Food waste is a severe environmental and ethical issue in the modern world. While up to three billion people globally cannot afford a healthy diet, more than 3,600 tonnes of food waste are sent to landfills each day in Hong Kong alone. This worldwide problem of overconsumption is getting more serious—especially here in Asia, where we are responsible for over 50 percent of all food waste. While there are many small, daily choices consumers can make to reduce wastage, it would be a lot more impactful if businesses and corporations invest in food waste solutions as well.
Hong Kong’s past sustainability projects relied heavily on government and non-profit-making organisations. This is a model we have been employing in neoliberalism, believing social issues, including environmental crises, shall be taken care of by states or other non-profit organisations.
In Hong Kong, the most renowned anti-food-waste campaign is Food Wise Hong Kong, which is a government programme committed to promoting awareness of the waste management problem. Through recognising the waste reduction effect of local businesses and organisations, this programme encourages private sectors to adopt measures to reduce food waste generation within their establishments.
In 2018, O. Park, another governmental project, initiated the first anaerobic digestion technology, which converts approximately 82,000 tonnes of food waste to generate electricity. Right now, its daily capacity to engulf waste is 200 tonnes—only one-twentieth of the total waste volume generated by the city.
On the other hand, many local food charities, such as Feeding Hong Kong, Breadline, Food Angel, and Food For Good, are actively supplying surplus food to local crisis shelters—a redistribution of food based on needs. Rather than solely focusing on the topic of food waste management, these organisations respond to the humanitarian concern of food insecurity in Hong Kong.
The Food Recovery Hierarchy is a scale that is used to evaluate waste management options. Each category represents a different method of managing food waste. At the top level of the hierarchy is the best way to prevent and divert wasted food: source reduction. At this stage, the waste can mainly be directed to primary producers and final consumers. If we reduce the volume of surplus food generated, it directly prevents pollution related to food production by reducing methane emissions and other energies used during the production line. After that, the next best thing is to feed hungry people, feed animals, industrial uses, composting and, at last, landfill.
According to studies, our current practice focuses more on human re-use than prevention. Such misplacement, on a large scale, cumulates to a devastating level of mismanagement of global resources. It is important to note that recycling, even if done many times, cannot compensate for the resources that had been depleted in the process.
The most effective way to tackle food waste is through source reduction, which means delivering meaningful education, raising awareness, promoting active communication across sectors, and providing eco-training to achieve conscious consumption. If the primary source of waste is linked with overconsumption rather than just our waste management systems, does that mean businesses should be involved?
The root cause of the environmental crisis is due to our unsustainable way of doing business—“take, make, and dispose”—for the last 10 decades. This pandemic was a massive shock to our economy, but it also pushes us to think deeper. Now is the time for green entrepreneurs to shine and rebrand the commercial community, enforcing the idea that profits making is not equal to exploitation. This is especially exciting when technology is involved.
Dutch supermarket Albert Heijin took the lead to employ artificial intelligence (AI) for food waste reduction. Using an algorithm to assess various factors, this AI scheme adjusts discount dynamically based on the shelf life of a product; the shorter shelf life, the higher the discount. This technology aims to reduce the amount of end-of-sale products left over at the end of the day, and avoid unnecessary food waste in the food and beverage industry.
This global green movement has already landed in our own city—more Hong Kong start-ups are born with a green mission. Already popular in France, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, Phenix is introduced to Hong Kong as a joint venture with OnTheList, a sustainable fashion concept that hosts pop-up sales in collaboration with various retail brands to help them offload past season items. In the same vein, Phenix by OnTheList is a food rescue mobile application intended to help merchants to sell surplus food—which would otherwise be discarded—at a discount.
Combating the food waste issue is a long and universal fight. Meaningful change to our current food system can only be made through a joint effort by all stakeholders including governments, NGOs, businesses, and individuals. Are you ready to change your lifestyle and embrace the eco-era? Together, let’s fight against food waste!