When families feast at Chinese restaurants to celebrate the winter solstice tonight, they should spare a thought for reducing food waste.
Friends of the Earth estimates that about one-fifth of the food at banquets goes straight into the rubbish bin. In the past two weeks, the green group went to four wedding and company banquets serving Chinese dishes in hotels. More than 1,200 guests in total were served.
Leftovers from the four banquets weighed 400kg, amounting to 22 per cent of the total amount of food served. Dessert, rice and noodles, which usually came at the end of a banquet, were often passed over by diners.
'Some dishes of fried rice and noodles were untouched when they were taken back to kitchens and dumped,' said Michelle Au Wing-tsz, the green group's senior environmental affairs officer. 'Banquet hosts should reduce the number of courses from eight to six.'
The group estimated that the guests ate only 62 per cent of the noodles, 65 per cent of dessert - glutinous rice with coconut milk - and 67 per cent of the fried rice at the four banquets. In contrast, they ate almost all the roast pork - 99 per cent - served at the start of meals.
Across the city, the daily amount of food waste went up one-tenth last year, to 3,280 tonnes from 2,995 tonnes in 2008. Of the total, 964 tonnes, or 29 per cent, was thrown out by commercial or industrial sources. Seventy-one per cent came from households.
Up to 45 per cent of non-household food waste came from banquets, according to Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, who said more operators were recognising the need not to waste food.
During Mother's Day and Lunar New Year, caterers serve as many as 30,000 tables a day, each filled with 12 guests. On an average day, they served about 7,000 tables, Wong said.
Wong met people from 15 chains overseeing about 50 restaurants last week, and they supported the idea of reducing waste.
'Caterers can save on costs if they serve fewer dishes,' he said. 'It is a win-win situation for diners and restaurants in the face of increasing food costs.'
Food prices in Hong Kong jumped 6 per cent year on year last month, the consumer price index shows.
Over the past two years, one-fifth of companies have cut the number of courses from eight to six at their banquets, Wong said.
Bernard Chan, chairman of the Council for Sustainable Development, said many people went to banquets not for the food, but to socialise.
The former lawmaker suggested Chinese restaurants adopt the Western way of serving food to individual diners, not a large dish for the whole table. If only three guests were at a table, they should be served enough for three, not 12 people, he said.
To reduce food waste, people had to get out of the habit of ordering more than they needed, Au said.
In South Korea, the amount of food that went to landfills or incinerators dropped by more than 70 per cent from 1997 to 2007 after the government introduced a fee on its disposal and encouraged recycling. The Environment Bureau in Hong Kong said it would encourage government colleagues to order six dishes instead of eight at spring banquets, and to take away leftover food, a bureau spokesman said.
Hard to digest
A Friends of the Earth study found this much food was thrown away after four Hong Kong banquets: 400kg