Peer reviewed analysis from world leading experts

Urban composting creates climate action opportunities for Singapore

Reading Time: 5 mins
Food rescuers from Fridge Restock Community sort through rescued vegetables which are distributed twice a week to the community at various locations around Singapore, 28 March 2023 (Photo: Reuters/Caroline Chia).

In Brief

Between 8–10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from food waste. In Singapore, around two million kilograms of food is wasted each day, creating significant food waste management problems and contributing to climate change. As Singapore’s only landfill — Semakau — fills, a grassroots movement promoting urban composting is emerging, encouraging citizens and businesses to turn food waste into compost. This initiative aligns with Singapore's National Zero Waste Masterplan, which mandates on-site food processing for some businesses. Faster progress can be achieved by addressing barriers like waste disposal infrastructure and behavioural habits.

Share

  • A
  • A
  • A

Share

  • A
  • A
  • A

Around one-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted, contributing 8–10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Across Southeast Asia, over 50 per cent of waste is food waste, managed mainly by landfills. Increasing urban food disposal combined with land scarcity is causing many Southeast Asian countries — like Singapore — to run out of landfills.

Food waste is an acute problem for the densely populated city-state of Singapore. Singapore imports 90 per cent of its food supply while its almost six million people waste around two million kilograms of food each day. In 2022, only 18 per cent of food waste was recycled as compost, animal feed, water or gas. Most disposed food is incinerated, but non-incinerable waste goes to Singapore’s only landfill, Semakau. This landfill is bigger than 650 football fields, but is already over half-full and projected to reach capacity by 2035.

Urban composting could ease these pressures and support affordable climate actions. Composting replenishes soils by adding microbes and organic matter, which are needed for nutrient-dense harvests and to support Singapore’s food security goals. This ‘black gold’ enhances the capacity of soils and plants to store carbon, making it important for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

A grassroots composting movement is emerging in Singapore’s parks, gardens and even at home in corridors, balconies and living rooms. Singaporean residents compost for many reasons. Elderly residents remember composting in farms and villages before their transition to apartment living or migration to the city-state. Other eco-concerned citizens compost as part of their environmentally conscious lifestyle. Young people, too, are turning to composting to reconnect with nature, grow their own food and help combat global warming.

Singapore’s composting movement works within businesses, community organisations and national park authorities. An example is Foodscape Collective, a network of individuals and businesses concerned with creating a fair and inclusive regenerative food system, which raises public awareness about composting through community-led initiatives such as Boon Lay Nature Garden and Project Black Gold, and in educational ventures such as Food Citizen and Living Soil Asia.

Some 24 independently run groups use the aerobic thermal composting method, combining vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, fruit peels and even fish entrails collected from nearby homes, markets and food retailers. The mature compost is then shared with gardeners or used to revitalise the green spaces in which it is produced.

The work of Singapore’s zero-waste warriors aligns with Singapore’s national Zero Waste Masterplan. Launched in 2019, the Masterplan came into effect in 2024. It orders malls, hotels and office buildings to segregate and process their food on-site. Compost collaborations between community composters and businesses have supported this transition. For instance, chefs at Sheraton Towers Hotel make compost in their restaurant’s kitchen garden and set aside food scraps for community composters.

Yet Singapore’s composting movement still faces an uphill battle. A 2019 survey by Singapore’s National Environment Agency found that while Singapore’s consumers are taking some steps toward reducing food waste by adopting more sustainable shopping, cooking, eating and catering habits, many areas still need improvement.

A key barrier to improved food recycling is that most apartments — where over 95 per cent of Singapore’s residents live — only have single rubbish chutes, preventing effective waste sorting. Blue recycling bins in the communal areas of housing estates have limited effectiveness. Around 40 per cent of what goes into these recycling bins is contaminated, as some residents improperly dispose of liquids and foods, undermining the efforts of people who recycle properly.

Singapore’s community compost-makers show that when composting uses aerobic (oxygenated) methods, composting material does not necessarily become smelly or attract rodents and other unwanted animal attention. These groups only process small quantities of food scraps compared with commercial-sized biodigester machines, so their efforts have not been tested on a larger scale. But they do demonstrate some of the circular effects of individual consumption. In Singapore’s Bukit Gombak Park, community composting is supported by the local constituency office, Singapore’s National Parks Board, the People’s Association and the trader’s association at a nearby market, sowing seeds for the future integration of sustainable food management.

There is tremendous potential to scale up such composting collaborations. Doing so would first require a collective mindset shift towards learning the value of composting organic waste. Many zero-waste initiatives are started by enthusiastic volunteers and supported by private donations or external grants. Exploring longer-term strategies to protect the continuity of successful pilot projects and programs could provide a foundation for neighbourhood-level programs that employ residents as trainers, coordinators and compost makers.

Compost collaborations should be nurtured, rewarded and replicated, as they establish low-cost linkages between food producers, retailers and consumers. These collaborations may provide a firm basis for national climate action by strengthening Singapore’s zero-waste goals and enhancing food security.

Michelle A Miller is Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.

Cuifen Pui is initiator and co-creator of Food Citizen Pte Ltd and co-leader of community projects (Project Black Gold and Boon Lay Nature Garden).

Wayne Rice is Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Support Quality Analysis

Donate
The East Asia Forum office is based in Australia and EAF acknowledges the First Peoples of this land — in Canberra the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people — and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.

Article printed from East Asia Forum (https://www.eastasiaforum.org)

Copyright ©2024 East Asia Forum. All rights reserved.