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May 28th, 2012:

Supermarkets dumping 29 tonnes of food a day

Green group says four chains are tossing out items that are still edible – enough to feed 48,000 families
Lo Wei
May 28, 2012

Despite frequent reports of rising demand for handouts at food banks, Hong Kong’s four supermarket chains are throwing out 29 tonnes of edible food every day, according to a study by a local green group.

The discarded food was enough to feed 48,000 three-person families, said one food bank manager.

“These supermarket chains have the ability and the responsibility to donate and recycle food waste,” said Michelle Au Wing-tsz, the deputy environmental manager of Friends of the Earth. She said the four companies the group investigated – ParknShop, Wellcome, CR Vanguard and Jusco – held a 53 per cent share of Hong Kong’s retail sector.

Au’s team visited refuse collection points for five outlets of the four chains from March to May. Each store disposed of an average of 135kg of food a day and one-third of the waste – 45kg – had not passed its expiry dates.

Given that the chains had 650 outlets in Hong Kong, the group estimated that the total amount of food being discarded daily was about 87 tonnes, with 29 tonnes of it still edible.

Of the food that had been dumped, 47 per cent was vegetables, some still fresh and with its packaging intact, Au said. Fresh fruit was also found and loaves of bread that were still five days away from their sell-by date.

According to Celia Fung Sze-lai, the group’s environmental affairs officer, water or sometimes bleach was poured over some of the discarded packaged food to stop scavengers from taking it home. “This is wasteful and unscrupulous,” she said.

The group urged the government to bring in waste disposal fees and a landfill ban on food waste from the industrial and commercial sectors. It also urged supermarkets to donate edible items to food banks or charity groups and send anything expired or rotten to be turned into compost or animal fodder.

St James’ Settlement People’s Food Bank service manager Connie Ng Man-ying said a system was needed to link those disposing food with those collecting it. At present, the food bank mainly receives food from individual donors.

Ng said the 29 tonnes of food could readily feed over 48,000 three-person households for a day. “Though vegetables can only be kept for a few days, we believe that if they donated all 29 tonnes, we, together with some churches and other charities would be able to receive and distribute all of it,” she said.

There was growing demand for help from the food bank, Ng said, with 2,000 recipients last month – up from 1,600 the month before.

She suggested the government legislate to protect food donors from being liable to prosecution if recipients suffer health problems caused by consuming handouts.

ParknShop and Wellcome both said they offered discounts on foods nearing their expiry date and would return any expired food to suppliers to reduce waste.

Wellcome said it would consider recycling food waste if feasible. CR Vanguard also said it would consider donating food if practical, and if it could maintain the quality of the food being given away. ParknShop said it did not discard enough food for it to be worth donating or recycling.

Jusco said one of the company’s branches was already recycling unsold food products and would look at the details of its current operation before considering any expansion of the scheme.

Three die as electric taxi explodes

Concerns are raised about possible fatal design flaw in green vehicles after deadly collision in Shenzhen
Choi Chi-yuk
May 28, 2012

A fatal road accident in Shenzhen at the weekend has raised concerns about the safety of electric cars developed on the mainland amid an ongoing central government push for them to be more widely used.

At about 3am on Saturday, a speeding sports car rear-ended a BYD E6 electric taxi, causing the cab to catch fire, killing the driver and two passengers, according to The Southern Metropolis News.

Police said the driver of the sports car had been drinking. He fled the scene with three young women in the car, but turned himself in yesterday.

One witness, another taxi driver, said: “The sports car must have been driving at between 150 and 200km/h when it passed me. I was driving at more than 90km/h.” He added that he saw the BYD taxi in flames on the roadside a few minutes later.

Numerous calls to BYD for comment went unanswered yesterday.

The electric taxi and its occupants were incinerated, the report said.

A member of the rescue team said that, based on the wreckage, it was possible that an explosion occurred in the electric car.

The accident raised concerns, largely online, over the safety of electric cars, the report added.

Lo Kok-keung, an engineer with the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said that a fully charged lithium battery could explode in a serious crash.

“The crash could result in a short circuit, which, in turn, could make the battery hot and eventually explode within a matter of seconds,” Lo said. “This is the major hidden danger of electric cars that doesn’t exist in vehicles that consume petrol.”

With support from the central government, BYD has poured billions of yuan into developing its electric vehicles, offering tens of thousands of yuan in rebates for buyers. The Shenzhen government has also spared no effort in building new charging stations.

Shares in the Hong Kong-listed carmaker soared in 2009 upon word of the environmentally friendly push, and after the high-profile backing of US billionaire Warren Buffett. But the stock plunged last year on poor sales.

About 300 BYD E6 taxis and 200 buses, all of which run solely on electricity, are operating on the streets of Shenzhen.

Lo suggested that makers of electric cars install circuit breakers on each battery, to help avoid future explosions in accidents. “The safety of electric vehicles could certainly be raised significantly by doing so,” he said.

In a move to become China’s electric vehicle capital, Shenzhen in March set a goal to replace more than 50 per cent of the city’s internal combustion engine buses with electric or hybrid models by 2015.

Shenzhen mayor Xu Qin said during the current National People’s Congress in Beijing that within three years the city would ban all vehicles that failed to meet the country’s advanced emission standards. Xu said 3,000 electric or hybrid vehicles were put into use in Shenzhen last year, and 2,000 were planned for this year.

In Shenzhen, every electric bus put on the road has received a one million yuan (HK$1.22 million) subsidy since 2010, half from the central government and half from Shenzhen’s. Subsidies for hybrid buses were increased from 300,000 to 600,000 yuan last year.

Description: The burnt out cab was later taken away for inspection.