A wedding, a grand party and celebration of any kind leaves behind happy memories to cherish. But little do we realise that great fat Indian weddings also leave behind an enormous amount of leftovers. Not only weddings, the quantity of food cooked is over estimated on many other occasions and ultimately the surplus food goes to the waste bins.
Each morsel thus wasted, in a way, contributes towards hunger. In addition, wasteful food-consumption is also leading to unsustainable demand for natural resources. When large quantities of food goes wasted instead of feeding hungry mouths, it ends up in a landfill — ultimately contributing to global warming by releasing methane gas.
It is a cause of serious concern in a country like India where 37 per cent of the population lives below poverty line. Huge amounts of food is getting wasted by the people belonging to the upper strata of economy as there is no proper channel to utilise unused food. The 2013 World Environment Day theme “Think, Eat, Save” also reflects concern over this disproportionate scenario and the consequent devastating effects on the environment.
A maiden beginning, perhaps also the first in the country, has been made in Jaipur through Annakshetra Foundation for effective utilisation of excess leftovers in weddings, parties, restaurants and temples. Started in 2010 by the Centre for Development Communication (CDC), which also works in the field of solid waste management, Annakshetra aims to deliver the spare food collected from donors to those who need it in the local community. The foundation also runs awareness campaigns to prevent food wastage.
Almost a million persons have benefited so far with a network of 1,500 donors, comprising caterers, marriage hall and restaurant owners as well as individuals. On receiving the calls, the Annakshetra van goes to the site to collect food. After collection, the food is kept in refrigerators and served to labourers, slum dwellers, at orphanages and shelter homes in the morning.
If the collected food is found unsuitable for human consumption, it is sent for composting into organic manure. By recycling, Annakshetra ensures that the bio-waste does not land into landfill sites thus preventing environmental damage and improving agricultural output by improving soil.
Annakshetra makes use of the 3R — “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” model. Entirely funded by CDC, the project was initially started with hired vehicles. Recently an automobile company donated a vehicle for carrying the food and Annakshetra is gradually expanding its infrastructure to have more refrigerators and deep freezing facilities.
The CDC has been contacted by many organisations in other cities to help start similar ventures, shared Dr. Vivek Agrawal, trustee secretary of CDC. “We are helping with system design, cold chain development and connecting groups of concerned people in Delhi, Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Annakshetra is all set to take the initiative beyond Rajasthan by starting its operation in Vadodara from June 5 and Aurangabad and Nagpur within two months,” he added.
Chances of contamination are greater in summers; so storage of large volumes of food is a big challenge, says Dr. Ambica Nag, senior programme manager. Biological and chemical testing of collected food and packaging for longer use is also quite a tedious task, she adds.
If bio-waste is reused and recycled, green house gases like methane which is more harmful than CO2, can be debarred from deteriorating the environment. Also waste reduction would imply using less energy and fuel for refrigeration and transportation purposes, said Professor A.K. Ojha, executive director of Institute of Development Management, whose sister organisation is CDC.
On the occasion of Akshya Tritiya, unused food collected by Annakshetra volunteers from 16 weddings in Jaipur could feed over 9,000 persons. It was not even five per cent of the total waste that may have occurred on one particular day, according to Dr. Agrawal. The need is for greater awareness. Waste is a resource but when it comes to be dumped as municipal waste, it is of no use, he said.