Three Singapore Start-Ups Fighting the Ugly Side of Food Waste

It wasn't until the early 2000s that climate change became a more pressing issue in the media, and then it was presented as an impending doom if we didn't cut back on our consumption.
As a precaution, we were urged to acquire healthy habits, such as shutting off electrical appliances that are not in use and recycling soda cans and plastic bags.

A few half rotten apples on the ground
Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

An ominous worldwide problem has developed in a little over a decade.
There are just too many environmental problems right now to name them all.

According to Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA), one of the five most significant forms of trash is food.
The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) launched the Year Towards Zero Waste campaign in 2019 to encourage Singaporeans to adopt practices that minimize the amount of food they throw away.
A few of these were requesting less rice or noodles if the amount is too much, declining side dishes that would not be eaten, and ordering only what can be finished.

A one-percent rise in the percentage of food waste recycled in 2019 has been reported by the NEA's Waste Statistics and Overall Recycling rates.
The rest is burned at waste-to-energy plants to generate electricity.
Organic waste, such as food waste, breaks down into methane, a greenhouse gas 25 percent more potent than carbon dioxide when disposed of in landfills.
Large-scale incinerators, however, have been demonstrated to inhibit recycling and contribute to an increase in garbage production.

Researchers at the National Environment Agency (NEA) are planning to "improve our resource efficiency," "lowering dependence on incineration and landfilling while at the same time, maintaining high levels of public health" in 2020 through a research funding project funded by SGD 45 million.
Research and test-bed innovation solutions such as turning soya bean waste into usable items in the food chain are conducted by the NEA and AVA with food waste management.

There is a clear commitment from both the government and private sector to improve food waste management efficiency, but what about the typical Singaporean?

Like other types of environmental deterioration, food waste has a long-term effect on the ecosystem.
Three eco-friendly firms are tackling food waste management in Singapore, and this is what they're doing.

UglyFood: the Ugly Pieces of Food

It's critical to separate food scraps from other trash.
According to Yeo Pei Shan, founder, and CEO of Singapore start-up UglyFood, these challenges are critical since they affect corporations on a far greater scale than individuals' homes.
Although Yeo initially set out to address the issue of cosmetic filtering — fresh produce that is thrown away because of its unsuitable shape, color, or size for sale. She has since expanded into the field of food management consulting, helping suppliers reduce waste and cut losses due to overestimated demand and surplus produce.

Increasing UglyFood's spread with limited resources is Yeo's most serious difficulty.
As a result, says Yeo, "We have to rely on third parties for our deliveries since we don't have the resources to establish our own logistics, transport, and distribution staff." "This may be irritating because we want to provide our clients with the greatest and most timely delivery," adds Yeo.

UglyFood's brand reputation and investor trust have significantly been bolstered by government entities.
A great deal of our publicity came from the NEA's Clean and Green Campaign, in which we were featured by the organization, thanks to their collaboration with us, adds Yeo.
They also host environmental-related events, roadshows, and conferences, to which we are invited to spread the message and connect with other organizations in the area.

When it comes to merchandise placement in supermarkets and grocery stores, "Pile it high and watch it fly" has been a common proverb in recent years.
Singaporeans have a tendency to want "everything just right" and "the best value for money," according to Yeo, who recalls seeing an exhibit of "the fruits that have either fell to the ground or have been abused till they don't look fresh anymore" at a food booth.
Because many consumers are careless and just squeeze the fruits without thinking, fresh fruits quickly devolve into unsightly food.

Cultural views prevalent in Singapore today were shown in the conversation between Yeo and Ng.
For more than half a century, Singapore expanded fast from a fledgling country afflicted by widespread unemployment, housing shortages, and a dearth of land and natural resources to a first-world nation...
To compensate for the lack of resources, many baby boomers nonetheless make sure they have more than enough food and the finest of everything, especially when it comes to consuming it.
More waste is produced because people handle fruits and vegetables to check for quality and avoid the final products on shelves like the plague when this cultural mindset is extended to purchasing fresh goods.

The issue of cosmetic filtration has seen significant progress over the years, with greater awareness from schools and grassroots efforts, such as SG Food Rescue, an organization created in 2018 that frequently visits wholesalers and wet markets to source for sellers' less-than-perfect products.
Although Yeo believes that structural changes at the corporate level are the most significant hurdle to a greener Singapore, she intends to overcome this problem by educating consumers and corporations.
As she puts it, "Many businesses have to preserve their bottom line."
While it may be convenient to toss things away, Greenpeace's executive director Annie Leonard has stated that there is no such thing as 'away.'"
Our trash must go somewhere, and do we really want that to happen?"

Treatsure: in the Unwanted Bin, a Treasure Trove

As Treatsure co-founder Preston Wong puts it: "Businesses are still fairly cautious and inactive when it comes to food waste management, while not all customers adhere to the sustainability or saving of food message."

In 2017, Wong's start-up created a smartphone app to link companies and hotels with leftover food to customers, tackling the issue of food waste.
Consumers may purchase food from hotel buffets for as little as SGD 10 per box using the Treatsure app, which works with hotels, including the Grand Hyatt and Hotel Jen in Singapore.
*UglyFood, a surplus grocery delivery business run by Yeo, is one of its partners on the site. Users may purchase perfectly edible excess, expired, or blemished food products through the service.

