Food Waste in Hong Kong

By Sun Yi Fei (Maggie)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background

3. Food Waste on Hong Kong

4. Reducing Food Waste in Hong Kong Schools

5. Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign

6. Solutions and Recommendations

7. Conclusion

8. References

9. About the Author

1. Introduction

Human beings cannot live without food. However, about 795 million people (approximately one in nine people) in the world do not have enough food for a healthy, active life (World Food Programme (WFP), 2015). On the other hand food waste in recent years has become a serious issue all over the world. As indicated by Gustavsson, Cederberg and Sonesson (2011), the per capita food loss and waste worldwide is more than one thousand kilograms. Due to the rapid growth of the world population, the issue is becoming more urgent. Therefore, there is a crucial need for greater awareness about the matter and proper solutions to improve the situation. This entry will explore the problem of food waste in Hong Kong, with a focus on government policies, education initiatives, and what the public can do.

2. Background

Chancellor (2010, p. 4) defines food waste as ‘all the food we do not eat’. As pointed out by Galanakis (2015, p. 7), food waste and food loss occur at various stages, including production, processing, retailing, and consumption (see Figure 1). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2015) reports multiple causes of food waste. They include rigid or misunderstood date marking rules, improper storage, buying and/or cooking practices. Other possible factors can be bad weather, mechanical damage, unnecessarily high standards for quality, poor facilities, transportation, peeling, packaging, expiry periods, and lack of awareness, among others. According to FAO (2013), food waste has a number of negative impacts on land, water, climate and biodiversity. The situation can further lead to pollution, loss of arable land, misuse of water, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Food waste, therefore, demands immediate solutions.

Figure 1.  Stages of food supply chain at which food waste and food loss occur (FAO, 2013)

Figure 1. Stages of food supply chain at which food waste and food loss occur (FAO, 2013)

3. Food Waste in Hong Kong

As a city with a dense population, Hong Kong is facing a severe problem of food waste. According to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) of Hong Kong, in 2012, 9,278 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) was disposed of at landfills every day. About 36% (around 3,337 tons) of this waste was food waste. The food waste disposal is equivalent to throwing away the weight of approximately 250 double-decker buses every 24 hours, or nearly 100,000 double-decker buses every year (Environment Bureau (EB), 2014). The major reasons for food waste in Hong Kong are the low price of food, large portions served, people being too selective about food, people feeling obliged to order more than enough when treating others at restaurants to not lose face, and people not storing food properly (FOE, 2015).

In addition, the EPD (2015) states that ‘the amount of food waste from Commercial and Industry (C&I) sectors has been increasing, from 400 tons in 2002 to 1,003 tons in 2013’. The figure is steadily growing, threatening the ecological and environmental balance. Therefore, greater public attention and effective solutions are in urgent demand.

The government hopes to cut Hong Kong's food waste by 10 per cent in three years. In order to reach this goal, the government has put several solutions into practice. These solutions include mobilizing the community, promoting food waste separation, recycling, treating separated and non-separated food waste, and final disposal (EB, 2014). Moreover, EPD commissioned a pilot food waste composting plant in Kowloon Bay in 2008, and cooperated with the commercial and industrial sectors to conduct food waste recycling and treatment to produce useful compost (EPD, 2005). Additionally the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF) ‘subsidized Home Ownership Scheme and private housing estates to organize education programs on food waste reduction and to install treatment facilities for food waste recycling’ (ISD, 2013). In the following sections, the Hong Kong government’s cooperation with schools to reduce food waste is explored.

4. Reducing Food Waste in Hong Kong Schools

Early childhood education for sustainability, an emerging field, recognizes that early learning is helpful for shaping children’s environmental beliefs, knowledge, and actions (UNESCO, 2008). It is, therefore, advisable to start teaching children to appreciate food at this stage of development. It is especially important to do this at school because, as the FOE’s (2015) findings indicate, ‘10% of commercial and industrial food waste comes from schools, with a quantity of 15,000 tons or over 30 million meal boxes a year’.

