During lunch time, it is not uncommon to see that on the plates of the people sitting around you, there are leftover dishes which can literally be re-decorated into a whole new set lunch. In fact, food wastes account for 40% of the solid wastes in Hong Kong and a staggering amount of 3200 tons of food is disposed every day from households, commercial areas and food premises, referring to the figures of Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department. The three landfills in Hong Kong are about to be filled in10-15 years time. In view of this problem, three solutions are proposed including establishing recycling bins for different types of leftovers in housing estates, supermarket chain’s effort of selling unsold food at a cost price to food bank, and the implementation of recycling system in restaurants The solutions are not those which simply entail building food wastes processing factories but those which involve the concerted effort of most sectors in the city since no wastes can be reduced without the participation of business sector and households.
According to EPA(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency),the disposal of food waste, an organic waste which decomposes easily, to landfills is not sustainable as it leads to rapid depletion of the limited landfill space and formation of greenhouse gases such as methane, and wastewater. In view of this problem, restaurants which are of relatively large scale and have a formal wastes disposal system should build recycling systems which involve transporting the food residuals and uncooked food to composting factories and charities communities respectively. Similar to the “Food Recovery Challenge” hold by the in the University of Berkeley, the unsold food could be packed by staffs or volunteers and transferred to charities and food banks while the leftover food were separated for compost transformation in composting plant. Food Recovery Challenge should be implemented by restaurants in Hong Kong which are large enough that they would not be vulnerable to rises in cost as the scheme would raise the operating cost in the short term. However the scheme can reduce the purchasing cost and waste fees of dumping solid wastes. Also, it tackles the problem that most food waste from the "distribution" stage is not recycled including unsold food at supermarkets and lunch boxes and hamburger meat that have passed the expiration date at convenience stores. According to a research conducted by Sustainable Restaurant Association(SRA), 65% of food is wasted during preparation stage while only 30% are leftovers. Therefore, the suggested solution tackles the core of the problem.
The drawback of the scheme is that businessmen usually focus more on short term profit but ignore long term benefit due to the cost on the collection of undistributed food and. The managers have to take the willingness of staffs and shareholders, if any. Predictably, the progress of the implementation would be slow.
In addition to setting up a recycling system in specific restaurants, it is also desirable to set up recycling bins specified for food wastes. In Japan, such practice has been implemented for 9 years under Japan's Basic Law for Establishing a Recycling-Based Society. The recycling bins can be put in housing estates of larger scale as a pilot scheme since it can lower the average cost per resident that the government may have to afford. In Taiwan, after the recycling scheme was imposed, it has profoundly recycled 35%to 50% of food wastes. Schedule for transportation trucks has to be set so as to ensure that the wastes collected are transported away at the right time. Food would, of course, be processed in composting plant and become composts, pig food. During the process, the food wastes can also be used to generate electricity.Similar technology can be found in California , food scraps are converted into energy in treatment plants as the plant captures methane released while digesting food wastes. (EPA,n.d.)
Some may concern that food bins will attract insects and animals that spread diseases. Also they may not be willing to spend a collecting fee for the recycling but each household is charged 100 yen (about $8) per month In Japan. The cost may be slightly higher in Hong Kong since the distribution of recycle bins should be more intense. The hygiene problem will depend on the efforts made to seal the bin and whether the trucks can follow schedule tightly but it would require stricter control from the service contractors. To ensure that the collected wastes do not give off smell and disturb the neighbors a schedule must be set. The limitation of the solution is that in order to have the measure to be effective is more composting plants have to be built as currently there is only one operating plant in West Kowloon.
Furthermore, it is suggested that The biggest supermarket chains in Hong Kong, namely Wellcome ,ParkNShop , Jusco and CR Vanguard should collaborate with environmental groups and set up a network of selling food that are about to expire at the cost price given the fact that these four supermarkets contributed 29 tons of edible food to solid waste.Quoting Michelle Au, deputy environmental manager of FoE(Friends of the Earth), supermarkets “have the capability to donate and recycle food waste.” (Elmer,2012 ). Thus, the “Big four” should implement this new policy and work with environmental groups as an action to bear a fair share of the responsibility as it can be justified in two aspects – relieving root- class families from the pressure of soaring food price as well as easing the pressure on the about-to-be-full landfills. Currently similar things are done in wet market and the organization “Green Hong Kong” was found to cope with the vegetables unsold in wet markets. They will be the groups which have potential to help the supermarkets out in the distribution process.
The limitation of the abovementioned solution is that it is likely to be criticized by some as an intervention and manipulation of market by the large supermarket chains. In this argument, the crux lies on whether other competitors are harmed. However, the chains are selling food that are about to expire at a cheaper price to charities or food banks at a price lower than the market price. Instead of reaping profit and exploiting the market, they are shouldering social responsibility and fulfill their responsibility as a “good social enterprise citizen”(Grace Chua,2012) . Market intervention has a definition for practices which “unfairly profiting at a competitor's expense ”. In practice, the customers have to be limited to registered food banks and community centres to ensure that the unsold food would be redistributed to the needy. Transporting may incurs cost at first but the companies will earn profit from selling food that regular customers would not buy anyway. In long run and the costs will be justified. This solution is proposed to lower the amount of wastes produced right from the start.
All three of them serve the same goal of reducing food wastes sent to the landfill but the supermarket collaboration is the best among the three. It is because it is the most effective solution since the recycling plants are not easily accessible in Hong Kong now and the market lack private service providers .Evidently, the ideal situation is that no wastes is ever produced when it comes to reducing the amount of trash discarded to landfills. Besides, The Environmental Protection Department has spent some effort in recycling the wastes but less was dedicated to reducing wastes from the sources comparatively so this solution would be a ground-breaking attempt. The supermarket scheme is a non-profit way to redistribute the food, and it is supported by expert as sustainability researcher Kua Harn-Wei in Singapore said, “There could be better food redistribution and recycling, such as through food banks and other community efforts.”(Grace Chua, 2011).Inevitably, we should focus on recycling since most food wastes are generated by households in long term. In the meantime, however, given the fact that the food waste recycling technology in Hong Kong is not mature, the supermarket collaboration with charities and green groups would be the most ideal solution to food wastage.
Environmental Protection Agency(n.d), Turning Food Waste into Energy at the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) http://www.epa.gov/region9/waste/features/foodtoenergy/
Elmer W. Cagape(2012), HK supermarkets discard 29 tons of edible food daily, http://asiancorrespondent.com/83276/hk-supermarkets-discard-29-tons-of-edible-food-daily/
Chou Chou(2012), translated from Homemakers United Foundation, http://www.huf.org.tw/essay/content/637
Dr. Jonathan Wong(2010), Food waste composting -
sustainable organic waste management, http://cpro.hkbu.edu.hk/online_pub/nh0203/nh0203_12-13.pdf
Chan Hau Lon, University of Berkeley http://scraptosprout.blogspot.hk/2012/11/3000.html
Japan for Sustainable , (2004), Food Waste in Japan
Grace Tsoi, The food Chain(2012) ,
Grace Chua, Cut food waste, redistribute extra food, say experts(2012), retrieved from http://www.greenbusinesstimes.com/2012/07/22/cut-food-waste-redistribute-extra-food-say-experts-news/