Plant to tackle food-waste mountain

Environmental agency trial will turn a fraction of the city's leftovers into fertiliser

Environment chiefs plan a HK$5 million trial to recycle four tonnes of food waste a day - about the amount dumped by four five-star hotels.

The scheme is being launched by the Environmental Protection Department in the face of a more than two-fold increase in the amount of food discarded by the hospitality industry in five years.

The department is looking for a site for two composting units to process the waste into organic fertiliser. The scheme, expected to be launched by the end of this year, is aimed at food waste generated by catering companies, restaurants, breweries and food manufacturers, which makes up nearly 30 per cent of the commercial waste dumped at landfills.

Details of the scheme and its duration are still being worked out by the department but it plans to collect waste from participating businesses and transport it to the composting units.

The restaurant trade admits its customers are wasteful, seldom eating everything that is brought to their tables.

'People enjoying buffets and hotpots cause so much food waste that some restaurants have already formulated policies to fine greedy and wasteful customers,' Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades spokesman Simon Wong Ka-wo said.

Department statistics show food waste from these sectors more than doubled from 282 tonnes a day to 701 tonnes from 2000 to 2005.

The pilot plant, expected to cost about HK$5 million, will be managed by consultants from Maunsell Environmental Management. It will turn the waste into about two tonnes of fertiliser for farms and as soil conditioner for landscaping.

An odour-removal system will be designed to minimise the smell.

The four-tonne capacity of the recycling units is about equivalent to the daily food waste of four Island Shangri-La hotels or six JW Marriott hotels.

JW Marriott director of engineering and facilities Eddie Cheng Kwai-mau said the hotel was interested in joining the scheme as it would reduce its expenditure on transporting waste to landfills.

'The total waste volume shrinks after separating food waste from garbage. The fewer trucks you need for transporting waste, the lower the cost,' Mr Cheng said, adding that the Marriott spent about HK$30,000 a month transporting waste.

It would be impractical for the hotel to recycle its own food waste because it had no room for the composting machine. 'We need a food-waste recycling factory for the commercial sector,' he said.

Island Shangri-La director of communications Ilona Yim said the hotel collected 1.2 tonnes of food waste from its restaurants and staff canteen daily, most of it rice, vegetables and surplus food from buffets.

So far, only a few places such as the airport, schools and shopping centres have conducted small-scale recycling programmes.