The Jakarta Post
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported earlier this year that approximately one third of the total food produced for consumption, amounting to 1.3 billion tons per year, is lost or wasted. It is both a waste of resources and leads to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by the food production industry and by the treatment of food waste.
It is noted that the direct economic cost of food wastage of agricultural products, excluding fish and seafood, is approximately US$750 billion, which is equal to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Switzerland. This issue had been raised at the World Resources Forum workshop in Davos, at which I was invited to speak.
In Indonesia, food waste is generally disposed with recyclables and other waste as there is limited practice of waste sorting. Based on a waste survey in Jakarta, nearly 60 percent is compostable whereas the remainder is recyclable.
Meanwhile, according to estimates on food production, Indonesia produces nearly 300 kilograms (kg) per capita per year (Bappenas, 1996), with estimated food consumption at 110 kg per capita per year (WFP, 2009) and food waste amounting 315 kg per capita per year.
The food waste generated in Indonesia is higher than the amount of food produced, which is likely due to food imports. It is obvious that the amount of food produced is nearly three times higher than food consumed and food waste is even higher.
There are a number of issues that can be identified from these facts. First, there is excessive and superfluous production of food that needlessly goes to waste. Second, the inexistence of extensive and comprehensive implementation of at-source sorting to segregate organic kitchen waste and inorganic waste lead to wastage of resources.
Government Regulation No. 81/2012 on the management of household waste was enacted to regulate the at-source separation of waste into five different waste categories. This policy will be translated into local policies that would essentially enforce Indonesians, who are not yet used to separating waste, into sorting their waste.
The policy, without a rise in awareness on proper at-source sorting practices, is doomed to fail.
To illustrate the value of waste, Sweden has applied impeccable at-source sorting system and sorted organic waste is used as feedstock for energy generation and for fueling public transportation.
Some regions in Sweden lack waste due to successful waste minimization practices and, therefore, have to import waste. While in Indonesia, waste that could create income are disposed of and piled up at the open dumping sites incessantly.
The 6,000 tons of waste per day in Jakarta is not regarded as an opportunity, but perceived as a mounting problem. More land for waste dumping sites are required, especially since Bantar Gebang in fact needs to close its operation in 2013 as a consequence of Law No. 18/2008 on waste management.
Sorted organic waste can in fact be touted as both 'black gold' for its compostable properties and 'green gold' due to its possible conversion to electricity.
The problems with composting, however, are the quality of compost and marketability issues; whereas energy generated from waste may directly go to the grid but the capital investment would be higher than composting.
Learning from Sweden, the question remains: do we have to focus on waste minimization or waste management system optimization? If waste minimization at-source is successfully implemented, it will eventually impact on waste treatment co-products such as electricity and/or compost. Another challenge is to decide whether to focus on composting or waste-to-energy.
There is of course no such thing as a one-size-fits-all answer because the treatment of waste is to be done in integrated manner by the use of different modes of treatment. However, the government should be careful in deciding the priorities in order to avoid the possibilities for conflict in waste feedstock availability to be treated with certain methods.
In Japan, people are aware of at-source waste sorting and resist littering on streets due to the embedded awareness through early education. As such, the Swedish environment ambassador, Annika Markovic, during a recent interview also stated that children at school had been taught about the importance of ensuring Sweden's cleanliness.
Early years education and elementary school curriculum in Indonesia tends to focus on the cognitive sides: memorizing being the main method of learning and lacks hands-on, active learning. This stands true also for the education on environment and waste, how people must treat nature, which would be tested and graded by teachers based upon how well the students memorize.
Therefore, it is important that the national curriculum include immersion on the understanding of importance in keeping our environment tidy through hands-on learning and to encourage awareness since early childhood.
As for the reduction of food wastage, it is suggested that organic food should seriously be considered. Many argue that organic food cannot be produced as massively as conventional food production, however, considering the current trend of massive food waste shows more supply than demand; the provision of organic food can be accelerated to meet the current demands.
Hence, in order to reduce the amount of food waste, more sustainable methods of agriculture for food production is required. At present organic food is more expensive than conventional food products.
Therefore, the government should also step in to provide subsidies for organic food production, while imposing disincentives or levies on food production that does not follow sustainable organic agricultural methods.
We expect to close the margin between food supply and demand so as to reduce the amount of food thrown away.
The writer is director of the Indonesia Center on Sustainable Consumption and Production at Surya University, Tangerang.