Shocking waste weighs heavy in plastic

Top News | Cissy So 1 Jun 2018

Ten Hong Kong food courts throw away 378,500 disposable utensils - most of it plastic - in the space of just one month, which a local green group points out is equivalent to the weight of a whale of nearly 1,100 kilograms.

In another startling comparison, Green Sense says tissues distributed at lunch time by more than 10,500 licensed restaurants in a month could cover 86 football pitches.

The group visited the 10 food courts from 11am to 2pm last month, taking in places like Festival Walk and Treats in Taikoo Cityplaza, with a total of 106 eateries.

The Festival Walk food court alone contributed about 100,000 utensils a month, while T.mark food court in Tsuen Wan contributed the least with 3,938 items.

In all, there are about 20 food courts in Hong Kong.

Tai Hing restaurant in Festival Walk was found to be the worst single offender on wasteful giving. On average it handed out 11.52 items, taking in two paper cups, the utensils wrapper inside which is plastic knife, fork and spoon, paper-wrapped toothpicks, a plastic cup lid, a disposable sugar packet with hot drinks, a tissue and a pair of bamboo chopsticks.

There were 15,601 types of disposable goods collected during the research, with the top items tissues (2,108), plastic spoons (1,456), disposable bamboo chopsticks (1,233 pairs) and straws (1,095).

The researchers also noted that at T.mark the use of disposable items in individual restaurant was extreme.

A Chinese noodle operation used 4.4 items of disposable goods in a single set compared to a Japanese eatery using 1.3 items.

Assembling its facts and figures on eatery waste, Green Sense set up a system with four levels to grade outlets based on uses of disposable goods and utensils.

The fewer disposable goods and utensils used the higher the grade for an eatery, which can provide citizens with a reference on utensil use. "We suggest people choose to go to restaurants with a higher grade, like platinum," said Green Sense senior project manager Gabrielle Ho Ka-po.

And to encourage the catering industry to reduce waste, Green Sense has invited food courts and eateries in Hong Kong to sign a charter against the use of disposable utensils.

Food courts that are not part of a chain and therefore do not have eateries grouped under management companies could anyway bring together all the restaurants and set up systems that would help cut back on disposable items, the green group also suggested.

On challenges to cutting out disposable items, Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said that having a special section for cleaning or washing in a food court is not feasible as no space is allocated for such tasks.

Also, he said, hiring staff to do such work is more expensive than using disposable utensils. It can mean up to 20 per cent more in outlays.

Still, Wong said, "we encourage people to bring their own containers for food and beverages. That includes offering incentives such as a discount of HK$1 if they bring a container."

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