To address this problem, the government issued guidelines on meal arrangements in schools. In these guidelines, the word ‘environment’ and the phrase ‘environmentally friendly’ appear more than ten times, emphasizing the importance of being environmentally friendly (Education Bureau (EDB), 2015). Some of the most important guidelines include: promoting environmentally friendly eating habits; encouraging parents to prepare environmentally friendly lunch boxes; promoting responsibility to reduce waste; encouraging application for Community Waste Recovery Projects (Green Lunch) under ECF for installing kitchen facilities, kitchen furniture, dish washing facilities, utensils, and electrical/water installation works; supporting schools to design an environmentally friendly way to recycle containers; asking schools to only consider lunch suppliers that take account of environment protection and so on (EDB, 2015).

Additionally, the Education Bureau issued Circular No. 18/2009: Green lunch in school. Its objective is to encourage schools to use reusable food containers and cutlery; to facilitate students to use reusable cutlery; to portion out food in a flexible manner; to monitor the provision of green lunch on an ongoing basis; and to apply for funding support from ECF for switching from using disposable lunch containers to central portioning of lunch at schools (EDB, 2009). The EB also (2015) developed guidelines on how to promote green lunch in schools, to equip schools and school lunch suppliers with more information on how to be environmentally friendly. The EB (2015) concluded that from the waste reduction perspective, Central/On-Site Portioning is more desirable than Off-Site Portioning, because all the utensils are reusable, and the amount of food can be adjusted on request. Local organizations such as Friends of the Earth, Green Power and Food for Good also provide seminars, workshops, and visits for schools and students. With supports from different departments and organizations, schools can reduce food waste.

Although the process of avoiding food waste in schools is rewarding, the EB has (2015) pointed out some difficulties that can impede the process of implementation of these schemes. First, lunch suppliers may increase the prices if they use lunch boxes that are made from metal or other durable materials, as such materials are more expensive. Second, schools must be spacious enough to accommodate a canteen and the facilities needed for reheating food and washing dishes. Consequently, the lunch price may be higher since lunch suppliers will need to invest in such facilities. Additionally Epochhk (2008) points out that the guidelines are vague, lack a detailed directive, and do not put any constraints on schools and lunch providers. 

5. Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign

Figure 2.  Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign Advertisement (Food Wise Hong Kong, 2013)

Figure 2. Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign Advertisement (Food Wise Hong Kong, 2013)

The Food Wise Hong Kong Steering Committee was set up in 2012 to ‘drive leadership in food waste avoidance and reduction through working with leaders in this field in order to formulate and oversee the implementation of the Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign’ (MyGovHK, 2015). It is chaired by the Secretary for the Environment and is composed of members from relevant sectors including catering, hotels, retail, property management, education, academia, green groups, food recipient organizations, and other concerned government departments (Food Wise Hong Kong, 2013). The objectives of the campaign are:

1. Promote awareness in the community of the waste management problems in Hong Kong.

2. Coordinate efforts within the Government and public institutions to lead by example in food waste reduction.

3. Instill behavioral changes in the community at individual and household levels that will help reduce food waste generation.

4. Draw up and promote good practices on food waste reduction of commercial and industrial establishments.

5. Encourage leadership in the commercial, industrial and community sectors to take action and share best practices.

6. Facilitate food donation between the establishments with surplus food with charitable organizations in the community (Food Wise Hong Kong, 2013).

The committee frequently holds activities and events including promotion of food waste reduction schemes in different districts; workshops for households, shopping malls, hospitals, NGOs, social services, schools and higher education institutions; a Reduce Food Waste Competition; sharing sessions; and food recycling. The campaign takes different parties and stakeholders into consideration, and works hard to raise public awareness of their responsibilities for reducing food waste. Since its launch in 2013, food waste in Hong Kong has decreased from 38% of total MSW (about 3627 tons per day) in 2013 to 37% (about 3619 tons per day) in 2014 (EPD, 2015).

Some critics identify weaknesses of the campaign, however. Woo (2014, p. 40) argues that the ‘Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign mainly relied on the moral motives of Hong Kong residents…Hong Kong people are highly motivated by money…waste charging can have more conspicuous effects because it provides suitable financial incentives’. Woo also claims that having environmental knowledge is not enough. Hong Kong residents should be reminded of food waste source reduction continually and implement daily source reduction habits. Furthermore, the Food Wise Hong Kong Steering Committee can provide a collaboration platform for various stakeholders in the medium term, which can share successful food waste reduction experience, share food waste recycling facilities, and help each other overcome leftover reduction difficulties (Food Wise, 2013). Apple Daily (2015) reports that among 198 vendors from 18 markets, 66% did not participate in Food Wise because they did not know about the campaign or how to get involved. To improve the campaign, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be invited to assist the Committee. 

