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'Clever solution': S'pore firm launches pilot to turn KFC packaging, food waste into farm fertiliser

SINGAPORE — Singapore-based sustainable food packaging firm Tria has begun a six-month-long pilot with fast-food chain KFC Singapore to turn single-use packaging and food waste into agricultural fertiliser. It is an endeavour that they are claiming is a world first.
'Clever solution': S'pore firm launches pilot to turn KFC packaging, food waste into farm fertiliser
Some of the patented technology used by Singapore-based sustainability food packaging firm Tria to convert packaging and food waste into fertiliser.
  • Packaging firm Tria and fast-food chain KFC have begun a six-month-long pilot programme 
  • The collaboration between the two companies will see it turning both single-use food packaging and food waste into fertilisers for farmers
  • This will be done through a technology patented by Tria

SINGAPORE — Singapore-based sustainable food packaging firm Tria has begun a six-month-long pilot with fast-food chain KFC Singapore to turn single-use packaging and food waste into agricultural fertiliser. It is an endeavour that they are claiming is a world first.

Mr Ng Pei Kang, chief executive officer of Tria, said during an event launch for the pilot on Tuesday (June 21) that the biggest challenge when it comes to recycling food packaging is segregating the food waste from the containers.

The cost of segregating the two, he said, can be up to five times the cost of the packaging itself, so it does not make business sense for food-and-beverage firms to make an attempt at recycling.

“What we are trying to do is solve the problem of segregation… by avoiding segregation,” he said.

As part of the pilot, KFC will be using its outlet at Northpoint City mall in Yishun to testbed Tria’s solution. The outlet serves food in Tria’s proprietary Neutria foodware — which is essentially compostable packaging made from plant-based material such as corn or sugarcane fibres.

Mr Ng told TODAY that customers will not be paying more as a result of this programme.

HOW IT WORKS

The packaging and food waste from the KFC outlet is collected and sent to a recycling plant where it is dumped together into a machine, a type of composter patented by Tria, that breaks the waste down into smaller components before microbes digest it.

This turns the waste into fertiliser, in a process that takes about a day.

Mr Ng added that the machine is able to sift out anything that is inorganic, such as metal or plastic that gets into the food and packaging waste.

One tonne of waste is able to yield about 200kg to 300kg of fertiliser.

Mr Ng eventually hopes to sell the fertiliser to farmers in Singapore and Malaysian once the company is able to put out a consistent supply.

For now, the success of the pilot hinges on three factors.

The first will be how customers take to the functionality of the new packaging and whether it might need more fine-tuning. As the packaging is quite similar to regular packaging, Mr Ng does not anticipate problems.

KFC told TODAY, however, that the firm will gather feedback on the packaging from both the outlet’s team as well as patrons.

The second factor involves the waste collection process. In general, mall operators are responsible for dealing with the waste collection for their tenants.

For the pilot, KFC’s general manager Lynette Lee said during the launch that the firm has been able to come to an arrangement with Northpoint City’s operator, Frasers Property, to facilitate the collection of the outlet’s food waste and have it sent to Tria.

Mr Ng said that the team will be exploring to see how this “waste-owner model” can be extended, and whether it means Tria will eventually be able to represent KFC at all malls in terms of waste collection.

The final factor relates to whether the fertiliser that the firm produces contains the right nutrients that farmers need to suit different farming seasons.

Mr Ng said that Tria is working on this with one of its partners, Yara, a Norwegian fertiliser company.

Being able to create a fertiliser that is of a commercial grade suitable for growing food on a mass scale will be the “chapter that will unlock new growth potential” for Tria, Mr Ng added.

When asked if operational costs will also be looked at, he responded by saying that the pilot is more of a “qualitative assessment in terms of functionality”.

“It’s a bit too early to be considering operational costs because there is no economy of scale (right now).”

With the success of our partnership, we hope to take the lead and bring together a zero-waste closed loop recycling concept to the food and beverage industry. We believe this will contribute positively to the Singapore Green Plan.
KFC Singapore

Once the pilot is over, KFC said that it will work with Tria to assess the scalability of the initiative across all 80 of its branches in Singapore as part of the chain’s “continued efforts towards environmental sustainability”.

“With the success of our partnership, we hope to take the lead and bring together a zero-waste closed loop recycling concept to the food-and-beverage industry. We believe this will contribute positively to the Singapore Green Plan.”

Aside from bringing on board other food-and-beverage operators, Mr Ng also hopes to introduce Tria’s closed-loop solution to caterers and even event organisers.

There are, however, no plans to focus the business for residential use yet. This is because it involves the national waste infrastructure, which is "more complex” because a system needs to be in place to cater for the whole of Singapore, Mr Ng said.

Ms Low Yen Lin, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, said during a speech at the event that “clever circular economy solutions” such as the collaboration between Tria and KFC have the potential to break the cycle of escalating waste.

“Growing consumption in Singapore has led to greater amounts of packaging and food waste,” she added. Yet, recycling rates remain low.

The National Environment Agency has said that Singapore's overall recycling rate was 55 per cent last year, marginally higher than 52 per cent in 2020 — the lowest in the decade.

Singapore has repeatedly sounded the alarm on the need to improve the nation’s recycling rate since its only landfill on Pulau Semakau is expected to run out of space by 2035.

On the collaboration, Ms Low said that it not only reduces pollution by lowering the amount of waste being burnt or sent to landfill, but also “contributes to a greener environment and brings (Singapore) closer to our Zero Waste goals”.

Related topics

Tria KFC recycling food waste sustainability

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