According to statistics from the Environmental Protection Department, in Hong Kong, solid waste generated daily weighs around 17000 tones, of which around 30% is organic matter (2700 tones) which is roughly equal to 120 double-deck buses in size. Compared this to the US where, revealed by the Environmental Protection Agency, only 12% of waste stream was scrap of food in 2005.
Extra care in disposal is required for these putrescible wastes, otherwise nuisance to the environment will be caused. Food waste not only causes a feculent choking smell, but also discharges a huge amount of concentrated greenhouse gases, methane and polluted water, all of which are leading to the global warming that we highly concerned about.
All the food wastes are currently disposed to landfills, however all the existing landfills will be saturated within 5 years. Construction of new landfill is a problem because of a lack of available space that is far away from residential areas. Therefore, seeking out alternative ways for food waste treatment has become an imperative for the government. Before discussing cutting food waste at its source, there is another possible destiny for surplus food besides disposal – Food recycling. The food waste for food recycling can be categorized into two parts: edible (bread, vegetable and meat) and inedible (bones and eggshell).
Food Waste Processor
Basically, inedible food wastes are useful in that they can be recycled and reused. Through natural biodegradation by bacteria, all the organic waste will be converted into organic fertilizer and soil stabilizer.
According to the journal of “Food waste composting – sustainable organic waste management” (Jonathan, 2003), in some advanced countries in Europe, central food waste treatments has been practiced for years. All the domestic food waste will be collected and transported to central composting facilities which are installed far away from the residential areas. However, this huge facility is not available to Hong Kong owing to the limited area.
The Ecotech Food Waste Processor, a new technology for the same purpose is being tested in Hong Kong, including Hong Kong International Airport, housing estates and universities. Due to the tiny space of Hong Kong, it is well-designed for being used in small communities such as restaurants and housing estates which are the main sources of food waste. A large processing capacity 100kg per day is supported with a small sized machine.
The automatic processor is easy to operate and is equipped with self-adjustment of temperature and moisture which are decisive parameters for the speed of reaction. Also, the specially formulated microbes and materials are used in the processor to increase the rate of biodegradation. To enhance the transportation efficiency, the volume of food waste will be reduced by about 90% in 24 hours. The composite fertilizer contains high nutrient value including nitrogen which is a major element for plant growth.
This new technology is suitable for Hong Kong, as it has limited space. All the food waste can be recycled and become useful materials rather than being disposed in landfill. Besides reducing the load of landfill, the valuable organic materials, which are transformed from the “waste”, are nutrients to our health and the Earth. Since vegetables grown by organic fertilizer is much healthier to human than those grown by chemical fertilizer. Therefore, this processor should be widely used in Hong Kong in order to minimize the amount of food waste and raise public awareness of this exigent problem.
Surplus Food Donation
The Environmental Protection Department stated that “the amount of food wasted by Hong Kong’s restaurants, hotels, and food manufacturers has more than doubled in the past five years.”
Effort should be focused on collecting leftover food donation as a huge pile of edible food waste is created from restaurants every day. Foodlink is a nonprofit organization working on this aspect. It takes surplus food from over 40 hotels and restaurants and delivers it to charity groups such as Home of Love in Sham Shui Po and Action Care that works with the less privileged communities in society.
Regarding to an article “The food chain” (Grace, 2012), about one million people in Hong Kong are suffering from hunger and struggling to fill their stomachs. Freshly cooked food is something that they cannot support on a daily basis, especially for the one million people in Hong Kong who are living below the poverty line. Actually, those government-sponsored food banks only provide canned or prepackaged food which is unhealthy in the long term. On the contrary, the hot leftover food from the hotels and restaurants is nutrient rich.
In fact, this creates a triple win situation for the landfills, charities and hotels. By examining the amount of excess food that transport to the charity, the hotel can determine the appropriate quantity of food for each day. Eventually, not only less food waste will be produced, but the cost of excess food production and food waste treatment can be reduced and eliminated. Also, less recyclable food will be wasted and disposed to landfills. Therefore sponsorship to those charities and public promotions is an obligation for the Hong Kong government.
As the old saying goes “Prevention is better than cure”, cutting the food waste at its source is the best ways to solve this issue. However, despite there being less food waste being disposed to landfills, the food waste problem will continue to occur if the eating habits do not change.
Food waste charge
Similar to the solid garbage charges being promoted in the past few months, food waste charges could be implemented in restaurants to minimize this problem commercially. According to Friends of the Earth, in the catering industry, hotel buffets and restaurants that offer “all you can eat” are the major sources of uneaten food, which then goes into the landfills.
Many customers whose “eyes are bigger than their stomachs” usually order far more dishes that they are able to consume, so the surplus food eventually has to be disposed of. Some hot pot restaurants that provide “all you can eat” strictly charge the leftover food per kilogram in order to minimize the problem. However, only a few hotel buffets in Hong Kong are willing to charge for the uneaten food since it may lower its attractiveness.
In foreign countries, London and America are good role models that are attempting to use this policy to solve the food waste issue. A Chinese restaurant Kylin Buffet in London will charge a $32 “wastage fee” for the excess food. A “guilty fee” is imposed to charge the uneaten food in a Japanese restaurant located in Manhattan.
In order to enhance the popularity of food waste charges, promotion and communications with restaurants are necessary for the government. Through this policy, it arouses public awareness of food waste so that the eating habit may finally improve. Since the food waste fee acts as a reminder and warning to customers to make self-adjustments to their appetite.
All in all, for thousands of years, famine has continued to happen somewhere throughout human history. In fact, the current food production and storage in the world is more than enough to support the whole populations if we are able to minimize food waste. The food waste processor, leftover food donation and fee charging are the substantive measures to minimize the food waste and reduce the load of landfills from two main aspects (usage and source of food waste). As a Chinese proverb says “every grain is from hard toil”, hardship is required in food growing, we should cherish food and respect the nature that nurtures us.
1. Food Waste Management in HK. (2011). Environmental Protection Department. Retrieved from http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/environmentinhk/waste/prob_solutions/owt_food.html
2. Municipal Solid Waste in The United States – 2009 Facts and Figures. (2010). Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/wastes/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2009rpt.pdf
3. Jonathan, W. (2003, May). Food waste composting – sustainable organic waste management. New Horizons, 3, 12-13. Retrieved from http://www.hkbu.edu.hk/~cpro/online_pub/nh0203/nh0203_12-13.pdf
4. Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong – Waste Statistics for 2011. (2012). Environmental Protection Department. Retrieved from https://www.wastereduction.gov.hk/en/materials/info/msw2011.pdf
5. Grace, T. (2012, April 19). The Food Chain. Retrieved from http://hk.asia-city.com/city-living/article/food-chain
6. Order Less Waste Less. (2012). Friends of the Earth. Retrieved from http://www.foe.org.hk/welcome/geten.asp?id_path=1,%207,%2028,%20150,%204310,%204566