Date
28 March 2017
Although the government has been encouraging Hongkongers to be “food wise” for years, using the cartoon character Big Waster, residents of the city still throw away hundreds of tonnes of food every day. Photo: HKEJ
Although the government has been encouraging Hongkongers to be “food wise” for years, using the cartoon character Big Waster, residents of the city still throw away hundreds of tonnes of food every day. Photo: HKEJ

Why Hongkongers are still Big Wasters of food

The government has been encouraging Hongkongers to be “food wise” for years, using the cartoon character Big Waster.

But residents of the city still throw away a lot of food every day.

In 2013, we sent about 3,600 tonnes of food waste to landfills daily, of which more than a quarter came from the food and beverage industry, Environmental Protection Department figures show.

While the city has been promoting the services of food banks for more than a decade, some of these organizations said only 30 percent of the food they give out comes from donors, and they have to buy the other 70 percent in the market.

The Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund (the SIE fund), a task force of the Commission on Poverty, hopes to improve things by setting up an online surplus food platform.

Professor Cheung Yan-leung, chairman of the fund, said it plans to earmark HK$1 million in seed capital for setting up the platform, through which food donors and related non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can exchange information.

The SIE fund is now receiving proposals and hopes to launch the platform in the first quarter of next year.

Cheung said food bank service points are not evenly distributed across Hong Kong, and large companies tend to cooperate with a few large distributors of surplus food in the city, which leads to a mismatch between supply and demand.

With the new platform, Cheung expects food banks to be able to find food sources near the community they serve.

St. James’ Settlement is the pioneer of the surplus food campaign in Hong Kong.

The group has run an inexpensive community canteen — the People’s Food Bank — for over 12 years.

Ng Man-yin, senior service manager of the People’s Food Bank, said most of the donors are local farms and food suppliers.

They often donate foods that are expiring soon or those with damaged packaging.

The food bank has to collect its food supplies from around the city.

Ng said although its kitchen is centralized in Kwun Tong, more often than not it has to go to another district, sometimes as far as Kwai Chung, in order to collect frozen meat from donors.

The group hopes the online surplus food platform will help it find donors nearby.

However, some NGOs believe the new platform won’t solve all the problems.

The World Green Organization is one of the local groups that distributes surplus food to people who need it.

Fung Sze-lai, the group’s assistant project manager, believes the new online platform will succeed in matching up donors with receivers of food.

However, she thinks that the biggest obstacle that surplus food campaigns have been facing is the lack of incentives for potential donors.

“Restaurants can send food waste to landfills without paying a dime, but they have to pay for the logistics cost when they give away the surplus food to NGOs,” Fung said.

“Sometimes the organizations have to be the one who bear these costs.

“If a waste charging scheme is implemented, potential donors will be motivated, as the cost of giving away surplus food will be lower than throwing it away.” 

Surging rents, high transport costs and the high turnover rate of cooks are other obstacles surplus food campaigns have been facing.

The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 15.

Translation by Betsy Tse

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal

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