Change of mindset needed to tackle UAE’s food waste issue, expert says

The Government aims to recycle 75 per cent of food waste by 2021.

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DUBAI // Aisha Al Abdooli is at the forefront of efforts to curb food waste in the UAE where lavish buffets in five-star hotels are a way of life for many.

“It’s a huge amount of waste,” said the director of environmental awareness and education at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment.

“That’s why we’re trying our best to reduce food waste. There is a huge amount of money lost and wasted.”

The Government aims to recycle 75 per cent of food waste by 2021.

In the UAE, the per capita daily amount of rubbish, including food waste, generated is 2.7 kilograms. This rises to 5.4kg during Ramadan.

Globally, about US$1 trillion worth of food is wasted yearly, equivalent to about 1.5 per cent of the worldwide economy, said Mark Zornes, the founder of Winnow Solutions, which helps chefs to reduce food waste by using analytical tools.

In the Emirates, the Saving Grace scheme, run by the Emirates Red Crescent since 2004, collects unwanted and unused food from hotels, restaurants and palaces, and distributes it to families in need and labourers.

“Since the beginning of the year, we have worked on a federal food diversification policy which will cover the whole food chain from consumption to disposal,” said Ms Al Abdooli.

“We have great potential from managing our food waste in a better way because there are many benefits, including reducing the cost of waste management, food production and imports.

“We can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food waste and we can increase the UAE’s food security.”

In 2013, the UAE had one of the highest rates of food waste in the world; discarded food comprised 19 per cent of the rubbish heading to landfills, said the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi.

In Dubai, food waste made up 55 per cent of rubbish in 2014, official figures showed. During Ramadan, the emirate disposes of about 1,850 tonnes of food, or about 1kg for each resident.

During last year’s Ramadan, the per capita daily amount of waste in Abu Dhabi rose 10 per cent from the 1.73kg of waste during the rest of the year.

Ms Al Abdooli says new ideas are needed to tackle the problem. “We need to change our thinking from reducing food waste to moving towards a zero food waste society,” she said.

“We need to be more creative about it and there are a lot of ideas people are working on, be it composting, recycling or converting cooking oil to biofuel.”

Engaging young people is also crucial. “We believe youths are the changing agent. If you give them the space and empower them, they are enablers,” said Rasha Al Madfai, manager of environmentally sustainable schools at the Environment Agency.

“We created the Green Majlis for them to come up with campaign initiatives and educate them on food waste. It’s open to anyone who would like to join.”