By Lam Shun-wa and Kacee Ting Wong
Our survival depends on food, but our survival is also indirectly threatened by food waste. The inability of local landfills to provide a sustainable solution to the food-waste problem has dragged the problem of culinary abundance to the edge of despair.
At stake is not only the responsibility of the food and beverage industry to take effective steps to reduce food waste and minimize its negative impact on the environment, but also the responsibility of everyone to avoid ordering more food than they want or need on their plate.
According to the Environment Protection Department (EPD), most of Hong Kong’s food waste is disposed of at landfills together with other municipal solid waste (MSW). In 2020, some 10,809 metric tons of MSW was dumped at landfills each day. Of this, about 3,255 tons (30 percent) was food waste, constituting the largest MSW category. The latest figures, from 2021, indicate that food waste still constitutes 30 percent of solid rubbish sent to landfill each day.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government was able to use household waste as a resource for land reclamation. However, by the late 1950s, the Urban Council came to realize that land reclamation was no longer a sustainable waste management system. This was because Hong Kong had entered an era of postwar
industrialization and an environmentally harmful mixture of solid waste had begun to replace organic waste (Nele Fabian and Loretta Ieng Tak Lou, The Struggle for Sustainable Waste Management in Hong Kong: 1950s -2010s, in Worldwide Waste Journal).
Currently, Hong Kong has three strategic landfills in use, all in the New Territories. The fact that our existing landfills are almost full has catapulted the problem of food waste to the forefront of media coverage. Since landfill gas is harmful to human health and toxic to the environment, the government has spent vast resources on landfill gas management. For example, leachate, which is a major source of contamination, is treated using landfill gas to provide heat. Strict criteria are specified by the EPD to ensure that the treatment is safe and free from harmful release.
There is a growing recognition that the food and beverage industry should focus on waste reduction. Being a senior executive chef, one of the co-authors of this article has previously tried to employ the best cooking and plate-presenting techniques to create physically attractive food with the perfect balance of flavor combinations to persuade customers to order more than they can consume. Unable to finish all the ordered food, these spoiled customers created leftovers and added fuel to the fire of food wastage. But a chef has to discharge his duty by creating the best food for customers.
Instead of putting the blame on the chef, customers should resist the above temptation and say no to excessive and unnecessary ordering. Some customers refuse to return home with the leftovers because they are afraid of losing face in front of their guests and waiters. The plea for environmentally friendly dining habits should no longer fall on stony ground. The EPD should launch an educational campaign to promote proper dining habits.
In fact, some top restaurants and bars in Hong Kong are taking eco-steps in the right direction, with chefs and bartenders finding innovative ways to reduce and reuse ingredients. Some have even earned Michelin Green Stars for these efforts. For instance, the Penicillin bar deserves credit for launching a new menu starring 10 cocktails all made with a zero-waste approach.
Donating surplus food to charitable organizations offers a win-win solution to the food-waste problem. Owners of supermarkets, restaurants, fast-food chains and bars should have their hearts in the right place by helping the poor and needy people in the city. Food Angel has earned a reputation for serving the poor by collecting surplus food from these outlets. With the support of volunteers, Food Angel has consistently provided free meals for the less well-off.
It is worthy of note that the EPD launched a large-scale pilot program on food waste collection in 2021, focusing on food waste generated from the private (commercial and industrial sectors) and public premises. Source-separated food waste collected under the program will be transformed into energy, and compost as a byproduct at O.Park1 on Lantau Island. O.Park1, which is the first organic resources recovery center in Hong Kong, opened at Siu Ho Wan in 2018. It operates as a sustainable alternative to landfills and creates biogas by breaking down waste to generate fuel for power generation. Other leftovers are turned into compost.
Although some eco-measures cannot reduce food waste in a direct manner, they play an important role in reducing the carbon footprint. Some restaurants, fully aware of the problems caused by food miles, source fruit, vegetables and chicken from local farms. Promoting vegetarian cuisine and cell-cultivated meat is also an effective way to reduce the environmental effects of grazing, growing feed for animals and dealing with their waste. It is estimated by Nature Food that meat accounts for nearly 60 percent of all the greenhouse gases emitted during food production.
