Some taking to dumpster diving for free edible food
Some taking to dumpster diving in search of free edible food
An equivalent of two bowls of food per person is thrown away every day, according to statistics.
But you can find people at the other end of the spectrum - such as a 60-year-old cardboard collector who wants to be known only as Madam Kwek.
She sifts through the discarded produce at the wet market at Lorong 1, Toa Payoh in the early mornings.
The New Paper on Sunday found her peeping into the dumpsters.
She took a cursory glance into one of them and pulled out a red plastic bag of "tang oh" (garland chrysanthemum).
"Just wash it properly and it is edible," she tells this reporter.
At 4am, stall owners at the wet market are busy sorting through vegetables and fruits to prepare them for sale.
No one bats an eyelid at Madam Kwek as she rummages for free through produce that was tossed out. She is allowed unhindered access to the dumpsters as she is a known cardboard collector in the area.
When asked why she would take food that has been rejected by others, Madam Kwek says: "I would rather buy fresh vegetables, but people throw away so much food that can still be eaten.
"If I see it and leave it there, it will be such a waste."
She adds that the produce she picks up is not solely for her own consumption as she gives some of it away.
"I give some to the old folks back in my estate who can cook it. They know it is from the dumpster, but they trust that it is clean," she says.
As a cardboard collector, Madam Kwek has a working relationship with some of the sellers in the wet market.
TNPS observed vegetable and fruit sellers passing cardboard or styrofoam boxes of unwanted produce to Madam Kwek and other cardboard collectors.
The latter will sift through the produce and pick out what they like before throwing the rest into the dumpsters.
This way, the sellers get a free hand with waste disposal while the cardboard collectors get to keep the boxes and produce.
The cardboard collectors collect mainly vegetables, fruit and bread. They avoid meat and fish as these go bad quickly.
Says Madam Kwek: "I've also been looking for people throwing away dried or canned food, but that doesn't seem to be the case."
At the stretch of vegetable stalls along Buffalo Road in Little India, people can be seen looking into the trash bins between 6pm and 8pm.
And at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, the biggest vegetables and fruit wholesale market in Singapore, even larger piles of unwanted produce are stacked up at the dumpsters, free for the taking.
Says a vegetable seller from Sri Mullai Trading in Buffalo Road: "In the evening when we start to throw out vegetables, there will be some uncles and aunties waiting to take the stuff.
"As long as they don't create a mess, it is okay."
One staff member at vegetable importer Hupco says produce is thrown away when they have yellowed or are deemed no longer fresh.
Odd-looking produce is also thrown away despite being safe to eat, as customers simply do not buy them.
But he warns that people should not take food from dumpsters as it is an unhygienic practice.
"Most of these bins don't get cleaned for a long time, and there must be plenty of bacteria in there. It is not worth it," he says.
I give some to the old folks back in my estate who can cook it. They know it is from the dumpster, but they trust that it is clean.
- Cardboard collector Madam Kwek
Dumpster diving is harder than it sounds
For three days, I visited the refuse areas of markets and wholesale centres to find out who ''lives off the land'' — or makes use of the immense amount of food wastage that is generated every day.
I looked forward to trying out dumpster diving, thinking it would be like a treasure hunt.
Years ago, a colleague went dumpster diving and wrote positively about the experience.
But while she looked for household items and sundries, I was supposed to forage for what could be a meal.
On the first day of my adventure at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, I found myself staring into a filthy bin that contained a ''rojak'' of vegetables.
I was fiercely debating in my head if people actually ate them. In the end, I left when my gut turned from staring at the bin for too long.
My only find of the day was a watermelon by the side of the road, which some mynahs were staking their claim on.
So imagine my joy the next day when I came across boxes of tomatoes, which looked fresh.
Placed neatly next to the bins, I thought I had struck the jackpot until someone came over and claimed the tomatoes as his.
What about canned or dried foodstuffs in the bins? Surely those are safer to eat?
As it turned out, canned foodstuff nearing their expiry dates are not thrown away into bins. They are, instead, usually sent back to the suppliers for replacements.
As for the dried foodstuff I saw, such as grains, they were poured out of their plastic packets and into the bins to be mixed with all the other trash.
I was not the only one on the prowl — there was competition from the cardboard aunties.
They rummaged through unwanted vegetables that were given by the wholesalers and still in their packaging, before emptying the whole lot into the bin.
There is a lot of food wastage generated by us, and yes, some people manage to salvage some of it. But to cut the approximately 790,000 tonnes of food wasted a year, we need to start further up along the process.
When shops are determined to keep shelves full all day, there is bound to be wastage.
I do not blame them. Shoppers like full shelves, which explains why you see supermarkets chockfull of produce all the time. Consumers also reject ugly fruits and vegetables, resulting in edible food getting discarded.
It really is up to each of us to change how we shop, and perhaps that can eventually encourage companies to make changes to further address the issue of food wastage