Ramadan food waste puts spotlight on regulation and global standards

Even as we renew pledge to reduce food waste in the fasting month, it is heartening to see more and more efforts being made to find long-term solutions

Ehtesham Shahid
Ehtesham Shahid - Al Arabiya English
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
5 min read

“The wastage of a single apple is 70 liters of water, which is the amount of water required to grow it”. That may sound as another food waste-related warning, issued over and over again, with limited success.

However, when it comes to preventing food waste, more such statements – and initiatives – are adding up. Even though lack of data means changing realities on the ground cannot be ascertained, a change in perception, and approach, seems to be happening.

For the Gulf region, which is among the world’s most wasteful regions, Ramadan is the month of reckoning. As the days of living frugal dawn on us, personal as well as institutional initiatives to improve efficiency of food supplies routinely come to the fore.

From community fridges to soup kitchens and food discarded from five-star hotels being diverted to labor camps, efforts are made to bring about change. More importantly, they are getting more and more institutionalized.

Mohammed Karam, the man with the apple analogy, is Business Development Manager at InSinkerator, the company that came up with disposers as solution for reducing and recycling unavoidable food waste. At an event organized here to discuss the exponential implications of waste earlier this year, Karam indulged in a bit of backward integration.

Even architects and designers play a vital role in reducing food waste, Karam said, adding that “if practices such as urban farming and/or material planning are implemented at the early stages of the design, food wastage can be reduced dramatically in the long run”.

At the event – organized by the Middle East Facility Management Association – it was revealed that, as per UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 33 percent of food generated is lost or wasted globally and that “the annual food waste in the UAE alone is approximately 3.2 million tons.”

It was also revealed that between 30-40 percent of domestic waste is food, which increases to 55 percent during Ramadan. This is indeed criminal considering an estimated 800 million people around the world go routinely undernourished.

FAO estimates that around one third of all food, by weight, is spoiled or thrown away worldwide as it moves from where it is produced to where it is eaten. The cost estimated is $940 billion per year globally.

The good news is all stakeholders, from households to governments and industries, are beginning to feel the need for additional legislations, regulations and recognitions to encourage best practices.

According to Karam, at one level, food waste is a cultural issue and needs to be dealt with at that level. “Before involving the government and architects, it is essential to begin at the level of a single individual,” he says.

Food Waste: A Global Phenomenon

Food waste
Food waste

Notwithstanding the routine Ramadan lament, there are people working to address the challenge throughout the year. Anar Ibrahim, who runs a campaign against food waste in the UAE, says the mindset change must start from home. “I can understand Ramadan is the time to bond over food with family and friends, but that doesn’t mean we consistently cook 30 percent extra and then waste it,” says Ibrahim.

Her group, Food Forward, was founded in October last year, inspired by a gentleman in Saudi Arabia who had put up a fridge in his community to help those in need of food. This inspired several similar initiatives in the UAE, where an average of 350 kg of food is wasted per resident every year.

“There are 3 food establishments on board with Food Forward as of now and we hope to spread this into a national program,” Food Forward’s Facebook page says.

Global efforts

Major change can only be expected if collective efforts are made at the global level, and this is beginning to happen. Earlier this month, the FAO announced a Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Stan¬dard (FLW Standard), providing requirements and guidance for quantifying and reporting on food loss and waste.

The purpose of the FLW Standard is to encourage consistency and transparency and it is believed that widespread use of the Standard will motivate and empower countries, companies, and other entities.

Even at the regional level, individuals, NGOs, and semi-government organizations are coming together to find ways to curb food waste in unprecedented ways. The Dubai Chamber Sustainability Network recently partnered with the French Business Council and Farnek to organize a seminar on food waste management and innovative practices related to it.

The focus remained on best practices, waste reduction regulations and practices in operation from industries directly involved in the consumption of food.

Last year, the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water launched ‘I’MPERFECT,’ a national campaign to reduce food waste and increase food surplus. The campaign targets the government sector, farmers, society, retail centers, food production and sales companies, schools, and industry-related SMEs.

Clearly, when you are out to tackle a challenge such as food waste, the more come on board, the merrier.

Top Content Trending