Is Singapore Doing Enough To Combat Food Waste? Activist Tristram Stuart Shares More

Diana Prieto Apartado "Hi Brian, as requested, here are some notes on today's visit to the banana plantations around Chirogodo, uraba province. The lack of translator means it was quite tricky to be 100% sure of what was what category exactly but this much was sure. The plantation we spent most time on exports 200 tonnes per week. And 17 tonnes of "Rechazo" are produced each week. Rechazo are the ones that don't meet the specifications and they were heaped up on the ground. Some of these are recovered for human consumption on local markets by people called rechazeros (people who recover some of the rejects). But as everyone says, and as we saw from the truck full of bananas by the roadside, a fair proportion of bananas that would be edible and really perfectly good bananas don't get eaten and instead are dumped, and composted. The strictness of us and EU buyers lies behind this. Most bananas for export have to be 8 inches minimum; some brands accept them down to 6.5". Many more are rejected because they are too curved, too short, too thin, have a sticky latex on the skin (which affects the appearance only), or other minor skin blemishes. My favorites are the "Siamese twin" or Apacha (check spelling, it means twin in Spanish) bananas. They also confirm that in September and December there is routinely overproduction and at any time when supply is strong and demand low relatively, buyers are much stricter about the cosmetic standards than when supply is short when suddenly they are able to sell all sorts of bananas and are much more relaxed. In other words they use the standards to control their take of the supply" -Tristram Stuart Notes

The environmental campaigner will be in town to educate listeners on how to end food waste once and for all

Photos: National Geographic 

“I was taking food out of supermarket bins and that’s what I lived on.”

Meet Tristram Stuart  – international award-winning author, speaker, campaigner and warrior against global food waste. He will be in Singapore for the very first time to speak on “Celebrating the End of Food Waste” as part of the National Geographic LIVE! series.

“We turned the tables on them (supermarkets), and for sure, using that technique of getting food out of their bins is quite an extreme way of doing it, but it held a really strong and compelling story,” he continues when asked the lengths he had gone through for the cause.

Rummaging through food bins was just one strike of a match that set off a blazing sucess of his environmental campaigning organisation, Feedback, alongside his groundbreaking book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal. He even started a brand of beer, Toastale, which is brewed from fresh, surplus bread.


But of course, it’s not just a one-man show. He needs everyone to play their part to combat this alarming global issue of food waste.

On 20 August at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre, hear the inspiring activist sound off on global food waste and learn what you can do to help this cause. While it may be as easy as finishing the food on your plate, Stuart coaxes you to do more.

Tell us more of “Celebrating the End of Food Waste” and what can people take away from it.

The point that I’ll be making is that if we want to win the battle for environmental and social sustainability, and for food waste to be part of that, then we will have to have a better party. We have to inspire people to be part of this movement that celebrates and enjoy the food that we’ve got without throwing it away. Whether it’s feeding the 5000 or drinking quality beer made from grain that would have been wasted, there is a way to celebrate the solutions and just inspire people to take that away.

Does combating food wastage mean to always finish whatever that is on your plate, or is there more to that? 

Cutting food waste can start with what we have on our own plates, but what I try to encourage is for people to take a step beyond that. Most of the food waste that occur is in the supply chains of businesses and if we want to be active citizens in changing the world, we should be making the demands of the businesses to reduce food wastage. We want them to donate surplus food, without destroying it. We don’t want them tell their farmers to throw  away half their crops because they don’t look perfect, and we do want them to publish exactly how much food they’re wasting so that we can start to see where investment needs to go to tackle that problem. We have the power as consumers as citizens to make this kind of demands.


Based on your TED talk, you’ve revealed extensive data of the food wastage from various countries, and even mentioned you have gone on “unofficial bin inspections” for the sake of research. How is Singapore doing in your books?

The data I’ve used is good enough to established global trends. It is not good enough data to tell you how one individual country is doing. So instead of using that data, what you would look for is national data on food waste that is actually the results in empirical measurements.

It is calculated just under 800,000 tonnes of food is wasted in Singapore each year, which is about 150 kilos per person. But this statistics doesn’t tell you a lot, and the reason is that there’s no separation between how much is that food waste is stuff like banana skin, teabags, egg shells and bones, but is related to food but not in itself actually food and how much of it is bananas, chickens and unused, possibly good food that is actually thrown away.

We have a year-end target to halve food waste by 2030, and really countries need to get a grip of how much is wasted. And I believe the Singapore government is now really looking very closely in terms of measuring and setting a target for food waste production for Singapore, and that’s really what needs to happen.

What are some ways we have unconsciously contributed to food wastage? 

The most obvious way is that we shop at supermarkets, choosing only the perfect-looking fruit and vegetables. What we should be doing is telling supermarkets is that we don’t care whether the carrot is perfectly straight or the apples are exactly the same size or all of the tomatoes must be perfectly round. We should be making corrective demands of the retailers to relax cosmetic standards so that they stop telling farmers to waste all of those fruits and vegetables that are perfectly good to eat, but don’t look identical to all the other ones. 

What is one small way we can start or stop doing to reduce food wastage?

We need to change the way we see food. We need to connect to the man that made the resources and the love that went to producing that food. If we just connect in that way, you will realise immediately that food will be too good to waste whether it’s food in the restaurant, in the kitchen or in the shopping basket. It represents land – our most important asset and we must look after it, and this means looking after the food.

Tickets to Tristram Stuart’s talk can be purchased here.