Social entrepreneur on mission to curb food wastage and save the environment

FOOD waste has long plagued Malaysia. There is a constant torrent of wastage, even outside of the festive seasons that are a feature of our multi-racial country.

The statistics speak for themselves: food discard before the first lockdown last year averaged 2.1 tonnes daily, according to Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Corporation (SWCorp Malaysia).

That dropped to 1.7 tonnes during the MCO and crept back to 2.2 tonnes daily after the period ended in June.

Speaking to theSun, Grub Cycle co-founder Redza Shahid shared his insights into the problem.

“If you’re talking about the food industry and food waste, it has to be divided into three parts – the restaurants, groceries and vegetables,” said Redza.

“For vegetables, in the early days of the MCO, food waste increased because these have been traditionally sent from the farms to supermarkets. When the lockdown happened, there was an increase of food waste as people weren’t going as much to the supermarkets”.

In terms of groceries during the time, Redza said there was a lot of excess food with their expiry dates due and much fewer shoppers.

“If you go to a supermarket these days, you can see a lot of products on their ‘reduced to clear’ rack. These are always full now.’’

“For restaurants, the sad part is that many have closed down,‘’ said the social entrepreneur.

“They are also not producing more than what they can sell. So, that’s not good for Grub Cycle but it’s good for the environment,” he added.

“It is one of the reasons that Grub Cycle is not active.’’

$!Prior to his social entrepreneurism and environmental advocacy, Redza was in the oil and gas industry, with an accounting background.

Years of experience

Redza has noted an increased awareness of food wastage among consumers since he launched his outfit in 2016.

“At the time, knowledge was really low,‘’ he said.

“People might say they care about the environment but nothing was being done then.”

Public awareness about the environmental impact of food wastage has even spiked over the past year.

“Even right now, there are sustainability conferences, more start-ups, more social enterprises,” he said.

“Response has been better. It is moving up and way, way better than three to five years ago, but it just has not reached peak.”

The currently dormant Grub Cycle used to function by providing consumers with extra food from restaurants, supermarkets and similar establishments at reduced prices in an effort to prevent the food going to waste.

Currently, Redza is co-running OiLilin, an enterprise that up-cycles used cooking oil from halal-certified restaurants in Malaysia into eco-friendly scented candles. The enterprise was founded with his colleagues Nina Alias and Ashaari Rahmat. Nina is also Redza’s wife.

“Me and my wife are environmental advocates,” he said.

$!Redza’s latest eco-friendly endeavour is the OiLilin scented candles, made from recycled cooking oil.

Food for thought

As everyone has been stranded in their homes, with many now returning to supermarkets only for essential items while food deliveries soar once again, Redza gives valuable advice for Malaysians to play their part in reducing the environmental impact of food wastage and even plastic use.

“When lockdowns began, we noticed a lot of issues with discarded food containers and plastics. Luckily for now, some of us can still go out and buy food. My wife and I always try to pick-up the food and not order it online.

This means that we bring our own containers and tapao (take away) the food,” he said.

Redza also advocates supporting local small businesses, particularly through the purchase of vegetables and fruits in controlled portions.

“Lastly, since we’re at home a lot, people can try not to use so much of electricity-intensive appliances like air-conditioners,” he said.

He also reminded consumers to form the eco-friendly habit of bringing their own bags to supermarkets for groceries.

“At the end of the day, after six years in the environmental sector, I see that the best way to push for environmental awareness and consciousness is by advocating it ourselves,” he said.