­tion of nu­clear plants, for ex­am­ple, thus re­duc­ing its car­bon foot­print, it is the prob­lem of food waste – the third top emit­ter of car­bon diox­ide af­ter the USA and China – that is like a bone in the throat. What makes the prob­lem even more se­ri­ous is the fact that rot­ting food waste in land­fills emits meth­ane, a gas that is much more toxic than car­bon diox­ide.

With the UAE be­ing one of the lead­ing coun­tries in the world in terms of per capita food waste, it has be­come vi­tal that it cre­ates a menu of strate­gies that curbs the prob­lem at macro as well as mi­cro lev­els – strate­gies that not only ad­dress is­sues re­gard­ing re­cy­cling of food waste in a man­ner that it does not reach the over spilling land­fills, but also help in re­duc­ing the per capita amount of food waste. What com­pounds the prob­lem is the loss of pre­cious re­sources that go into pro­duc­ing that wasted food. From fuel, fer­til­iz­ers and wa­ter to pack­ag­ing, all of them con­trib­ute to car­bon emis­sions.

While UAE’s goals are clear, the roadmap to achiev­ing these goals is rid­dled with chal­lenges. As Ryan In­gram, founder of Ter­raLoop, a Ras Al Khaimah-based en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sult­ing com­pany that pro­vides cus­tomised food waste so­lu­tions to com­mer­cial out­lets – hos­pi­tal­ity as well as re­tail – points out, there are sev­eral rea­sons for the high

amount of food waste. ‘One of which is an ex­treme lack of aware­ness,’ he says. To be spe­cific, Ryan is re­fer­ring to the fact that peo­ple quite of­ten are un­aware about what is the right way to store their gro­ceries to en­sure they max­imise their shelf life. ‘And ex­treme cli­matic con­di­tions al­most through­out the year ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem,’ Ryan adds.

But the prob­lem is much more com­plex than one to be pinned on the 45 plus-de­gree Cel­sius tem­per­a­ture out­side. It lies in our col­lec­tive mind­set. We sur­ren­der to mar­ket­ing gim­micks such as ‘buy one, get one free’ and ‘all you can eat’; or value meal of­fers that fast food joints and small restau­rants rely on to drive busi­ness. We grab bun­dle of­fers and dis­counts on per­ish­ables and buy only those prod­ucts that look per­fect in colour and shape – so fam­i­lies are spoilt for choice when it comes to get­ting the best value for their dirham. But in the process, what we over­look is the col­lat­eral dam­age – half-eaten sal­ads, breads and tiny bowls of dress­ing or dips that get tipped into the garbage bins as we are un­able to fin­ish all that was there in our take­away; or the ex­tra bread, milk, veggies and fruit that we bought just be­cause they were on of­fer and are now past ex­piry; or the sim­ple fact that we of­ten don’t buy fruits and veg­eta­bles that merely look less than per­fect, com­pelling su­per­mar­kets to even­tu­ally throw them away.

As the is­sue puts the su­per­mar­ket chains in a bad light, some of them have put to­gether an ac­tion plan to re­duce their con­tri­bu­tion to the prob­lem. Spin­ney’s, for ex­am­ple, has in­vested in Mod­i­fied At­mo­spheric Pack­ag­ing (MAP) that in­creases the shelf life of per­ish­ables by five days, says Colette Shannon, the chain’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager.

‘There are SEV­ERAL rea­sons for the high amount of food waste, one of which is an ex­treme lack of AWARE­NESS. PEO­PLE quite of­ten are un­aware about what is the right way to store their GRO­CERIES’

‘Fresh foods such as breads and deli are pre­pared in smaller batches through­out the day. That has helped in main­tain­ing high qual­ity stan­dards as well as man­age waste,’ she adds. It has also launched a range of fruit and veg­eta­bles that are nat­u­rally im­per­fect – pro­duce that was ear­lier binned by the su­per­mar­ket. To make them more ‘at­trac­tive’ to cus­tomers, Spin­ney’s is re­tail­ing them at a heav­ily dis­counted price.

