Time to step up efforts towards food waste reduction

August 20, 2019 11:25
As the mooncake season approaches, it is an opportune moment to educate people about food waste, Vincent Wong writes. Photo: Reuters

Recently I went to a buffet party organized by Food Commons at the Fringe Club in Hong Kong. Despite the ongoing social unrest in the city, the community-based network is determined to continue its publicity drive and educational activities.

The event this time aimed to highlight the importance of distributing leftover food to those in need, as part of efforts to resolve the problem of food wastage.

As we approach the Mid-Autumn Festival, adverts selling mooncakes are everywhere. It is an opportune moment to educate people about food waste.

Donating excess mooncakes to elderly singletons via NGOs is a common practice. The problem is recipients might feel bad about refusing the well-intentioned donation, and would sometimes accept more mooncakes than they could consume, leading to so-called secondary food waste, as mooncakes left would be thrown away as they reach expiration date.

To prevent such waste from happening, more careful planning is needed in the donation drive.

In this case, for example, charity organizations should make a rough guess, right at the beginning, as to how many mooncakes they would need. Once they have got enough, they should turn down additional donations.

Meanwhile, donors should bear in mind that each organization may only have limited demand. Rather than asking them to take more than they need, donors should hook up with more counterparties in order to make their donation efforts truly effective.

Nowadays, many Hong Kong people are also keen to turn potential food waste into other food products, such as bread made with soya bean remains; winter melon water; beer or tea bacteria, and sell them in modern, attractive packaging.

Some non-edible goods are upcycled to produce coffee compost, and jewelry items are made with pressed flowers, among other initiatives.

That said, given the lack of scale, some of these products may seem a bit expensive, even for middle-class consumers.

To address the above issue, the upcoming District Council elections will present an opportunity, as the candidates can be enlisted into the campaign for food wastage reduction.

As mentioned in a previous article, it is likely that pro-democracy groups will win over half of the electoral seats across the 18 districts. Consider the impact if these groups —generally supportive of environmental protection campaigns—can do a bit more to help.

By improving the collection efforts of leftover food, and helping social enterprises that upcycle those into new products to access the market (residents of the public estates might be a good target), the cost of production can be slashed and the business volume can be expanded.

Some sort of profit-sharing mechanism can be installed to provide an incentive for participants.

As the operations of environmental protection enterprises become more efficient and profitable, more “green jobs” can be created, in turn giving a further boost to food reuse, recycling and upcycling.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 14

Translation by Jennifer Wong

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ contributor