By Jessica Chan

Held in the luxurious and stylish surroundings of The Hari Hong Kong, our newest Member, our June sustainability meet-up dived straight into one of the ten key areas in Food Made Good HK’s sustainability audit: Reduce, Reuse & Recycle.

While tackling this crucially important subject, we delved into detail on the problem of plastic waste, discussing how to address the challenge of single-use plastics head-on in the hospitality sector and addressed the challenge head on. In addition to the beautiful venue for our monthly meet-up, The Hari team prepared a delicious array of vegan canapés for us to nibble on whilst the inspiring presentations from Iris Lam and Swapnil Mishra ensued. From mouthwatering plant-based TiNDLE chicken burgers to refreshing drinks from Taipan Beer Co. and locally produced kombucha from On The Wagon, it was truly a delicious set-up.

Cristobal of La Cabane and Ash of On the Wagon

Team Food Made Good HK with Vegetable Marketing Organization and Fish Marketing Organization

THE PLASTIC PROBLEM

It’s no surprise that plastic waste is an imminent crisis. Our June sustainability meet-up opened with shocking statistics – of the 10 rivers in the world with the highest amount of plastic waste, 8 are located in Asia (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research). These 10 rivers account for up to 95% of all plastic pollution in the ocean (World Resources Institute) and only 10% of the world’s plastic is actually recycled. An astonishing statistic to hear.

Heidi Yu-Spurrell, CEO of Food Made Good HK, put the issue into perspective:

“Given that only 10% of the world’s plastic is recycled, can we as an industry stop spending so much time and energy talking about recycling, and start talking about prevention and reuse systems?”

When talking about managing waste, the key is prevention rather than recycling. The international recycling market is weak, placing responsibility on us instead (as consumers, chefs and F&B businesses) to prevent food and plastic waste from occurring in the first place.

Heidi Spurrell with Team Tai-Pan Beer and Karana

InformaMarkets and our Angelica

WORKING TOWARDS A SOLUTION

With this information what can restaurants and food businesses do? Our first speaker, Iris Lam from The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group’s newly formed sustainability department, shared inspiring ways the renowned hotel is tackling single-use culture. From highlighting the importance of getting all staff across F&B outlets on board to making bold commitment claims which in turn, drives action.

James Riley, CEO of The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group publicly announced the aim to eliminate the use of all single-use plastics in 2019 within a two year timeframe. By making this public commitment, the Group is held accountable and pushed forward to deliver on the promise. The daring vision was met with a mixture of feelings internally – “How are we going to do this?” “Do we understand the challenge ahead?” “Are we going to be successful?” All reasonable questions since at the time, the hotel group was using over 7 million water bottles annually.

Iris Lam of The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group

Fast forward two years, the Group did not reach the goal due to covid-19 pandemic challenges which re-opened the door for plastic and quick solutions such as masks and takeaway containers. Despite this setback, courageously, The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has not stopped with their efforts and continues to push on with their commitment to eliminate 99% of single-use plastics by 2022. Huge applause!

Working with their teams globally, they identified 6 most commonly used single-use products in the hotel including water bottles, F&B takeaway boxes, garbage bags, cling film and vacuum bags. Via their SMART WASTE strategy, best practices emerged. Iris re-emphasized that we should not think about recycling as the solution, but rather get to the core of the problem by asking questions such as “do we even need this in the first place”? She illustrated this approach using the example of cling film: rather than switching to eco cling film, the group instead started using takeaway containers to prevent usage altogether – but this was only possible by taking the time to audit plastic use and understanding the true scale of the issue.

We were left with one last thought. Being an early adopter is not easy, inspired by her fellow colleagues, Richard Ekkebus and Robin Zavou to instill change within the group, Iris stresses the importance of finding like-minded partners who share the same purpose and vision, demonstrating that only then can we normalise plastic as something other than the default choice.

Q&A session with Heidi Spurrell & Iris Lam

Team Ovolo with our Cat

INNOVATIVE EDIBLE CUTLERY – an alternative to single-use plastics

Our second speaker from the other end of the spectrum when it comes to his sustainability journey was Swapnil Mishra, co-founder of local start up Planeteers and university student from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He invited us to sample his biodegradable edible cutleries such as straws, dessert spoons and cups while explaining how his brand contributes to the circular economy. A shocking 99% of products produced is trashed within 6 months – an extremely short product life span which is unsustainable. He noted that currently, we live in a linear society on a planet with finite resources. We simply cannot continue with this system and have to move towards a circular economy.

Sapnil Mishra of Planeteers

Swapnil shared that the 3 problems we are facing are landfill overflow, mass deforestation, and plastic toxicity. With a shocking 14.6 billion pieces of plastic cutlery dumped in Hong Kong’s landfills annually and 20 million trees felled in China to make chopsticks every year, Planeteers offers one solution to this. The company offers an alternative to single-use plastics in the F&B industry where the net carbon footprint is 5 times better than plastic, 4.5 times better than PLA bioplastic and 2.5% times better than wooden alternatives when looking at the carbon emissions from materials, processing and usage. An environmental win worth raising a toast for!

Iris Lam, Swapnil Mishra & Paul Gardner

CONSUMER ATTITUDES TO SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS

Asian consumers are taking the issue of plastic seriously. At this meet up we shared a few insights from a recent study by Bain & Company who found that in China, 30% started buying sustainable products in the last two years and 95% are willing to pay more for more sustainable products. Supporting this study, Planeteers had tested a pilot scheme at Treehouse, a fellow Food Made Good HK Member and found that consumer response was overwhelmingly positive. With 64% of diners eating the entire incrEDIBLE cutlery along with their meals and 90% agreeing that incrEDIBLE is better than disposable or wooden cutlery.

The key takeaway is that consumer attitudes are beginning to shift and we must continue with the “relentless pursuit” by not taking no for an answer when pushing for change.

Chef Francesco of The Hari Hong Kong

WHAT CAN I DO?

Educate and empower your teams to be part of the change we need! As a member of CPD, Food Made Good HK design bespoke training courses to help businesses operate more sustainably. Recently, we designed and delivered a one day plastic waste training course for a large APAC wide retail group. If this is something you are interested in – get in touch – we can help you upskill your teams. You will receive a certificate that offers a form of accreditation.

Join us and the Food Made Good community together to tackle the problem head on. See you at our next meet-up at Mandarin Grill + Bar. Sign up to the event here.

Chef Angelo of LKF Concepts & Chef Francesco of The Hari Hong Kong

Meet ups are a way to educate and inspire! Learn more about The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Planeteers and The Hari.

The Sustainability Meet-Up Series is a monthly gathering designed to educate and empower the Hong Kong foodservice community – chefs, restaurateurs, FOH, BOH, suppliers and sustainability leads.

Inspired by our framework, the programme is curated to inspire the community, in novel ways through which they can bring in small but significant changes to their sourcing choices, menu design, supplies, just to name a few. We will be organising talks and activities delivered by sustainable food industry leaders, on various themes linked to UN International Days and our three pillars – Sourcing, Society and the Environment.

A big thank you to our supporter InvestHK, our sponsor Fresh Accounting and kind hosts The Hari for making this event possible.