To conclude, the current practice of disposing food waste in landfills is not a sustainable solution as it consumes valuable landfill capacity and wastes useful organic resources. In addition to the eco-efforts made by the food and beverage industry to reduce food waste, everyone should change their eating habits to avoid culinary abundance created by overordering.
Meg Arroll and Louise Atkinson suggest that we should create our own food diary to uncover emotional eating pattern and identify triggers that might prompt overeating (Meg Arroll and Louise Atkinson, The Shrinkology Solution). Sometimes anxiety can trigger emotional eating patterns and prompt overeating. If the food diary can help identify triggers that prompt overeating, the temptation of ordering too much food in restaurants can be resisted.
Lam Shun-wa is a senior executive chef, director of catering industry affairs of Chinese Dream Think Tank.
Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Center, chairman of Chinese Dream Think Tank.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
【CDTT Newspaper Article】Lam Shun-wa and Kacee Ting Wong：Restaurant customers have role to play in curbing food waste (China Daily HK Edition, 7 Sept 2023)
Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.
This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.
中國夢智庫｜ 「誰知盤中飧，粒粒皆辛苦」之 特區垃圾堆填區與食物浪費問題
讓人欣慰的是特區一些頂級餐廳與酒吧已採取培養正確環保用餐習慣措施，廚師與調酒師正在嘗試減少與節約使用食材的創新烹飪方法為顧客提供食物。在這方面所做出的努力也獲得了「米其林綠星」(Michelin Green Stars)的認可。例如，特區中環一間以經典威士忌「酸酒」(Penicillin)命名的新式酒吧推出以 10種雞尾酒為主角的新菜單，全部採用零浪費方法製作，「吃貨」們，動起來(註4)。
雖然一些維護生態措施不能直接減少食物浪費，但它們在減少「碳足跡」(Carbon Footprint)方面發揮了重要作用。一些餐館老闆充分正視食物運送過程中所可能產生的破壞環境問題，紛紛從當區的農場直接進貨，採購水果、蔬菜與雞肉等等食材。根據「自然-食品」(Nature Food)，人數的肉食習慣導致肉類供應鏈生產所產生60%的溫室氣體排放量。所以推廣素食與細胞培育肉類也是減少飼養食用性生畜相關的飼料與處理牲畜排泄物的有效代替方法，對環境保護有良好的影響。
註 1: 環保署「問題與解決方案 處理廚餘的挑戰」修訂日期 : 二零二三年一月十一日 available at: https://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/tc_chi/environmentinhk/waste/prob_solutions/food_waste_challenge.html
註 2: Nele Fabian & Loretta Ieng Tak Lou「The Struggle for Sustainable Waste Management in Hong Kong: 1950s -2010s」in Worldwide Waste Journal, Vol. 2, Issue 1, 2019 at p 3 available at:!https://worldwidewastejournal.com/articles/10.5334/wwwj.40
註 3: Wikipedia「Waste Management in Hong Kong」available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_management_in_Hong_Kong
註 4: Victoria Burrows「Hong Kong restaurants are getting greener – at last: from fine dining Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental and Michelin-starred Mono to Vicky Lau’s Mora, sustainability is finally on the table」20.06.2023 available at: https://amp.scmp.com/magazines/100-top-tables/article/3224674/hong-kong-restaurants-are-getting-greener-last-fine-dining-amber-landmark-mandarin-oriental-and
also see: https://www.timeout.com.hk/hong-kong/hk/酒吧/penicillin
註 5: 同上，註 1
註 6: O.PARK1「O.PARK1是…」available at: https://www.opark.gov.hk/tc/
註 7: Meg Arroll & Louise Atkinson「The Shrinkology Solution」London: Quadrille 2018 at p 56