Dubai: A mountain of leftover food valued at $4 billion (Dh14.69 billion) tossed into the garbage from UAE homes, eateries and large events is being dumped in shrinking landfill space every year, Emirates Environmental Group said on Tuesday.
As more food is consumed by a growing UAE population of 9.4 million people, the secret to scaling back the waste lies in encouraging a new mindset adopted by consumers to eat and waste less for a healthy population and environment, said Habiba Al Marashi, EEG founder and chairperson.
“The way we produce and consume is in our hands,” Al Marashi said.
Speaking on Tuesday at an EEG panel discussion on ‘Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSP)’, Al Marashi told a packed venue that consumers may want to reconsider the amount of food they cook in order to reduce the amount of waste going down the garbage chute at the end of the day.
Global statistics suggest that one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost annually to the garbage heap, she said. However, about four per cent of UAE’s food imports ends up in landfills every year.
“In 2014, total food imports into the country were $100 billion, that is set to rise to $400 billion in 2020,” Al Marashi said. “Of that, 3.27 million tonnes of food worth almost $4 billion is wasted every year.”
By comparison, an estimated $680 billion in food waste is landfilled yearly in industrial countries with a further $310 billion in food waste tossed out in developing countries, she said.
To stem the flow of food waste, Al Marashi said the EEG has worked closely for years with the United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep), Dubai Municipality as well as corporations and schools to help educate the public about growing consumerism that damages the environment, she said.
“We need to stand up and take our responsibility very seriously,” she said.
Fareed Bushehri, Senior Sustainable Consumption and Production Officer with Unep Regional Office Bahrain, said it is his government agency’s “main mission to decouple economic growth from the adverse effect on the environment” and said reducing food waste is a top priority for sustainability.
Lauding EEG as a model for the region, Bushehri said that reducing food waste starts at home and encouraged consumers to not only reduce food that is thrown out, but to also be smarter shoppers and only buy products that are produced by sustainable companies.
“We need to promote less materialistic and polluting practices … or find alternatives. We need to set minimal sustainable limits for products,” Bushehri said. “We need to shift the context of human behaviour.”
“Our main aim is to achieve safe food, air and water,” he said.
Shamma Mohammad Abdullah Al Falasi, Environmental Educator, Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, said changing societal values towards higher respect for ecology begins with teaching children. “It’s crucially important to educate youth and raise awareness in society and industry,” said Al Falasi.