Food for thought: Tackling food waste in NTU

By Xu Qi Yang

Food waste activist Tristam Stuart took a field trip to NTU’s Canteen 1 to understand how food is served on campus. PHOTO: BELICIA TEO

For renowned food waste activist Tristram Stuart, eating leftover food out of rubbish bins is part of his everyday life.

A self-proclaimed freegan – a person who routinely eats discarded food to reduce waste – he often forages for food in rubbish bins to protest against food waste.

Mr Stuart’s passion against food waste started at age 15, when he was raising a few pigs to earn extra pocket money.

While rummaging through rubbish bins for leftover food to feed them, he noticed that the bins were filled with food which was still suitable for human consumption.

Everywhere I looked, we were haemorrhaging food,” said Mr Stuart, who was speaking at NTU’s National Geographic Live! Talk last month.

“So I began confronting businesses about the waste and exposing it to the public,” added the National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

Mr Stuart shared the results of his investigations into the global food waste phenomenon in his book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal.

He also established Feedback, an organisation that aims to eliminate food waste globally. The organisation’s campaigns have included turning scraps into food parties and encouraging the use of leftover food to feed pigs.

Mr Stuart is also the founder of Toast Ale, a brewery that turns surplus bread into beer.

Reducing food wastage on campus

During the National Geographic Live! Talk held at The Hive, Mr Stuart also shared his insights on tackling food waste in NTU.

Food waste in NTU had increased from 72 to 78 kg per person from 2015 to 2016. This makes up approximately half of the total waste generated in school annually.

When asked about how the university can strive to become a zero food waste campus, Mr Stuart said that school pride and competitiveness with other universities in Singapore are potential motivating factors for students.

“Think about culture that goes on in your university and build your project around that culture; build on things that already exist,” he said.

Mr Stuart also asked students present at the talk to rate the food in NTU. In the roomful of an estimated 40 students, a majority described the food as “average”.

He then suggested that better food can be offered in school, so that students would be more inclined to finish their food, especially since Singapore is “one of the gastronomical centres in the world”.  

Buffets are also a major source of food waste – caterers often provide a surplus of food, he added. “There is no mechanism that ensures all the food gets eaten.”

Mr Stuart suggested that food-sharing applications could be created to notify students of excess food on campus.

“Imagine if you had an app that pings up and says that there’s a hundred free meals in this area,” he said. “Students can enjoy free food and reduce food waste at the same time.”

Currently, the university’s environmental club Earthlink NTU works with Foodbank Singapore to provide food bins for the donation of nonperishable food items. These bins can be found at One Stop @ SAC, The Hive, Hall of Residence 9 Canteen and Hall of Residence 12 function room. Donated food items will then be redistributed to needy families in Singapore through Foodbank’s networks and channels.

Mr Stuart urged all students to participate in this fight against food waste.

“Mining that mountain of food waste and turning it into really good food is something that you can shout about to the rest of the world,” he said.