Food waste from HK businesses shoots up

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 October, 2010, 12:00am

The food waste generated by businesses in Hong Kong has almost tripled in the past eight years while that of households is falling.

While domestic food waste declined by 5 per cent from 2005 to 2009, businesses produced 37 per cent more food waste in the same period. Last year's total was nearly triple that in 2002. The figures shed further light on the city's dubious distinction as the world's most wasteful society.

A green group said the rise in the number of mainland visitors since individual travel was allowed could be a factor, but the trade said there were now more restaurants than ever and Hong Kong people needed to be more aware of not wasting food.

The number of restaurants is at an all-time high of 14,000, up from the trough of 8,000 during the Sars outbreak in 2003.

The South China Morning Post published figures yesterday showing that each Hong Kong resident on average produced 921 kilograms of waste a year - more than Norway, the most wasteful of 30 advanced economies surveyed last year, and twice that in Japan and South Korea.

Commenting on this, the environment minister blamed food waste but said the government was happy with the city's efforts in recycling other types of waste. 'Our population growth might be small but we have more economic activities and 30 million visitors coming to our city ... leading to an apparent increase in food waste,' Edward Yau Tang-wah said.

He highlighted the fact that the amount of waste dumped in landfills - 1.28kg per person a day - had gradually levelled off in the past five years because of efforts to recycle waste. But he admitted people had been generating more waste overall in the past decade, about half of which ended up in landfills.

Of all the waste dumped in landfills, food accounts for about 40 per cent, amounting to 3,280 tonnes a day in 2009. The city's two million households pile up 2,316 tonnes, while commercial and industrial enterprises generate the rest.

Michelle Au Wing-tze, a waste specialist with Friends of the Earth, said she would not rule out a link between the rise in food waste from the business sector and the mainland's relaxation of travel restrictions to Hong Kong after 2003.

She said the government should consider a rubbish disposal fee for businesses to deter them from generating excessive waste, while more should be done to assist separation of food waste on housing estates.

But Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, doubted the impact of mainland tourists on waste. 'We can't put all the blame on tourists as we have more restaurants now than ever before - and Hong Kong has a low level of awareness when it comes to not wasting food,' he said.

Of the city's 14,000 restaurants, about 2,000 are fast-food stores, 2,300 Chinese restaurants and 7,500 cafes known locally as cha chaan teng. The rest are Japanese, Western and other restaurants.

Some businesses are already trying to reduce food waste. Danny Catering, which serves 25,000 students a day, pays a private firm to collect up to two tonnes of food waste daily and turn it into pig and fish food. It also donates excess food to a St James' Settlement service centre in Shek Kip Mei.

Yau said the government planned to open a pilot processing centre in Siu Ho Wan on Lantau to tackle food waste. He reiterated that it was society's collective responsibility.

Bin it

Of all the waste dumped in landfills, food accounted for 3,280 tonnes a day last year, or this much of the total: 40%