Roshith Rajan, Director of Corporate Responsibility (Asia Pacific) at global food service and facilities management company Sodexo, is tackling food waste at the source. With Sodexo’s WasteWatch initiative, Roshith is a man on a very important mission: To stop food from going into the trash. 

SINGAPORE (May 8): When it comes to food waste, the statistics are staggering: 1.3 billion tonnes per year of food — fit for human consumption — is either wasted or lost globally, says the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the specialised agency that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security.

Food loss refers to edibles lost in the earlier stages of production (through either harvesting, storage or transportation). On the other hand, food waste refers to items which are produced for human consumption but thrown away, often by consumers.

What this means is that almost one-third of all food produced that’s going into the trash and into landfills. Food waste costs the world US$1 trillion ($1.69 trillion) a year, shocking when you consider that the United Nations reports that more than 800 million people in the world are starving. 

In Singapore, food waste accounts for almost half of the average daily household waste of 1.5kg. That’s 750g of food that goes into the trash every day. It may not seem like much but when it is added up, it comes to a staggering 763,000 tonnes in 2018. Of that, only 17% is recycled through composting while the rest is disposed of at waste-to-energy plants for incineration.

For Roshith Rajan, Director of Corporate Responsibility (Asia Pacific) at global food service and facilities management company Sodexo, reducing food waste is a cause that hits home. Having been with Sodexo for a decade — and in his current role for the past six years — this former engineer and self-professed ‘techie’ is connected to the cause on a professional, and personal level. “My grandfather was a farmer, and a lot of love, time and passion has gone into the making of food,” he says. “The farmer today would be very unhappy [to see all the food go to waste]. In fact, nobody would be happy.”

But finding an answer to the food waste problem is not easy. Roshith has spent the past year working hand-inhand with clients, staff and stakeholders to put in place an initiative that is both data and people-driven. He now believes Sodexo’s new food waste prevention initiative Waste Watch to be the answer.

WasteWatch initiative

Last May, Sodexo announced WasteWatch, a collaboration with food waste measurement and prevention tech company Leanpath. The aim: To reduce food waste by 50% food waste reduction across Sodexo’s sites by 2025, with the first wave of 3000 sites deployed within a year. Using the plan, Sodexo teams can rapidly and easily capture food waste data, giving clear insights into what is being wasted in their kitchens and why. With this new understanding, teams can then implement targeted operational and behavioral changes.

In short, WasteWatch is a way to prevent food from being wasted, to avoid it from happening in the first place. “So how do we do that? It’s not by way of posters and stickers, but by a broad-based programme that combines two things: First, the use of data, by providing information and insight into food waste, which is often considered a necessary evil in the food and beverage industry. It’s using tech for good, [to provide] a solution that captures all data linked to food that is being wasted, both from a pre and post-consumer standpoint,” says Roshith.

With this method, data of how much food is being wasted will be compiled and analysed to determine where the wastage is happening — say, in the area of food preparation. More importantly, it also tracks what is being wasted. This in turn informs the restaurant or business how to cut back on waste, when and where it happens.

Second, is the behavioural element involved. As he explains: “Nobody wants to show that there is food wastage happening in their business, because at the subconscious level it’s like saying that you are not good enough because you’re wasting food, and that leads to a tendency to cover it up. So, we are trying to break that mindset and saying that it does exist, and we are not looking into it from the perspective of an audit or an assessment, but to ask: How much better can you as an operation can do.”

But the problem of food waste is not going to go away, Roshith says. “So let’s act, and find ways to highlight what is being wasted, and how to prevent it.” Much of the behavioural change also involves upskilling relevant staff within the operation to correctly input data on food waste, he adds.

Their approach is to prevent food waste from happening in the first place. “We are not dealing with what happens after the food has become waste. Our belief is that food produced for human consumption must be consumed by humans. So, this combination of data plus behaviour is driving the programme,” he continues. Over the past year, WasteWatch has been implemented in 13 food service client locations in Singapore (including school canteens, universities, hospitals and corporate services) and over 200 sites worldwide.

Roshith says the programme in Singapore has been a success: There is a 45% reduction in pre-consumer food waste and 31% in consumer food waste reduction in the 13 sites in Singapore. The programme has also resulted in a reduction of 101,888kg of pre-consumer food waste, 82,045kg of consumer plate waste (food left on the plates of diners, for example).

In total, the scheme has prevented 183,934kg of food from going into the bin. This, Roshith says, is equivalent to 408,744 meals saved from being chucked away. More importantly, the amount of food waste prevented has resulted in 1,281 metric tons of reduction in carbon footprint.

“With this programme, the combination of reducing food waste, plus the economic, social and climate change impact, make this Sodexo’s flagship programme and our CEO has made a major commitment to roll this programme out in 3,000 sites by the end of this year,” Roshith says.

Despite the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, another 10 sites will be joining the programme in Singapore over the next few months. “We have mobilised internally to make this ready and for it to be applicable for our sites. Be it a corporate site, or a school site — we want to deploy this.” While WasteWatch is Sodexo’s proprietary and flagship programme, Roshith feels that it can be replicated anywhere. “There are different solutions that exist in the market out there...Is it replicable? Yes, it’s replicable. Because ultimately what we are doing is measuring all the food that has been wasted, and creating that behavioral change,” he says. “Our role has been more in terms of influencing the community, companies, and customers towards focusing on food waste, and start to take action to reduce food waste.”

Recently, Sodexo has also formed the International Food Waste Coalition (IWFC) with several other industry leaders and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). They have joined forces with companies such as Ardo, McCain, PepsiCo, SCA, Sodexo, Unilever Food Solutions to fight against food waste in the food services sector, starting in Europe. The ultimate objective of the IFWC is to inspire other companies and organisations to adopt comprehensive food waste reduction plans.

In addition to the IWFC, Roshith says Sodexo has also developed — in association with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation — various toolkit materials for schools in order to provide teachers and students with material to bring about change towards food waste. Sodexo is also working closely with banks, where they have set up a revolving credit facility with a handful of banks, which now incorporates a pricing adjustment based on Sodexo’s performance towards its goal to prevent 50% of the food waste and food losses from its operations by 2025.

Value of food

Ultimately, Roshith feels that it all boils down to recognising and appreciating the value of food. “For a nation that loves food so much, how could we also waste so much food?” he says. “Because in the end, what you don’t love, or value, is what you waste. So it’s about the value of your food,” he says. But this is not a problem unique to Singapore. Across the world — especially in developed countries — affluence has led to an increase in food waste.

Research has also proven that the wealthier we get, the more food we waste. In a report released in February, Dutch researchers compared reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other sources to get average figures of food consumption versus the amount of food available for 63 countries, covering 60% of the world’s population. They then related this data to the average affluence of consumers in each country, using figures obtained from the World Bank.

What they found was that once people were spending over US$6.70 a day on food, their food waste increased sharply and continued to rise the more they spent on food.

“Therefore, putting food as an essential has become a stronger focus, especially in these times. So this is bringing about a change in appreciating the value of food, because once you start appreciating the value of food, you start wasting it less,” Roshith says.

“A lot of energy, fuel, time and passion has gone into the making of food, which ultimately goes to waste. If food could talk, I think they’ll be very disappointed when they go into the trash.”