6. Solutions and Recommendations

To reduce food waste, the stages at which food waste and food loss occur should be understood (see Figure 1). Workshops for stakeholders should cover such topics as regulations and standards; vehicles for transportation and storage of food; and methods to calculate how much food to purchase. In restaurants, food servers can explain to customers portion sizes so they can make informed decisions about the amount of food they order. Penalties can be set for wasting food. Shopkeepers can remind customers of expiry dates and storage conditions of products. After shopping, people can keep receipts that can remind them of what food they have bought so they finish it. Supermarkets, restaurants, and markets can work with charity groups to give food to those in need.

School is a great place for promoting food waste reduction because children shape our future and can convey the ideas to their family members. More should be done in schools in Hong Kong. The government can design brochures for parents and videos for children. Some students eat less than others, so there should be lunch boxes with smaller portions for them. If students have lunch in canteens, additional portion should only be given on request.

Students should be encouraged to conserve food in everyday life. The procedures of processing food and the consequences of wasting food should be taught. Schools can have field trips where students, teachers, and students’ parents can experience the process of planting and harvesting. Competitions for designing posters and coining slogans, and for rewarding individuals or classes that waste the least food can be held to increase student motivation. The government can offer more support to schools by providing funding for designing relevant teaching materials,.

To raise public awareness, social media can be utilized. People can be encouraged to take pictures of their empty plates after meals and post them on their social media profiles with hashtags. Some prizes could be given to those who upload the most creative pictures or those whose pictures are liked and shared by the largest number of people.

Although the Hong Kong government has been trying to decrease food waste, it is hard to change people’s deep-seated cultural ideas about food. Researchers can explore this problem in order to minimize food waste.

7. Conclusion

Food waste is an urgent matter that requires everyone’s attention. The Hong Kong government has realized the seriousness of food waste and has taken actions to fix the problem. How schools are assisted and some programs for reducing food waste in Hong Kong were discussed in this entry. The government, schools, and other institutions and individuals can do much more to address this issue. 


Chancellor, D. (2010). Food waste. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group.

Education Bureau (EDB). (2009). Education Bureau Circular No. 18/2009: Green Lunch in School. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved from

Education Bureau (EDB). (2015). Guidelines on Meal Arrangements in Schools. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved from

Huantuan bianyin wushan zhinan feng zhengfu wuneng [Environmental Organizations Design and Hand Out Guidelines and Mock the Government’s Incapability]. (2008). Epoch Times. Retrieved from

Environment Bureau (EB). (2014). A Food Waste & Yard Waste Plan for Hong Kong. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved from

Environmental Protection Department (EPD). (2005). Problems & Solutions. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved from

Environmental Protection Department (EPD). (2015a). Guideline on How to Promote Green Lunch in Schools. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved from

Environmental Protection Department (EPD). (2015b). Problems & Solutions. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved from

Environmental Protection Department (EPD). (2015c). Waste Data and Statistics. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved from

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (2013). Food WastageFootprints. Retrieved from

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (2015). Food Loss and Food Waste. Retrieved from

Friends of the Earth. (2015). All about Food Waste. Retrieved from

Food Wise Hong Kong. (2013). About Us. Retrieved from

Galanakis, C. M. (2015). Food Waste Recovery: Processing Technologies and Industrial Techniques. London: Academic Press.

Gustavsson, J., Cederberg, C., & Sonesson, U. (2011). Global Food Losses and Food Waste. Rome: FAO.

Information Services Department. (2013). Reduction and Treatment of Food Waste. Retrieved from

Lam, Y. M. (2012). Partnership for Sustainable Waste Management: A Case Study of the Food Waste Recycling Partnership Scheme in Hong Kong. (Unpublished Master's Dissertation). Hong Kong: The University of Hong Kong.

MyGovHK. (2015). Food Wise. Retrieved from

Woo, P. K. (2014). Food Waste in Hong Kong: A Study on Reduction. (Unpublished Master's dissertation). The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

World Food Programme (WFP). (2015). Hunger Statistics. Retrieved from

About the Author

Sun Yi Fei (Maggie)

MEd, The University of Hong Kong