As the holiday season rolls around, it’s a good reminder to all of us that food and food waste is a problem on a global scale. But the problem closer to home in Hong Kong might shock you more than you realise. A Hong Kong mama offers practical solutions that we can all implement in our daily lives, especially around Christmas time.
Why should you and I care about food waste? Two numbers explain why: 3,000 tonnes and 20%. The number 3,000 irks me. Let me share why it might irk you too. Did you know that 3,000 tonnes of food waste get sent to the landfills in Hong Kong, each day? 3,000 tonnes. That’s the weight of:
- 15,000,000 mooncakes from the Mid-Autumn Festival
- 250 double-decker buses getting transported to already overflowing landfills
- Or, in the most current and relevant terms, 430,000 Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys!
If this number alone is not shocking enough, the second number that gets me out of bed is 20%. 20% of Hong Kong’s population lives below the poverty line. This means one in five individuals in our city have food insecurity (don’t know if they can obtain three meals a day) and rely on government subsidies and NGOs like Feeding Hong Kong, J-Life and YWAM Tuen Mun for food handouts.
How can there be such a huge disparity and imbalance of resources on a small island like Hong Kong? When I see these two numbers (3,000 tonnes of food waste and 20% below the poverty line) positioned next to each other, I know that the fight against food waste in our city is even more imperative. Our efforts can feed the hungry while omitting waste at the source.
As a Social Impact consultant, I often quote these two numbers and receive genuine incredulous reactions (“How is this even physically possible?”) followed closely by a look of resignation (“Well, there’s nothing I can do about it…”). But there is. Read on if you’re hungering to make a difference.
Best Before Vs Used By Dates: A Common Mistake That Causes Food Waste In Hong Kong
It was World Food Day earlier this year and the theme for 2021 focused on “It’s Your Day!” highlighting that individuals, like you and me, have the agency to affect change. Gabrielle Kirstein of Feeding Hong Kong says
“It’s Your Day” is about the power of individuals to enact change and realising that our actions are our future.”
She continues: “But first, it is our responsibility to bring awareness of the problem and educate with easy tangible action points.”
The first hack that Kirstein shares with us is a simple fact that will save you money, increase the lifespan of your food, and decrease food waste:
Feeding Hong Kong has been trying to teach Hongkongers how to get the best use of their food supplies.
- Best Before dates refer to the quality of food but is still safe to consume.
- Use By dates refers to food safety – do not consume foods after this date.
Many of us are not aware of this difference, and throw away foods at Best Before dates when there could be weeks, maybe even years, of viability.
Reducing Everyday And Holiday Food Waste In Hong Kong: 3 Ideas For Individual Action
In our waste deep situation, and in the neighbourhood of hungry families in our community, it is vital we make a dent in that hideous number: 3,000 tonnes. Much of what we need to do is common sense: buy only what you need, use what you buy and share or save what can be used by someone else or at another time. But perhaps supplementing a few more ideas may be helpful.
Tackling The Food Waste Problem: Awareness And Education
Feeding Hong Kong is currently working on the Jockey Club Community Sustainability Fund “Food Wanted, Not Wasted” Education Programme to educate key stakeholders on the issues of food waste, food insecurity, and the solution of food banking.
The full rollout will be in the upcoming months – check back frequently on the Feeding Hong Kong website for more information. This programme also features a series of free videos called “Chefs in the Community,” an initiative where famous local chefs share how to cook quick, easy and budget-friendly recipes that minimises food waste and maximises nutrition.
In one video, Chef Vicky Cheng from VEA teaches us how to cook with only a rice cooker, while Chefs Ashley Salmon and Teigan Morrison from Roganic demonstrate how to cook delicious tacos with only canned foods. Other chefs who volunteered for this series include Chef Manav Thuli from Chaat, Chef Li from Legacy House, Chef Vicky Lau from TATE, and Chef Jamie Draper from Mr Wolf.
Rooftop Republic, an urban farming social enterprise, has Learning Garden, a dynamic hands-on gardening experience, to integrate into school curriculums. Families who want a first-hand understanding of how an urban farm can yield an abundance of varied, organic produce, can visit MetroPlaza to tour Rooftop Republic’s MetroGreen Urban Farm Experience.
