The old saying "waste not, want not" is more than just a nugget of wisdom passed down through the generations. When put into practice, it helps reduce waste, save money and improve the environment. Sadly, Hong Kong remains one of the most wasteful places on earth. Every day, some 3,500 tonnes of food end up in landfills, accounting for two-fifths of solid waste. With famine still stalking parts of the world, the wastage not only puts shame on our society, but calls into question our waste management strategy and our commitment to sustainable development.
It is encouraging that the problem is being treated as a priority by the new government. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has appointed a steering committee to work out comprehensive strategies for reducing food waste by households and businesses. Apart from improving co-ordination within government and public institutions, the committee will facilitate food donations to charity.
Hong Kong is lagging seriously behind some developed countries in reducing food waste. In 2009, Britain declared a "war on waste" with a shake-up in food labelling and packaging. Some European countries have mandated waste reduction through legislation. The target set by the Leung administration of a 10 per cent reduction in three years appears modest. It is, nonetheless, a good starting point. Activists believe it could be raised to 30 per cent. With better co-ordination and more vigorous promotion, there is no reason we cannot adopt a more aggressive target in the longer term.
It takes only small behavioural changes to make a big difference. Cooking with the right portions at home, stopping the stockpiling of perishable food, ordering fewer dishes at restaurants are common-sense solutions but are too often overlooked. Manufacturers, supermarkets and food outlets also have a role to play. They can review food processing practices to reduce waste, donate unsold produce to the needy or turn food residue into compost or animal feed. Let's act together.