Food waste may be harming our environment

National 3 minutes, 35 seconds


SUPERMARKETS in Brunei are disposing of their rotten vegetables and fruit at landfills, which may be contributing to the harmful amounts of greenhouse gases being released globally into the atmosphere.

In an article earlier this month, UK-based newspaper The Guardian said agriculture is a major driver of climate change, accounting for more than 20 per cent of overall global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.

Citing a study published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, it said that as poorer countries develop and the world’s population grows, emissions associated with food waste could soar from 0.5 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon dioxide equivalent per year to between 1.9 and 2.5 GT annually by mid-century.

According to the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation (JASTRe), 36 per cent of Brunei’s waste comprises food waste. The country has six landfills, with the Sungai Paku landfill the largest.

During recent visits to several supermarkets in the country, The Brunei Times found that all of them send their rotten fruit and vegetables to landfills, but most of them were unaware of the environmental implications.

Lias Suut, supervisor of the fruit and vegetable section at Jaya Hypermart in Gadong, said that occasionally, up to $1,000 worth of rotten fruit is thrown away in a month, or up to 1 kg of waste per day, but the daily amount usually doesn’t reach 1kg.

He said rotten fruit and vegetables from overseas suppliers would be thrown away while those from local suppliers would be returned as part of an agreement.

“For the fruits we import from our suppliers in Singapore, one 20-foot industrial container will hold around 700 boxes of fruit, so there are bound to be some that are rotten already, and following our company’s policy, we will throw them away,” he said, adding there are cases when containers will be delayed, further exacerbating the situation.

“We do sell fruits that are damaged or semi-rotten to customers who buy it for their birds and other pets that eat spoiled fruits,” Lias added.

Muhd Nornajayasd, an assistant supervisor at Hua Ho department store, said that every two days, around 2-3 kgs of rotten fruits and vegetables are thrown away.

“We will first weigh the rotten goods. Non-perishable goods will be returned to the supplier, as this is the company’s policy as with most policies of department stores,” he said.

In a telephone interview, Soon Tiong, the manager of Hua Ho Manggis, said building a facility for composting would be a good idea.

“We currently do composting on our Hua Ho farms. Composting for supermarkets seems like something we could look into,” he said.

According to Dicty Madidas, the assistant branch supervisor of Sim Kim Huat (SKH) department store in Sengkurong, the weight of the fruit and vegetables that are thrown away when rotten is difficult to estimate.

Dicty, who has been working at SKH for six years, said the company will throw out perishable goods every day.

“Sometimes there will be a lot and sometimes there won’t be as much. It all depends.”

In an interview, the acting deputy director of JASTRe, Martina Hj Tamit, said that composting would be a better alternative for supermarkets rather than sending the rotten perishable goods to landfills.

“Composting is a very easy thing to do. In fact, I’m currently doing it at home. All households can do it as creating a composting area is very easy and cheap,” she said.

She said the compost can be made into a natural fertiliser for plants, keeping them healthy as well as the soil they’re rooted in.

A JASTRe official who is part of the team that awards contracts to garbage collecting companies said the waste collected from supermarket dumpsters will be compressed.

The official, who didn’t want to be named, agreed that composting would help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released from rotting material in landfills.

According to another article by The Guardian published in 2008, waste that is compressed in landfills breaks down anaerobically, or without the presence of oxygen.

It said compressed garbage in landfills breaks down over time, emitting methane - a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.

But through composting, it said organic waste is broken down aerobically, not emitting any greenhouse gases – a “much greener option.”

The Brunei Times