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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.

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