By Fazeena Saleem and Mohamed Osman
DOHA: During the month of Ramadan, charities collect enough leftover food from homes and hotels to feed at least 1,000 people every day.
On some days, there is so much leftover food at some places that these organisations find it difficult to collect and distribute it, they say.
In 2013, Qatar Statistics Authority said that more than half the municipal waste generated in the country contained discarded food. It said that as per an estimate, one-third of the total waste generated consisted of discarded food.
Although there are no official statistics on food wastage during Ramadan, EcoMena, an advocacy platform stressing the need for a clean and green environment in the Middle East, said in a recent report that almost half the food prepared during Ramadan in Qatar was expected to find its way into garbage bins.
Qatar produces more than 2.5 million tonnes of municipal solid waste each year. According to the Qatar Green Building Council, more than half the municipal solid waste generated in Qatar is compostable, including leftover food.
Some hotels and restaurants told this newspaper that they were forced to throw away large amounts of leftovers from Iftar and Suhour buffets.
They said that people tended to order more food than they could eat.
“We open the restaurant at 6pm, and people rush in and fill their plates with food as much as they can. But they cannot eat everything. Some eat a bit of everything and leave the rest. We can’t even give such leftover food to anyone. It’s very sad to see that we throw away so much food every day,” said the manager at a restaurant popular for its daily buffets.
This year, Sheikh Thani bin Abdullah for Humanitarian Services and Sheikh Eid Charity Association are involved in collecting leftovers from lavish buffets during Ramadan in an attempt to minimise food wastage and to benefit the needy.
“We receive many calls daily, and sometimes we find that it’s beyond our capacity to collect food,” said a senior official at Sheikh Eid Charity Association.
While Ramadan is a time for giving and gratitude, it can also be a month of overindulgence and waste, with too much surplus food being dumped into garbage bins.
Food prepared for big banquets, where more than half of it is not consumed, is repacked and distributed to low-income workers and families for the early morning Suhour meal.
Charities urge families not to throw away food after Iftar and Suhour, and instead share it with the poor.
These organisations deploy teams of volunteers across the country during Ramadan to collect leftovers.
During the holy month, by 8 pm every day they start getting calls asking them to collect leftovers from Iftar. The calls continue until early morning the next day.
As soon as they receive a call from a home, hotel or Ramadan tent asking them to collect leftovers, a team leaves in a specially designed vehicle.
The interior of the vehicle is fitted with shelves and a cooler to store food.
Another team of volunteers checks if the food is suitable for consumption, and then heats and packs it.
On some days, even chicken importers and wholesalers of vegetables and fruits ask charities to collect stock that they could not sell but which is suitable for human consumption.
All types of food are collected, checked, packed and distributed within an hour to ensure it is fit to be eaten.
The food is distributed among low-income workers at the central market, needy families in the Abu Hamour area, people at the Imam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab masjid (formally known as the Grand Mosque), and workers living in the Industrial Area.
Sheikh Eid Charity Association alone distributes a minimum of 1,000 food packets every night during Ramadan.
Mohamed Hassan Al Ibrahim, director of Sheikh Eid Charity Association, said, “The social service centre at our organisation has deployed teams across the country to receive food from people who want to give away leftover food after having ceremonies at hotels, tents and homes. We collect such food through the year, but during Ramadan it increases, because people prepare more food and have many functions.”
“We give such food to the needy. We have a list of needy families to whom we provide dry food. Cooked food is distributed to workers at work sites and at their accommodations,” he said.
Al Ibrahim said that the aim of the project was to get Al Nema (grace from God) and prevent food wastage.
He said it was sinful to throw away food that is good for consumption. Instead, it should be offered to the poor and the needy (without regard to their race or religion). If there are no needy people (which is unlikely), it should be given to animals.
Last year, the theme of the World Environment Day was ‘Think.Eat.Save’, which sent out a message to prevent food waste and food loss and encouraged people to reduce their ‘foodprint.’ According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year in the world.
This is equivalent to the amount of food produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, one in seven people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of five die daily from hunger.
But sadly, some hotels throw away food just because the recipe was not followed accurately.
“We have an internal memo that says that food has to be discarded if the recipe goes wrong. We have to throw away such food although it’s consumable. The possibility of throwing away such food increases during Ramadan as we get more orders,” said a senior official in charge of food and beverages in a group that owns two hotels in Doha.
Some other hotels distribute leftovers to their employees the following day.
“There are two types of leftover food: one is untouched food left on the dishes, and the other is that left on plates after eating. We are forced to throw away food left on the plates. I cannot guess the quantity of food we throw away, but it is huge and more during Ramadan,” said a senior official in a well-known hotel.
Food wastage during Ramadan is not a phenomenon unique to Qatar but common to the region.
According to a recent report, GCC countries stand out as among the world’s top food wasters. Particularly high quantities of food are wasted during Ramadan, says the 2013-14 report from the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi.
Arab News reported that the Makkah municipality collected 5,000 tonnes of discarded food in the first three days of Ramadan this year.
It said that according to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, 45 percent of the waste during Ramadan consists of food. It also revealed that 80 percent of the food prepared is unhealthy.
According to a study conducted by King Saud University, 30 percent of the four million dishes prepared daily during Ramadan, worth about SR1.2m, go waste. Social scientists have called this “unacceptable behaviour”.
Other reports suggest that more than 400 tonnes of food is wasted in Bahrain every day. Also, 25 percent of the food purchased in Bahrain during Ramadan is thrown away by households, at an approximate annual cost of $395 a year for each family.
In 2012, the Dubai Municipality estimated that during Ramadan 55 percent of the household waste, amounting to 1,850 tonnes daily, consists of food.THE PENINSULA