Forget about the Rest:
Start with Food Waste
Among all the different types of waste we generate, food waste has been continuously excluded from the spotlight. According to the World Bank, it is the most important type of waste that needs to be tackled as an essential first step to creating an effective waste management system. The reason is simple: food waste is the one type of waste that we produce the most, and it is always the highest share of municipal solid waste created by households, before plastic, glass, paper or metal, regardless of the level of development of a country. It is the same for restaurants.
In our latest report on food waste, Forget about the Rest: Start with Food Waste, we explain what food waste is, its environmental impacts, and how it can be used as a resource to build a solid business case for the hospitality industry to start measuring the amount of food waste being produced.
Environmental Cost of Food Waste
Due to the biodegradable nature of organic waste (a.k.a “wet waste”), the environmental costs of food waste are often overlooked. When we throw away food, we also waste the energy and resources that were used to produce and transport the food such as the “Blue Water footprint” from agriculture, the carbon footprint from transportation, and environmental costs like the release of nitrous oxide from chemical fertilizers, and the contamination of other waste streams that create a vicious cycle of environmental degradation. In Hong Kong, food waste is dumped in landfills where methane-producing bacterial communities exist, releasing methane and carbon dioxide during decomposition. This means if food waste was a country, it would rank as the third top greenhouse gas emitter after the USA and China, accounting for around 8% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. With that being said, the G.R.E.E.N. Hospitality’s food waste report presents a seemingly obvious yet often overlooked fact: Food waste is NOT harmless.
There is a traditional Chinese saying: “Behind every grain of rice on your plate, tremendous efforts were involved.” However, this mentality is eroding in the age of mass production. The lack of efficient food preparation and processing systems has created a surplus of the food supply in many developed countries that has far surpassed the average consumption rate of only 0.2kg per person each day in Hong Kong for example. The vulnerabilities in our current global food supply chain encourage a wasteful mentality and make food cheaper than it really is. We often forget that the lifecycle of food contains many stages, from agriculture to food processing, transportation, storage, and finally consumption. With 66% of food waste resulting from preparation and spoilage and only 34% resulting from customers, the hospitality industry plays a pivotal role in planning their business operations and food stocks to avoid generating waste.
Food Waste As A Resource
In Hong Kong, the majority of solid waste consists of food waste, with around 3,600 tonnes of food thrown away each day. In comparison, the production of vegetables, fish, pork, and poultry is about 67,500 tonnes. With all this food going to waste, it's time for us to rethink our definitions of food waste. What we consider as food waste is often influenced by the food disposal decisions of marketers and suppliers. Food “waste” can be discarded not because of the edibility of the products but for cosmetic reasons for example, which may still be adequate for human consumption. The good news is that solutions are available. Some restaurants in Hong Kong, like MANA!, are adopting a circular business model by using biodegradable packaging and turning their food waste into compost, which is then supplied to farmers who grow the vegetables that are served to customers. It shows the immense potential for the hospitality industry to lead changes in mentalities towards viewing food “waste” as resources in the public eye through innovative and sustainable practices.
Though we are far from achieving the food waste recycling targets proposed by the Hong Kong Food Waste & Yard Waste Plan 2014-2022, this food waste report by G.R.E.E.N. Hospitality highlights not only the urgency of tackling food waste but also the successful examples in the hospitality industry as an actionable guide for other hospitality businesses to do their part in conserving the planet’s finite resources and precious food resources.