Are Food Banks Singapore’s first steps towards a compressive food waste initiative?

Photo: Reuters

Though Singapore imports 90% of its food, it wastes nearly 30% of it. Moreover, Singapore’s first food bank was just established in 2012, and it’s only the first step in its initiative to reduce food waste. Are food banks positively effecting change in Singapore? What are the repercussions of food waste in Singapore?


Despite the world’s ability to produce enough food to feed everyone on this planet, food waste hinders our ability to achieve the latter goal. In 2013 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a report claiming that a third of the total amount of global food produced (1.3 trillion tonnes of food), was wasted.

In Singapore, the National Environment Agency (NEA) estimated that Singaporeans generated 785,500 tonnes of food waste in 2015, which accounts to 140 kg per person. Moreover, 13% of Singapore’s total food waste can be recycled, but it is not. In addition, Singapore imports 90% of the food it needs to feed its population, however it wastes 30% of its imported food.

Much of the wasted food is safe to eat, and is usually about-to-expire bread, milk, meat, or even left-over food from restaurants. Accordingly, giving such food to people in need not only reduces waste, but also helps Singapore’s poor communities.

Subsequently, a “Food Bank” is a charity initiative that collects specific kinds of food and distributes it to people in need. There are over a million food banks worldwide and it has a long history of successfully outreach in Western nations. The first food bank in Singapore, Food Bank Singapore (FBSG) was established in 2012.

Are Singapore’s Food Banks successful? 

Nichol and Nicholas Ng, the owners and siblings of the family business FoodXervices, started FBSG to collect surplus food in the market and give it to organisations and people who needed it the most.

FBSG is supported by more than 200 donors, and has over 170 beneficiary organisations, reaching out to approximately 100,000 marginalized individuals. Accordingly, every month, an average of 60 tonnes of food or about 142,857 meals, are distributed to poor families.

One of FBSG’s most successful initiatives is Food Pantry, a store that sells consumable food that is close to its expiry date, for discounted prices. All items at the Food Pantry are around SG $1.00, and FBSG believes its low prices can help raise awareness around food security and food waste.

Additionally, Food From The Heart (FFTH) is one of Singapore’s other reputable food banks. According to its annual report in 2015, FFTH has established 184 distribution centres throughout Singapore and has benefited over 25,000 people.

The Bread Programme is FFTH’s most important programme, as it accounts for more than 70% of its budget, and in 2015 it allocated over $3.3 million SGD worth of bread to the people in need.

Who are the beneficiaries of Singapore’s food banks?

Food banks have many potential beneficiaries in Singapore, as the small city state is the world’s most expensive city to live in and has one of the high rates of income inequality in the world.

Lee Yi Shyan, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry indicated in 2015 that the average household expenditure on basic needs for a four-person household was about $1,250 SGD, based on the household expenditure survey conducted in 2012/2013. The expenditure covers basic needs including food, clothing and shelter. In 2013, it was reported that 105,000 households could not reach the basic expenditure level.

Singaporeans that are unemployed due to old age, illness or disability can apply for the Public Assistance (PA) scheme. The PA scheme allows a single young adult to receive $450 SGD per month PA, while a four-person household can get $1180 SGD. Nevertheless, many employed Singaporeans are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. The National University of Singapore recently released a survey, which revealed that 85% of labourers and service workers believed that their jobs were not paying enough for them to support their families.


What is Singapore’s government doing to reduce food waste?

Though food banks can help poor families and individuals, they do little to reduce food waste. Food banks aren’t an effective strategy in reducing food waste since they are the last chain of the food production process and do not impact policies made before consumption.

Subsequently, the Singaporean government has started to worry about food waste. Thus, in January, the NEA and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) developed the Food Waste Minimisation Guidebook for Retail Food Establishments, which mainly focused on reducing wasteful food practices commonly undertaken by Singapore’s food retailers. This past January, the NEA has also launched a two-year on-site food waste recycling pilot.

Despite the Singaporean government’s initiatives, they still do not have a clear target or a general direction when it comes to tackling food waste. This is mainly due to the government’s lack of detailed data and information on sustainable food waste practices. Moreover, Singapore still lacks the experience to effectively manage its food banks, as well as food banks organised in the US or UK. Nevertheless, regardless of its shortcomings, Singapore’s establishment of food banks, and guidelines on food management for retailers, is the first step in raising public awareness and tackling the growing issue of food waste.