For more entertaining and educational stimulation, a visit to O.PARK1 is another way to learn about Hong Kong’s food waste problem. O.PARK1 is our city’s first renewable energy resource centre where food waste is converted to biogas for electricity generation, and the residue can be utilised as compost for agriculture and landscaping.
During the tour, you will be greeted with singing and dancing rubbish bins, and find yourself in a 360-degree dome theatre watching a short film narrated by a cheesecake and broccoli. At one point the full extent of the aroma of 200 tonnes of food waste will assault your senses. Triple mask up – it’s absolutely worth the trip!
Tackling The Food Waste Problem: Donate Food Surplus
Feeding Hong Kong collects surplus ambient, chilled and frozen foods from food companies along the supply chain and delivers these to frontline charities directly feeding people in need. Individuals can donate packaged goods like tinned food and packets of rice at Community Collection Points across Hong Kong. For hands-on involvement, check out their volunteer opportunities for individuals, corporates and school-aged students (such as Bread Run, sorting foods at their warehouse).
Food Angel creates hot meal boxes and food packs for distribution to underprivileged communities. They accept food and drinks still in their packaging, fresh food (fruits and vegetables), cooked food, bakery items, as well as frozen food. They have several collection points located in various shopping malls in Hong Kong.
Food Grace is a local organisation in the New Territories (Tai Po, Yuen Long and Kwai Chung) whose mission is to recycle surplus fresh fruits and vegetables, mainly from wet markets but you can donate your household surplus as well. It also aims to link communities together with initiatives such as the “Food Friendship” Food Recycling Scheme in Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin, Kowloon City and Tuen Mun District.
Food-Co, started by St. James’ Settlement, is another platform for facilitating food donations.
Tackling The Food Waste Problem: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Hong Kong has about one cafe or restaurant for every 600 residents. With a plethora of choices, eateries often have a surplus of perishable foods at the end of a business day. This is where the idea of the Mystery Food Box comes from. Food and drinks that are not sold during the day or have a short shelf life are packaged together and sold at deep discounts on online platforms. For merchants, it provides a sustainable solution to reduce unsold food, while consumers can choose which F&B outlets they want their Mystery Box from.
One of these apps is Phenix launched by On The List (famous for its flash sales). Partner F&Bs include Pret-A-Manger, Holiday Inn Golden Mile, Little Mermaid, Matchali and Chickpea. Unsold food is offered at a discounted price here that is 50% off at the minimum.
Chomp, is another local app. Visit its Facebook page to learn #tuesdaytips – smart food hacks on how to utilise every part of the food including apple peels, broccoli stems, wilting herbs, and the technique of pickling, an often forgotten art.
Olio, while not a mystery box app, is another sustainable solution that encourages food sharing. This app directly connects donors of surplus food with beneficiaries.
Read more: How To Teach Your Kids About Sustainability
Other Quick Tips For Reducing Food Waste At Christmas
- Don’t cook it all! It’s easy to overestimate while ordering your Christmas ingredients.
- Drop off food at your neighbours or give it to your helper.
- Use leftovers for new recipes like the chefs above.
- Make the most of your freezer and store any leftovers to see you into the new year.
Waste Charging Scheme In Hong Kong
But wait! Before you go, no article on food waste in Hong Kong can fail to mention the waste charging scheme revealed by the Legislative Council earlier this year. In Taipei and South Korea, 65% and 40% decreases in waste disposal were recorded, respectively, after the scheme was established. I hope we see the same decreases in Hong Kong. While I applaud the government’s effort to bring this scheme to fruition, it bears to mention the scheme was first brought up in 2005! Sixteen years later, we are now in an 18-month consultation phase…
A waste charging scheme has proven to be an effective solution, but it is unclear when the scheme will launch. Don’t wait for the scheme to launch to make changes. Make changes today, because you don’t need to wait for World Food Day to realise “It’s Your Day!”.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in October 2021 and updated in December 2021.