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A National Roadmap to Tackle the Urban Food Waste Challenge in Sri Lanka

2021 Sep 22

A solution to the problem of urban food waste? Let’s find out what has led to the critical issue of urban food waste in Sri Lanka and the National Roadmap to combatting this problem.

What Has Caused the Food Waste Problem?

“Food waste is a global challenge, and here in Sri Lanka, we need to work together to navigate this challenge effectively. Several factors such as storage and transport capacities, rapid urbanisation, expansion of retail chains, overstocking and unsustainable consumer behaviour contribute to food waste,” stated Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Secretary to the Ministry of Environment, in a recent joint press release.

Dr. Jasinghe further stated, “the problem is complex, and we need a comprehensive and multi-faceted matrix of solutions to overcome the status quo. I am confident that the Roadmap which is in line with the National Policies on Waste Management and Sustainable Consumption and Production will help us to initiate action and move ahead to get all stakeholders involved in preventing and reducing food waste in Sri Lanka.”

About the National Road Map 

The National Roadmap on Urban Food Waste Prevention and Reduction for Households, Food services, Retailers and Wholesalers provides an evidence-based strategy and vision to combat the country’s urban food waste effectively. The National Roadmap was formulated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), for the Ministry of Environment. 

The FAO provided funding and technical assistance to develop the National Roadmap through an FAO Technical Cooperation Project launched in June 2019 and implemented in partnership with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). The National Roadmap has its foundations on the new evidence generated by this project and past research.

According to one of the project reports, Sri Lanka produces a staggering 7,000 tonnes of solid waste per day, out of which an alarming 65% – 66% (by weight) consists of perishable organic material. This means that the average weight of total food waste generated per day is approximately 3,963 tonnes.

The FAO and IWMI analysed data gathered from three major waste disposal centres in the Colombo region (namely Kerawalapitiya, Karadiyana and Kaduwela). The studies found the total solid waste generated in the Colombo Municipal Council area daily to be 706 tonnes, of which 50%, approximately 353 tonnes, is food waste.

Raising Awareness to Reduce Food Waste

FAO Representative Vimlendra Sharan stated that urban areas in Sri Lanka need substantial State and non-State interventions for not only managing food waste quantities but also working towards a national shift towards food waste prevention and reduction. A ‘food use-not-waste’ approach would significantly reduce the impact of food waste on climate change, support raising incomes for food supply chain actors (from wholesale to households), and ensure food and nutrition security for all.”

Education and awareness are essential to make eco-conscious decisions. “Knowing more about food waste will enable people to be more resourceful and conscious of food consumption and production approaches. Hence, FAO developed a series of tailored, multi-language, awareness-raising material targeting the food supply chain actors. The awareness-raising package also includes FAO food waste reduction materials designed for primary and secondary school children from 5 to 14+ years,” expressed Sharan.

Why’s it an Effective Strategy?

The National Roadmap presents a set of well-defined, multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder collaborative actions that can lead to a range of long term positive impacts. Its implementation will minimise recurring negative climate change impacts.

The National Roadmap invites the public to create sustainable business opportunities with high Returns on Investment. 

Employing technological innovations such as Artificial Intelligence to track food waste and calculate its economic impact would have substantial positive results.

It is necessary to improve quantification (i.e. data availability and quality) to comprehend better food waste’s social, environmental and economic effects. Hence, this calls to action the research community of Sri Lanka to coordinate and collaborate with State and non-State actors, including joint projects at the international level.

The National Roadmap sets forth a well-coordinated approach facilitated through joint actions and partnerships between governmental agencies, municipalities, the private sector actors and civil society organisations. The successful implementation of this National Roadmap also contributes to the global Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 on halving food waste by 2030.

Each of us needs to do our part by making eco-conscious decisions for a better tomorrow. For Sri Lanka to meet the Sustainable Development Goal on halving food waste by 2030, we need to be mindful of our choices and the three R’s of waste management — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s a collective responsibility of all research organisations, private sector companies, government and the public to help our nation tackle the urban food waste problem.

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