The Singapore mainstream media has, in recent weeks, provided extensive coverage regarding food waste and the best ways to deal with it. The coverage revolved around Singapore generating too much food waste and how innovative technology can handle it. But are organizations here ready to tackle this problem head on?
It is fair to say that majority of the approximately 800,000 tonnes of food waste generated in Singapore – or about two bowls of food per person per day, comes from commercial sector players such as hawker centres, hotels, malls, and hospitals. Therefore, we should look at alternative means of treating food waste for the commercial sector.
On-site food waste treatment machines have been mooted as an enticing alternative to regular dumping. Whether such equipment converts the food waste to compost or liquid discharge, organizations that use them should be able to save money via reductions in their waste collection fees.
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Without on-site food waste treatment systems, organizations will be paying the standard waste incineration rate of $77 per tonne. With on-site system, food waste is diverted away from incineration, thus organizations benefit by paying less for incineration.
More waste being recycled on-site means less waste to haul away. It does not take a rocket scientist to compute the possible savings.
There are overwhelming benefits to using such on-site equipment but paradoxically, there is organizational inertia when it comes to adopting the technology.
Compact solutions to a big problem
Building managers for malls, hospitals, and hotels find it difficult to install the equipment due to space constraints. Their bin centres were not designed to house extra equipment other than waste bins or waste compactors. Furthermore, over the years, most organizations have developed an impression that on-site food waste treatment technologies are bulky. However technological progression means this is no longer true.
For example, food-to-liquid aerobic digesters are equipment that use micro-organisms to “eat” and “digest” food waste. Put simply, the micro-organisms absorb the nutrients and use the energy to reproduce and at the same time create a liquid by-product. Some of these digesters come equipped with grinders to assist in breaking down the food waste to smaller pieces first. But are grinders really necessary?
If the mix of micro-organisms used by the equipment supplier is able to digest even chicken and fish bones, it makes the grinding process redundant. Grinders increase the footprint of the system and we still have to account for the extra power consumption and increased risk of mechanical breakdown. In light of space constraints, maybe we should look towards the usage of grinderless systems that are already present in the market.
It is the responsibility of equipment suppliers to ensure that their equipment works but even more so, they must ensure that the equipment can be installed with minimal disruption to the site conditions of their client.
Enerprof, the South East Asia distributor of aerobic digesters from BioHitech America, fabricates the automatic bin lifter locally in-house, thus allowing for some customisation to fit site conditions. Bin lifters are add-on equipment that automatically lifts and feeds the food waste from the bin, into the digesters.
In-house fabrication gives Enerprof an edge over their competitors because customers never need to reconstruct the room or ceiling just to install the digester. It is imperative for equipment suppliers to work within the constraints of the site. The more changes a client needs to make to their site to accommodate a food waste digester, the less willing they are to adopt the technology.
Even if all equipment providers are willing and able to work within site constraints, technology adoption is still slow if organizations do not adopt new practices.
New technologies, new practices
Even if all equipment providers are willing and able to work within site constraints, technology adoption is still slow if organizations do not adopt new practices. Herein lies the problem of performance reviews and responsibility. Individuals within an organization are motivated to fulfil their key performance indicators, and will work towards it for bonuses or career advancement.
This makes the challenge of handling food waste even more challenging – will you take responsibility for something that does not affect your performance review?
Thankfully the National Environment Agency has taken decisive steps in engaging major stakeholders to reduce food waste. There is increased awareness about food waste and organizations are starting to take a serious look at it. Nonetheless a fundamental shift in mentality is still required.
No matter what equipment is installed, there is bound to be an additional workflow for the users since digestible waste must be segregated away from the indigestible. The organization must make a concerted effort to enforce best practices of segregating organic waste from inorganic waste – this means training and supervising their employees and tenants to separate food waste from general waste right at the source.
Such practices take a long time to inculcate but are integral to the success of any food waste recycling initiative. Failure to do implement such practices will turn a perfectly workable food waste treatment equipment into a white elephant.
I started by asking if we can achieve the goals of reducing and recycling food waste. From a hardware point of view, the technology is available, accessible, and proven. Hence this is a resounding yes! However, from a “heartware” point of view, more awareness must still be raised and people must accept that this is a serious problem that Singapore is facing.
Some sacrifices, such as changes in work processes or integrating recycling figures into managerial performance reviews, must be implemented in order for us to harness the available technology as an effective solution.
Are we ready to tackle food waste? If the government, public, commercial entities that generate food waste, and solutions providers are able to work together, then this is definitely a problem that Singapore can overcome.
Owen Yeo is business development manager of cleantech resource provider Enerprof. This article was written exclusively for Eco-Business.