By Hilda Hio Fong Fok
IFTM comments is a partnership between the Macao News Agency and the Macao Tourism Studies Institute
Food waste is an ongoing problem for many urban areas. Statistics generated by Direcção dos Serviços de Protecção Ambiental [DSPA] in 2016 showed that Macau generates 550 tonnes of food waste per day. Many researchers have pointed to the problems caused by uneaten food, including food separation issues and harmful bacteria produced by rotten food.
In Macau, most of the waste is incinerated and over 40% of the waste is food related. Since cooked food contains a lot of liquid, the burning of food waste puts additional pressure on the incinerators, which further pollutes our city.
Thus, from April 2021, the DSPA launched a household food waste recycling project. Residents must bring their leftovers to the DSPA office, then food waste is recycled and turned into vegetable fertilizer. However, this project has not yet created much noise in the city. Perhaps this is no surprise, since very few voices have come together to discuss the issue of food waste. It also appears that food suppliers and restaurateurs haven’t taken much responsibility to help solve this problem. The question is “is it too little, too late?” ”
The situation seems to be worse when people eat in restaurants. In some cities in China, each person accounts for 90 grams of uneaten food per meal when dining out. This number is likely associated with Chinese cultural behaviors such as excessive ordering in order to meet their social norms. Some people think it’s better to have more than you can eat on the table than to be accused of being stingy. Not knowing the portion sizes and ordering unfamiliar dishes just to “try things” can also be contributing factors. As a city crowned with the title of Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO, it is not just the government’s responsibility to solve our environmental problems. It’s time for all of us to think about the issue of food waste and think of incentives to encourage both sides of the business.
One suggested solution to reducing food waste is to improve communication between restaurant managers, staff and consumers. In December 2020, the Guardian The newspaper reported that restaurants in China can face fines of up to 10,000 yuan if they trick or mislead customers to “order excessive meals and cause obvious waste.” In addition, laws have been drafted to strictly monitor food waste in Chinese restaurants. As a small special administrative city in China, Macau should not be left behind in the fight for a better living environment.
A successful example of reducing leftovers in restaurants is the “Operation Empty Plate” campaign. It has been operating effectively in many major cities in China since 2013. A small discount is offered to consumers when they manage to “clean their plates” at the end of their meal. Not only does this reduce food waste, but it can also save manpower in the kitchen. First, staff must be made aware of the problems associated with food waste. Then they can help customers make smart decisions and order the right amount of food. You may be surprised to learn that customers are happier if they end up having a “guilt-free meal”. Many restaurateurs pride themselves on having no leftovers and not needing to ask for takeout boxes at the end of their dinner.
The call to be concerned about our food waste goes beyond the need to reduce its impact on our environment. There are a lot of people in the world who live in disadvantaged conditions. The United Nations (UN) estimates that 821 million people are currently hungry or undernourished, which is equivalent to 12.9% of the world’s population. By 2050, around two billion people are likely to be undernourished. A development goal called Fight for Zero Hunger was set by the UN in 2015 to tackle this global challenge. As we enjoy our hotel buffets or hot all-you-can-eat dinner, we may want to rethink the way food is grown and consumed.