Cities are places of plenty, with the most opportunities and material comforts, yet they are often also where things go to waste.

Roughly one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted – about 1.3 billion tons per year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

“The UN has estimated that 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050," said Mervyn Jones, director of Sustainable Global Resources.

"There is therefore a direct correlation between the population of cities and the amount of food waste generated.”

The issue will be examined at the Clean Enviro Summit running in Singapore from July 11-13, in conjunction with the World Cities Summit and the Singapore International Water Week. The trio of events will analyze challenges related to the development and management of urban centres around the world.

“The world will need about 60 per cent more calories per year by 2050 in order to adequately feed the projected population of more than 9 billion people,” said Brian Lipinski, an associate for the Food Program at the World Resources Institute.

Such activity would lead to an increase in carbon emissions as lands are cleared for crops and more machinery is used in agricultural work.

The impact can already be seen: rapid deforestation in Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations have triggered what NASA last year described as possibly the worst fire disaster ever recorded, with smoke and haze spreading to neighbouring countries.

In South Africa, Food Bank South Africa collects surplus food from retailers and wholesalers, and prepares meals for those in need, thus reducing food waste and tackling food poverty in one fell swoop. The group says it distributed 3,350 tons of food last year.

In South Korea, the government has taken to charging residents disposal fees according to the weight of the food that they discard.

Some individuals practice freeganism: instead of buying food, they do “dumpster diving,” salvaging discarded but still edible food from bins.

Elise Lecamp, a 33-year-old translator in Paris, says she goes to market once or twice a week, where she is able to pick up food that vendors discard at the end of the day.

She also checks bins once every two weeks. The food that she salvages are enough to feed herself and a flatmate.

“As freegans eat food from dumpsters, or food that was going to be thrown away, this food is saved and consumed instead of going to the landfill. I eat almost exclusively from what I find,” she said.

There is also a focus on waste-awareness education. 

“In the UK, national campaigns like Love Food, Hate Waste target householders and help educate them not just about reducing food waste and healthier diets, but also about collections,” Jones said.

It is unlikely that food waste will ever be completely eliminated, and so management of waste must be optimized.

“The amount of waste Singapore generates is steadily increasing. This is unsustainable as we have only one landfill in Pulau Semakau,” said Owen Yeo, business development manager of Enerprof clean technology company.

It markets the BioHiTech Food Digester, which treats food waste and turns it into a liquid that can be discharged into sewers, reducing the need for landfills.

Teams from Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore are also showcase projects that demonstrate how food waste can be turned into biofuels.

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