Reducing, redistributing, and reusing food is Wong's preferred approach to managing food waste in the country, but he has significant obstacles in terms of people and material resources.
Treatment was one of the 2019 award recipients and used the cash to improve its mobile app like Yeo's UglyFood did. Wong's start-up also relies on government grants, industry partnerships, and PR efforts. In 2019, treatment received one of the Year Towards Zero Waste grants.

Many of these programs and projects might use more financing, as well as additional resources for pilots and test-beds and resource links, says Wong. "More has to be done," he adds.
For enterprises, the NEA may cooperate with Enterprise Singapore to co-invest or infuse funds for stock in some of these firms, particularly those with a technological edge, to boost start-up growth and expedite social impact."
In addition, the government may work with additional venture capitalists and accelerators to help support sustainable enterprises.

On the other hand, Wong advocates for conscious consumption in the form of actively considering leftover food or zero-waste buying as a feasible alternative to other readily available options for customers.
Social media is a powerful tool for consumers to advocate for change by educating their peers about food waste and the possibilities of repurposing leftovers and bad foods. "We do see an increasing trend of our users posting on social media about what they whip up with surplus items," says Wong.
"Efforts to reduce waste should not simply be limited to the tail end of the food chain."

In Wong's view, the Year Towards Zero Waste campaign in 2019 focused a lot of emphasis on the Resource Sustainability Act legislation regulating waste reporting and on-site digestion in bigger retail and culinary locations. Still, little attention was paid to the reduction and redistribution routes.
In addition to engaging with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the media to make food waste reduction a more lifestyle-friendly message, "I believe more can be done to engage with food stakeholders to co-create meaningful long-term agreements in these areas."
Consumers may be responsible by purchasing only what they need, rather than overbuying, so that shops don't get erroneous signals at the supply chain's stock procurement and forecasting phases.

Insectta: Let the Bugs Eat It

Insectta, situated in Singapore, was created in 2017 due to a study into the zero-waste management of black army flies.
Organic waste is quickly consumed by the larvae of black soldier flies, which subsequently become animal feed for livestock.
Fertilizer may be made from insect excrement.
Black soldier fly waste may now be used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic sectors and the animal feed industry, thanks to Insectta's efforts to extract high-value biomaterials from the waste.

As described by Chua Kai-Ning, the co-founder and chief marketing director of Insectta, pre-consumer waste is trash that comes from the food production chain before consumers are involved.
Byproducts from the food production process, such as soybean pulp, barley, wheat, and malt from brewing beer, are included in this category.
The Singapore Food Agency has licensed Insectta's ecosystem of larvae, which assures traceability and eliminates contamination of organic materials fed to its larvae before they are used as animal feed.

Larvae devour organic waste at a rate of up to four times their own weight a day. In addition, their short life spans as adult flies (which declassifies them as pests) make the procedure an efficient means of managing food waste, reducing the need to generate animal feed.

As Chua explains, "Economies of scale are required to be profitable, as well as to observe a long-term influence on the supply chain."
Although insect farming is still in its infancy, it can have a significant influence on food waste management because of its relatively small size and low production costs.

"We're still working up that scale economy to have an influence on the supply chain," adds Chua.
"Market approval and customer acceptance of insect-derived goods are critical for us to get there.
This sector will not flourish as long as people are disgusted by insect-derived items.

For the first time, Singaporeans are receptive to the idea of using insects to control food waste, according to Insectta's educational and outreach programs that began in October 2019.
"There are many individuals here who don't believe that insect farming is something that only occurs in other countries.
After the beginning, people couldn't even understand the concept. Still, in little over a year of launching Insectta, if you google 'insect farming in Singapore,' you'll find our name, and you'll see people talking about it on social media.
With increasing media coverage, it's no longer a strange concept to most people."

"The misconception many Singaporeans have, firstly, is that the stuff you don't finish on your plate or that you leave behind at restaurants or hawker centers," Chua explains, "makes up the bulk of food waste." Nonetheless, Chua thinks consumers' efforts are inconsequential in alleviating the climate ailments.
The fact is that this is a tiny proportion of the total amount of food that is wasted.

Instead, the bulk of food waste is created earlier in the supply chain rather than at the final destination.
For example, Chua says, "When there is mismanagement of supplies, or even during the present Covid-19 crisis when we suddenly have supply chain interruptions... a lot of food is going to waste, and this constitutes the majority of the food waste that is generated in the globe.."

"Unfortunately, there is no recourse for customers in this situation.
"Corporations, regulations, and firms stepping in to do something about their supply chain management can decrease this type of waste," adds Chua.

A global pandemic, for example, can clear the air, restore wildlife and reduce global output; yet, as long as efforts are made to keep supply systems operating, waste levels will continue to climb worldwide.
On the other hand, Chua sees the "circular economy" as the answer to waste management.

According to Chua, "the concept is that there are no waste products in the overall economy.".
In the end, there are just byproducts that can be repurposed.
By supporting firms seeking to take control of the supply chain, customers may play a role.

When it comes to food waste, Chua cites Insectta as an example of how it may be recycled into biomaterials and animal feed fertilizers.
Insect-based goods are an excellent example of a food waste-based product that can be accepted."
Food waste reduction is possible by encouraging the recycling and valorization of leftovers.