LCQ4: Supermarket food waste

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Sing-chi and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (June 27):


     An environmental group had earlier conducted an investigation into the procedures adopted by the four major chain supermarkets (supermarkets) in Hong Kong for disposing leftover food (food waste), and found that the supermarkets dumped food which was still edible as trash, and deliberately destroyed the food packaging and sprinkled water on the food to prevent scavengers to take away such food.  The group estimates that the supermarkets dispose of nearly 90 tonnes of food waste daily and criticises their wasteful behaviour as unscrupulous, which aggravates the disparity in wealth distribution in society as well as the pressure on waste management in Hong Kong.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  whether it knows the criteria adopted by the supermarkets for determining if the aforesaid procedures for the disposal of food waste are most appropriate; whether the supermarkets have provided any guideline or rule for their staff to set out the procedures for disposing food which is still edible; if so, of the details, and whether deliberately destroying the food packaging and sprinkling water on the food before disposal, etc. are included; whether it will request the supermarkets to make public such guideline or rule;

(b)  given that the group suggests supermarkets to donate food which is still edible to food banks, and recycle those inedible food for use as compost or animal feed, of the policies or measures the authorities have put in place to encourage supermarkets to dispose of food waste by sensible, reasonable and lawful means (including whether they will formulate guideline, code of practice or charter on donation of food which is still edible as well as reduction of food waste by supermarkets); whether they have made reference to the relevant legislation on food donation in overseas places to formulate exemption clauses for food donors (e.g. excluding the liability of the donors in case the beneficiaries feel sick after consuming the food), so as to encourage more organisations to donate food to the people in need; and

(c)  of the measures the authorities have put in place to encourage various sectors in the community (e.g. ordinary families, the commercial and industrial sectors and the construction sector, etc.) to reduce at source food waste and other municipal solid waste they produced, and recover and recycle such waste; given that the public consultation on charging for municipal solid waste ended on 10 April this year, of the current progress, details and specific timetable of the follow-up work?



     The volume of municipal solid waste (MSW) that needs to be treated after recovery in Hong Kong is about 9 000 tonnes per day, of which over 800 tonnes are food waste from the commercial and industrial (C&I) sectors.  The Government is handling the problem of food waste under a multi-pronged approach.  Firstly, we encourage the avoidance and reduction of food waste at source through raising the awareness of the public and relevant trades on such aspects by promotion and education.  For examples, we promote the "Save Food Day" and encourage the adoption of a simpler Chinese banquet.  Working with the C&I sectors, we have also implemented the Food Waste Recycling Partnership Scheme since 2010.  We promote good food waste management practices by jointly producing a guideline on food waste management and source separation of food waste with the C&I sectors to assist them in avoiding and reducing food waste, and in separating food waste at source as far as possible.  On the other hand, we have worked on the domestic side to deal with food waste.  For instance, we launched the Scheme for Food Waste Recycling for Housing Estates in 2011 through the Environment and Conservation Fund  (ECF) to subsidise housing estates to organise promotion and education programmes for food waste reduction and separation of domestic food waste at source, and carry out on-site recovery and treatment at housing estates.  We consider that unavoidable food waste should be recovered and recycled as far as possible.

     Separately, we are developing the Organic Waste Treatment Facilities (OWTFs) by phases.  Source-separated food waste is recycled and converted to useful resources such as compost and biogas.  The first phase of the OWTFs will be developed in Siu Ho Wan of North Lantau to treat source-separated food waste from the C&I sectors at a capacity of 200 tonnes per day, with the target of commissioning the facilities in 2015.  We also commenced a study in late 2011 on the development of the second phase of the OWTFs at Shaling in North District.  We plan to complete the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project in mid-2013.  The facilities are expected to be completed in 2017.  In addition, the Government started searching for suitable sites throughout Hong Kong in 2011 with a view to developing more regional OWTFs.  Subject to the results of the site search exercise, we will further look into the feasibility and conduct detailed analysis.

     Our reply to the question raised by the Hon Wong Sing-chi is as follows:

(a)  We are aware of the earlier report on the way major chain supermarkets handle surplus food.  We consider that dumping of edible food is not merely a wasteful act; it will also increase the pressure on handling of waste.  As such, we encourage the relevant trade to put such surplus food to good use and, through appropriate arrangement, to minimise the disposal of edible surplus food.  To this end, we have been implementing the Food Waste Recycling Partnership Scheme to encourage and provide support to the C&I sectors to participate in food recycling.  Participants of the Partnership Scheme also include individual supermarkets.

     The Environment Bureau (ENB) has also particularly contacted the major chain supermarkets and has met with their management to express clearly the concern of the Government and public at large and the expectation on the supermarket trades to minimise disposal of edible food. We have also urged the supermarket trade to review its practice of handling individual types of food.  It is understood that a number of non-profit organisations are running food donation programmes (covering edible surplus food) with the support and participation of the trade.  We expressed during the meeting our wish that the supermarkets can actively consider collaborating with non-profit organisations in different areas.  ENB is willing to line up with suitable organisation to facilitate such collaboration aiming to minimise the dumping of food waste by supermarkets.   
(b)  We understand that there are already a number of food donation programmes in the community.  Their operators and donors have found their appropriate modes of operation to handle various practical arrangements and define their respective responsibility.  At the same time, the Government will continue to step up its efforts in waste reduction at source including considering policy tools like MSW charging.  We believe that if MSW charging is implemented in C&I sectors, there will be an economic incentive for the C&I sectors, including the supermarket trade, to minimise the disposal of waste.  It will also help promote the donation of surplus food or food waste recycling.  Separately, we will continue to develop the OWTFs to provide advanced facilities for the proper treatment of food waste.

(c)  The three existing landfills in Hong Kong will exhaust their design capacity one by one in the mid and end 2010s.  Facing the imminent waste management problem, the Government announced a specific action agenda in 2011 to resolve Hong Kong's waste problem under a three-pronged approach that includes strengthened actions to reduce wastes at source; introduction of modern technologies to upgrade our waste treatment capability, and timely extension of our landfills.  In the meetings of the Panel on Environmental Affairs in March and April 2012, we reported in detail to the Legislative Council the latest progress of various measures in relation to waste reduction at source, recycling and recovery, as well as the end-of-pipe treatment of waste.

     As regards the promotion of waste reduction and recovery, we are now preparing the legislative proposals for the extension of the Environmental Levy Scheme on Plastic Shopping Bags and the introduction of the producer responsibility scheme on waste electrical and electronic equipment.  There are also various ongoing community recycling projects, which are subsidised directly or through the ECF.  As for MSW charging, the public consultation completed in April reveals that over half of the respondents are in favour of the introduction of a charging scheme to promote waste reduction in Hong Kong.  We are now analysing the views collected during the public consultation in order to finalise recommendations for the way forward as soon as possible and to report to LegCo later.

Ends/Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:42