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Illustration by Kitty N. Wong

If you like to cook, you would have noticed the excess of kitchen scraps that are thrown away each time you're chopping, slicing or peeling. From carrot tops to potato peels, to bones and skins, they all go straight into the bin. And even if you're not much of a cook – have you ever stopped to wonder where all your unfinished meals go?

For most of us in Hong Kong, the answer is simple – the bulk of it is dumped into our landfills, which are filling up at rates so alarming, the government has little idea what to do after 2018, when all of Hong Kong's landfills are projected to be full. Around one-third of what we’re sending to landfills is food waste, and around 70 per cent of that comes from households. In every developed country, the problem is no longer the lack of food, but the management of excess.

Preventing waste is the first step – easily done by not ordering more than you can eat, or asking for a doggy bag, or having leftovers for lunch. But we can’t eat apple cores and eggshells, so what can we do?

The general consensus for waste management is that separation of waste at the source, and recycling it, will limit the amount of irrecoverable waste in the first place. While not yet perfect, the recycling of paper, plastic, metal and so on, are underway, but we appear to be stalling on food. Aside from taking up precious space, unprocessed food waste generates methane, a greenhouse gas, as well as wastewater, neither of which can be managed or controlled once in a landfill.

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Illustration by Kitty N. Wong

Is the Hong Kong Government doing something about this?

Currently on the Environmental Protection Department’s agenda for waste management are Organic Waste Treatment Facilities, which turns food waste into compost and biofuel. In addition, there are proposals for the expansion of landfills, and an Integrated Waste Management Facility, at the centre of which is an incinerator, on a reclaimed island near Shek Kwu Chau off the southern coast of Lantau.

The Organic Waste Treatment Facilities, however, will only serve commercial waste, and the incinerator has been harshly criticised by green groups for its potential for air pollution, ecological harm, substantial investment and running costs, and outdated incineration technology. The plan has been shelved by the Legislative Council, and the Environmental Protection Department is now conducting further investigation into technologies and methods. Nonetheless, even if an incinerator were to be built right now, it wouldn’t be complete before landfills were full.

The Government developed a pilot composting plant in Kowloon Bay in 2008, and a Food Waste Recycling Partnership Scheme began late 2009, involving commercial and industrial sectors, such as hotels and supermarkets. The Department plans to set up two more food waste processing facilities, in Siu Ho Wan, North Lantau and Shaling in the North District, again serving the commercial and industrial sectors exclusively. The Siu Ho Wan plant was granted a construction permit in 2010, while preliminary studies are still underway for the Shaling plant. Together, the two plants are projected to process 400-500 tonnes of food waste daily, which, using the most recent figure of 1056 tonnes per day, is around half the food waste that is generated by commercial and industrial sectors.

On the subject of domestic food waste, the Environmental Protection Department claims that on a centralised scale, it is too difficult to deal with “because of the very limited household living space in Hong Kong and the hygienic concerns”.

With none of these options open to the general public at present, why not try composting at home? In my next blog post, I’ll be explaining what compost really is, and talking about the ways your can try composting your food waste at home.

It might not be the answer, but might be the best we can do.

Tags: food waste, janice leung hayes, composting, green living, environment, organic waste