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Finish your plate–or pay!

ELIZABETH GLASSANOS/FP Original Food waste is becoming so pervasive in Hong Kong that restaurateurs are charging diners for leaving leftovers on their plates: Customers often order far more dishes to boil in a “hot pot” of broth than they are able to consume, and everything they leave has to be thrown away. That is not ...

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ELIZABETH GLASSANOS/FP Original

Food waste is becoming so pervasive in Hong Kong that restaurateurs are charging diners for leaving leftovers on their plates:

Customers often order far more dishes to boil in a “hot pot” of broth than they are able to consume, and everything they leave has to be thrown away. That is not just wasteful; it is unprofitable for restaurateurs. One restaurant charges HK$5 (US64 cents) per ounce of leftovers.

“All you can eat” sushi joints also have a problem with diners who pile their plates high and then simply eat the raw fish off the top, leaving the rice. One sushi restaurateur, according to local media, charges HK$10 (US$1.28) per leftover sushi.

Perhaps due to a combination of this all-you-can eat dining culture and unprecedented prosperity, uneaten food is not just a problem for restaurants; it also makes up a disproportionate amount of Hong Kong’s garbage. One third of the city’s 9,300 tons of daily waste is food, compared to 12 percent in the United States. Although food biodegrades in landfills, it smells foul and emits methane (a greenhouse gas) in the process of breaking down.

And thus Hong Kong’s government welcomes restaurants’ efforts to penalize food waste as complementary to its own. So far, the city has built a food-to-fertilizer conversion factory and encouraged restaurants to install sludge-producing “digesters” that can “eat” over 2,000 pounds of food a day. But money talks, and it’s likely that the new, privately-initiated fines will be the most effective encouragement of all.

Editor’s note: This post co-authored by Henry Bowles.

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