In Hong Kong, over 3,600 tonnes of food waste is generated every day and most is sent directly to the landfill. According to a report by the Audit Commission of the HKSAR Government released in November 2015, daily food waste generated in Hong Kong was increased by 13% from 3,227 tonnes in 2004 to 3,648 tonnes in 2013 (link). Over the years, the government has launched different food waste management pilot programmes and awareness raising campaigns to reduce the huge amount of food waste. However, the effectiveness of these interventions has been limited. In this article, some good examples are cited which can provide insights for the Hong Kong government to address the food waste problem.
Prohibit disposal of unsold food
In May 2015, the France National Assembly passed the legislation to prohibit supermarkets to throw away or destroy unsold food, mandating supermarkets to donate it to charities. Guillaume Garot, former food minister of France, said “It's scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible food” (link). In 2012, Hong Kong’s supermarkets and bakery shops were criticized by local NGOs for throwing away and destroying unsold food (link). Although improvements have been made with some of them starting to donate the unsold food to NGOs and people in need, there is a lack of transparency in terms of the amount and types of food donated and which shops participated. Further, the effectiveness and impact of those initiatives is always unknown. A similar approach to what France has done could be considered by the government in Hong Kong to reduce food waste produced and to create positive impact in the society.
Mandatory food waste data disclosure
Tesco, one of the biggest retailers in the UK, took the lead to publish food waste data on their website since May 2014 (link) on a voluntary basis. Disclosure of food waste data is important for companies and the general public to track performance. However, companies in general are not willing to disclose how much food waste they produce and dump in the landfill. The Environmental, Social and Governance Reporting Guideline (“the Guide”) by the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited has made the first step towards mandatory disclosure of waste data by companies. In the key performance indicators A1.3 and A1.4, companies listed in Hong Kong are required to disclose the amount of waste generated starting from financial year 2017 onward. Although the Guide does not require the amount of food waste to be separately disclosed, it sets a good start for companies to consider measuring food waste in advanced, particularly those in the food and beverage industry. For non-listed companies, other laws and regulations are required for mandatory disclosure of food waste generation.
Charging for municipal solid waste
With two thirds of food waste coming from domestic sources, educating citizens on food waste separation and collection is the first and vital step to reduce food waste generation. The Food Waste Recycling Project in Housing Estates, covering 11 housing estates in Hong Kong (link), was launched in 2011 by the Hong Kong government as a pilot programme to raise awareness of food waste management. The government should leverage the experience of the programme and expand its coverage to more residential areas to prepare residents for the quantity-based charging scheme implementation as stated in the Policy Address 2016 (link). In Korea, the producer-pays principle launched in 1990s had created significant awareness of waste generation and disposal amongst the public. The programme achieved a successful outcome – increasing the recycling rate of food waste from 2% in 1995 to 95% in 2009. As the food waste recycling rate in Hong Kong is less than 1%, there is an urgent need to turn awareness of Hong Kong citizens into actions before the legislation comes into effect.
Ensure business buy-in and effective logistics arrangement
In Taipei, comprehensive end-to-end logistics are in place to ensure the sorted and collected waste is treated appropriately on recycling sites. Trucks are allocated to collect and organise over 30 categories of waste. In Hong Kong, most residential areas lack the space to install a food waste decomposer, therefore adequate logistics are crucial for effective food waste management. The food waste management programme of The Hong Kong Airport Authority (“HKAA”) sets a good example of collaboration amongst shops and restaurants at the airport to collect food waste (link). In 2014, HKAA extended the programme to other corporate partners with Swire Properties and The Link REIT to expanding the food waste collection area outside the airport. To further expand the food waste collection for recycling, collaboration among different sectors and effective logistics is key.
It is encouraging to see the recent infrastructure investments by the Hong Kong government to address the food waste issue like the plan to open the first organic waste treatment facility in 2017 and to turn existing sewage treatment work facilities for food waste/sewage sludge anaerobic co-digestion. However, these investments need to be supplemented by education of business sectors and general public on the use of facilities. To achieve the target of reducing food waste in Hong Kong by 40% by 2020 (link), rather than continuing general awareness raising campaigns and pilot programmes, the full participation of every industry and individual in Hong Kong seems to be the only solution.
Photo credit: figure 4 of A Food Waste & Yard Waste Plan for Hong Kong 2014 – 2022 (link)