Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Hong Kong has a mounting food waste problem. According to Food Wise Hong Kong's Food Waste Reduction Good Practice Guide for the Hotel Sector, in 2011, about 3,600 tonnes of food waste was dumped to the landfills every day. This is the equivalent weight of 300 double-decker buses and accounts for 40% of Hong Kong’s municipal solid waste.
What are the main challenges?
Lack of space to store food waste
Municipal solid waste (MSW) is a pressing issue in Hong Kong, and the three main landfill sites are expected to be full by 2020, adding to the 13 already filled up in the city's history. “If Hong Kong continues in this way, we will reach breaking point by 2020,” says Chan King-ming, a professor in the department of environmental science program at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Food waste represents 35% of MSW in Hong Kong, making its processing a challenge for the government. The two main sources of food waste are 1) households food waste, and 2) commercial and industrial (C&I) food waste, from restaurants, hotels and wet markets, representing 13.3% of total MSW.
In the past, Hong Kong used to send a large part of its recyclable waste to China -- 90% of its recyclables, according to Reuters News Agency, until China's waste ban shook the world's consumers, recycling companies and waste management companies, those in Hong Kong included. Like many cities, Hong Kong has come to realize that it does not have sufficient processing capacity to handle its recyclable waste. As Doug Woodring, co-founder of the Ocean Recovery Alliance puts it, the result is worrisome: “So much stuff that would have been sent to China to be processed is just being put in the landfill”.
Poverty in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, one in five people live under the poverty line, receiving only about 4,000 HKD per month, according to a report done by FeedingHK, and low income families spend almost half their income (46%) on food.
Hong Kong has a fairly high inequitable distribution of wealth, receiving a Gini coefficient of 0.54. As a comparison, European countries all have a Gini coefficient under 0.4 and the United States’ coefficient is 0.411.
Ecological footprint of food waste
Food waste which ends up in landfills/is left in the field not only takes up space but also releases methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), “globally, if food waste could be represented as its own country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the U.S.” This takes into account the gas emitted for the production, transport and decomposition of food in landfills and not just the last stage in the landfills. When food waste is buried in landfills, methane is released because there is no oxygen, unlike in a compost. Thus, rotten food represents 34% of all methane emissions, and methane gas is known to be 20 times more damaging to the environment than CO2.
Who to work with on food waste reduction?
Where food waste reduction from the source is impossible, donate surplus food and leftover. There are a number of food banks in Hong Kong that collects food surplus to redistribute it to the people in need.
From food donations, Food Angel creates hot meal boxes as well as food packs to be distributed to underprivileged communities. They accept food and drinks in their packaging, fresh food (fruits and vegetables), cooked food, bakery items, as well as frozen food.
They have three food collection points in Lai Chi Kok, Sham Shui Po and Chai Wan, and they also have five trucks and a logistics team connecting food donors with their food processing centre, their two central kitchens in Sham Shui Po and with charity partners.
Food Angel works hand in hand with the hotel industry; among others, their food donors are Hyatt Regency (Tsim Sha Tsui and Sha Tin), Hotel Icon, City Garden Hotel, Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Kowloon East, Holiday Inn, Panda Hotel, Sino Group of Hotels, The Parklane Hong Kong a Pullman Hotel, The Excelsior, The Peninsula Hong Kong, and The Royal Pacific Hotel & Towers. They manage to prepare about 56,000 hot meal boxes and food packs per week.
The Foodlink Foundation has a similar operating system as Food Angel. They work with about 55 hotels, including Cordis Hotel, Hong Kong, the venue sponsor of the G.R.E.E.N. Hospitality Conference.
Their work is divided into several programs, the main ones being the hot food program, the bread program and the banquet program. Buffets being very popular in many events, Foodlink has a program through which they collect surplus food from these banquets.
Foodlink teams manage to save around 15 tonnes and 15,000 pieces of bread per week, which can provide more than 36,000 meals. Furthermore, Foodlink Foundation has another very interesting program for the hotel industry, the trimmings program, which allows hotel chefs to donate their food trimmings and scraps from raw ingredients mostly, instead of throwing them away.
Feeding Hong Kong is the city’s sole accredited member of the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), an international organization dedicated to creating and strengthening food banks around the world.
With a warehouse and fleet that are equipped with facilities to handle fresh, frozen and shelf-stable goods in bulk, Feeding Hong Kong works with food companies to redistribute their surplus stock, which is still good enough to eat but has lost its commercial value, to local charities. Among its food donation partners are Wellcome, PizzaExpress, Cathay Pacific, and Pret A Manger.
Food Grace is a local organization in the New Territories (Tai Po, Yuen Long and Kwai Chung) whose mission is to recycle of surplus fresh fruits and vegetables from wet markets mainly. It also aims at linking communities together. Local initiatives such as “Food Friendship” Food Recycling Scheme in Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin, Kowloon City and Tuen Mun district, collect food from wet markets, bakeries and supermarkets. They process 1,200 kg of food waste daily.
Hong Kong’s hospitality industry could and should take the lead in food waste reduction. Learn more about how the hospitality industry specifically can help take strides in minimizing food waste with our blog post tomorrow.