Choithram’s, mean­while, is con­stantly try­ing to im­prove its lo­gis­tics man­age­ment so that they are able to pre­dict de­mand bet­ter, says Sub­hash K, cor­po­rate mar­ket­ing man­ager. ‘Also, our skilled work­force backed by train­ing, is able to bet­ter han­dle per­ish­ables which has helped has com­bat food waste ef­fec­tively,’ he adds. To fur­ther

re­duce its waste output, Choithram’s now of­fers ‘buy one get one free’ on baked goods in lo­ca­tions where it op­er­ates an in-house bak­ery. This of­fer is valid af­ter 8pm, says Sub­hash.

Both these su­per­mar­ket chains have also tied up with the UAE Food Bank, a Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity ini­tia­tive that en­cour­ages par­tic­i­pat­ing ho­tels and su­per­mar­kets to do­nate the ex­cess food that meets the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s strin­gent food safety stan­dards. This food is then dis­trib­uted free of cost among the needy through var­i­ous char­i­ties. This ini­tia­tive was launched in April when Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity opened the first branch in Al Quoz. Since its launch, this one branch has been dis­tribut­ing enough food to feed 300 peo­ple on a daily ba­sis. By end of the year, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity plans on hav­ing around 15 branches of the food bank across the UAE, each equipped with re­frig­er­ated con­tain­ers to store per­ish­ables, dry, canned and pack­aged foods.

This is not the only ini­tia­tive taken by the UAE to mit­i­gate the prob­lem of waste. In 2011, it set up Dubai Car­bon Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence, an en­tity es­tab­lished to help the UAE’s tran­si­tion to a low-car­bon and green econ­omy through the con­sol­i­da­tion of knowl­edge. Af­ter ex­ten­sive re­search, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has con­cluded that the an­nual cost of waste col­lec­tion from ev­ery ad­dress in the UAE is a mas­sive Dh7,500 – Dh24 per col­lec­tion. In an interview with Gulf News ear­lier this year, Ivano Ianelli, CEO of Dubai Car­bon, said that he plans on de­vis­ing a strat­egy whereby this cost will be turned into a rev­enue stream. ‘Our vi­sion is sim­ple, trans­form food waste and or­gan­ics into a fuel source,’ he ex­plains. By do­ing so, the author­i­ties will not only be able to gen­er­ate in­come, but be able to achieve the 2021 Na­tional Agenda direc­tive of re­duc­ing waste headed to land­fills by 75 per cent.

Ho­tels, too, are becoming mind­ful of the food waste they gen­er­ate. Apart from set­ting up composting ma­chines

The AN­NUAL COST of waste col­lec­tion from ev­ery AD­DRESS in the UAE is a WHOP­PING DH7,500. By trans­form­ing food waste into a FUEL SOURCE, the author­i­ties will be able to gen­er­ate IN­COME

that turn or­ganic waste into fer­til­izer and do­nat­ing ex­cess food to the UAE Food Bank, some 30 ho­tels across Dubai are us­ing tools that help chefs re­duce food waste. By mea­sur­ing how much food is binned daily and then analysing the data to un­der­stand wastage pat­terns, they can take mea­sures to re­duce waste. An ex­am­ple of how ef­fec­tive this tool has been is Pull­man Dubai Creek City Cen­tre Ho­tel & Res­i­dences. Within few months of us­ing this tech­nol­ogy, the ho­tel was able to re­duce its food waste by 70 per cent – an an­nual sav­ing of Dh73,000.

The gov­ern­ment is also fo­cus­ing on aware­ness cam­paigns that will help re­duce waste at the in­di­vid­ual level. One such cam­paign was the Best Aware­ness Hy­per­mar­ket Awards. Launched ear­lier this month by Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, it en­cour­ages su­per­mar­kets to come up with cre­ative ways to ed­u­cate con­sumers about food stor­age and a guide­line on how to shop for per­ish­ables. Cam­paigns like these, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity hopes, will go a long way in re­duc­ing food waste at the house­hold level. ‘We want hy­per­mar­kets to be­come an­other ed­u­ca­tional hub for con­sumers,’ says Sh­agufta Zubair, se­nior food safety aware­ness sup­port of­fi­cer at Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

In the Year of Giv­ing, it’s time we take re­spon­si­bil­ity of our eat­ing and shop­ping habits and as Hus­sain Nasser Lootah, act­ing Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity says, ‘vol­un­teer and ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in the process of giv­ing food to those in need.’

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The first branch of the UAE Food Bank has been feed­ing about 300 peo­ple ev­ery day since it launched in April

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