SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) – With a tantalizing array of satay chicken, wok-fried mud crab and chilled tiger prawns, the dinner buffet at Singapore’s Grand Hyatt hotel typically sets diners back about US$70 (S$96). Those on a tighter budget and with an eye on sustainability can fill a box for a 10th of that price.
Across Asia, tech start-ups are taking food otherwise destined for landfill and providing discounted meals through mobile phone apps.
About a third of food is lost or wasted every year globally, and the mountains of waste are estimated to cause 8-10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions such as methane, the United Nations says. The Asia-Pacific region is among the worst in the world for food waste, accounting for more than half of food squandered globally.
“A common mantra that I have is that being sustainable should be attainable,” said Preston Wong, chief executive officer and co-founder of treatsure, which collaborates with chains including the Hyatt, Accor Group and the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel to allow app users to pick out and collect a “buffet-in-a-box” of food that would otherwise be thrown out. “I think technology can bridge that gap,” he said.
With more than 30,000 users, treatsure has saved an estimated 30 metric tons of food from going to waste since it launched in 2017, with users typically having to wait until the end of service before they can collect their food, according to Mr Wong. Still, that’s a far cry from the 817,000 tons of food waste in Singapore in 2021, a 23 per cent increase from the year prior. Authorities say Singapore’s only landfill, Semakau, is expected to meet the country’s solid waste disposal needs up to 2035 and beyond.
Hong Kong faces similar problems. It has already filled up 13 landfills, and about 3,300 tons of food waste per day were dumped in its remaining sites in 2020, according to Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department.
“The space is very limited,” said Anne-Claire Béraud, Hong Kong country manager of Phenix by OnTheList, an app launched in the territory last year. “Everything is very dense so there isn’t a lot of space to treat all this waste.”
The app allows users to pick up a “Mystery Basket” of food at stores including Pret A Manger and local cake shop The Cakery for a minimum 50 per cent discount.
So far it’s sold 25,000 baskets, with each equating to about 1 kg of food saved from going to waste and 4.5 kilograms of CO2 emissions avoided, the company says.
Phenix’s original platform was launched in France in 2014 and expanded to four other European countries where it’s saved 150 million meals. It collaborated with OnTheList, a flash-sale company, to bring the app to Asia.
The concept of food sustainability is still in its infancy in Asia, compared with North America and Europe where authorities are cracking down. France has already banned supermarkets from throwing away unsold food, and Spain recently drafted legislation to tackle waste by fining companies. US states including California and New Jersey have laws to reduce the amount of food going to landfills.