BAHRAIN: “Your excess is someone else’s relief” is the slogan chosen by Conserving Bounties, a non-profit food bank in Bahrain that collects surplus food from hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and private events, and distributes it to needy workers and underprivileged families.
Food waste in Bahrain is estimated at more than 400 tons per day, with the number surging past 600 tons during Ramadan, according to the country’s Supreme Council for Environment.
“We believe it’s not the intention of people in our society to throw away food. It’s part of our Islamic principles … to conserve surplus food, help others and be thankful for all bounties,” said Conserving Bounties CEO Ahmed Al-Kuwaiti.
“However, we needed an initiative to create awareness, and to show people how they can reduce food waste as well as donate unused food.”
Conserving Bounties has signed contracts with hotels, restaurants and bakeries to collect food that is in good condition, in compliance with health and safety standards.
Adherents include the Intercontinental Regency, the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons and the Sheraton, as well as Lulu Hypermarket, Alosra, IKEA and Paul Cafe.
Since its launch in 2014, Conserving Bounties has handed out close to 490,000 meals, and aims to increase distribution to almost 21,000 meals per month over the next two years, Al-Kuwaiti said.
“We have a hotline for people to book a collection for an event. We pack the edible food from open buffets,” he added.
Founded and run by a group of philanthropists, Conserving Bounties was inspired by Itaam, a food bank in neighboring Saudi Arabia that also feeds the less privileged by distributing excess food from hotels and parties.
Al-Kuwaiti said convincing families to donate rather than bin food from their private events has been far easier than getting hotels and hypermarkets on board.
“Hotels and supermarkets worry about their reputation,” he added. “They worry about food poisoning, or if there’s any problem as a result of someone consuming leftovers.”
We have a hotline for people to book a collection for an event. We pack the edible food from open buffets.”
To address these concerns, Conserving Bounties provides a no-responsibility disclaimer to assure outlets that they will not be held liable.
Even so, Al-Kuwaiti said, many organizations need further persuading, which is why Conserving Bounties is lobbying for a new law that could make it illegal for food outlets and supermarkets in Bahrain to trash untouched food still fit for consumption.
“We have a committee studying the idea of introducing a food waste law. We’re looking at modeling it on France’s food waste law. Such a law would make it easier for us to sign contracts to collect food,” he added.
Early in 2016, France became the world’s first country to pass legislation that prohibits large supermarkets from discarding food that is still safe to eat.
French stores must either compost the unused food or donate it to charities such as food banks.
Every year, roughly one-third of the world’s food is lost or thrown away, estimates the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Currently, annual waste amounts to 1.6 billion tons, or around $1.2 trillion worth of food squandered.
At the same time, hunger has been on the rise over the past three years, according to 2018 figures from the FAO.
This marks a return to levels from a decade ago, with 821 million people worldwide going hungry in 2017.
Al-Kuwaiti said Gulf Arab states are among the world’s top generators of food waste, and “extravagant dining” is among the chief culprits.
In Bahrain, a country with a population of around 1.6 million, the total waste per year is 146,000 tons, costing about 94.9 million dinars (almost $252 million), he added.
“Our initiative is consistent with the global UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted by Bahrain, especially goal no. 2 on the total elimination of hunger, and goal no. 12 to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, and reduce waste production through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse by 2030,” Al-Kuwaiti said.
• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.