Earth Chat

Food waste and its way out

Climate change is exerting pressure on food production, resulting in food shortage in various parts of the world and depriving people of access to sufficient food.[1] This issue is particularly acute in less-developed countries that heavily rely on food imports.[2] In 2022, approximately 735 million people, equivalent to 9.2% of the world’s population, experienced chronic hunger.[3]

People in the world affected by hunger (Image Source: United Nations)

In developed regions like Hong Kong, there is often an excess of food in supermarkets, restaurants and hotels, leading to significant food wastage.[4] In 2022, Hong Kong averaged a daily generation of 3,302 tonnes of food waste, with only less than 6% of that being recycled. [5]

Waste disposed of at landfills (Image Source:SCMP)

When food waste is landfilled, it decomposes and produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent in trapping heat than carbon dioxide.[6]This contributes to the further warming of the planet and exacerbates climate change. Additionally, methane is a key contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone, which is a dangerous air pollutant causing one million premature deaths annually.[7]With the negative environmental and health impacts, what actions has the Hong Kong government taken to reduce food waste?

At the community level, the government has initiated the Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign, which involves recruiting Food Wise Ambassadors to spread messages about reducing food waste to the general public.[8] Additionally, the government has implemented the Green Lunch Charter, which provide subsidies to schools to set up necessary facilities for on-site meal portioning.[9]Since October 2022, the government has been running a food waste collection trial scheme in nine public rental housing estates, where smart recycling bins have been installed to collect food waste from residents.[10] In terms of Infrastructure, the government is developing organic resources recovery centres to divert food waste from landfills and convert it into electricity.[11]

A resident dumping food waste into a Smart Food Waste Bin (Image Source: Cornerstone Renewable Energy Limited)

OPARK1, located at Siu Ho Wan in Lantau Island (Image Source: Environmental Protection Department)

Despite the government’s efforts, food waste disposal remains a significant issue. Our wasteful culture, particularly in relation to buffets and banquets, contributes greatly to the unnecessary disposal of edible food. Unfortunately, in Hong Kong, dumping food waste is convenient with no economic penalties in place.

Given these challenges, what additional measures can Hong Kong do to further reduce food waste?

For instance, South Korea implemented universal curbside composting in 2013, requiring everyone to separate food waste using designated bags.[12]The collected waste would then be turned into biogas, animal feeds or fertilisers.[13]The initiative has greatly contributed to the country achieving a food waste recycling rate of 95% by 2019. With Hong Kong planning to roll out the Municipal Solid Waste Charging Scheme in August 2024, the government should expand food waste collection on a much wider scale to encourage waste reduction efforts.

Urban farms in Seoul (Image Source: Gangdong District Office)

What about businesses? Restaurants can contribute to reducing food waste by implementing measures such as reducing portion sizes or offering incentives for ordering smaller portions to prevent customers from over-ordering.[14] Supermarkets, on the other hand, could relax cosmetic standards for produce, by allowing fruits and vegetables with minor blemishes that taste just the same as normal ones to be displayed on the shelves.[15]Moreover, business can partner with local food banks or non-profit organisations to establish donation and redistribution programmes. These initiatives ensure that excess food is directed to those in need, minimising waste and supporting communities.

As individuals, we should avoid buying more food than necessary. It's easy to get enticed by discounts or bulk offers at supermarkets, but we should resist the temptation to purchase more than we actually need. Another effective way to reduce food waste is to make use of leftover food. Instead of discarding unused portions, we can get creative and incorporate them into other recipes.[16]The Earth’s resources are finite, and we all have a responsibility to prevent food waste.

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