By Samantha Lees
While Hong Kong may pride itself for being the food capital of the world, the city also has an immense serving of food waste. A whopping 3,585 tonnes of food waste is thrown in the landfill every single day, which is equivalent to 250 double decker buses. For restaurants, dealing with food waste translates into labour costs, space needed for sorting and storing waste, and the hassles of odour and pest control. We spoke to Dr. Dawn Chui, General Manager of ORCA Asia, about the revolutionary technology tackling food waste that is both good for business and for our city.
“Our mission is to take garbage trucks off the roads of our cities”
According to the EPD (Environmental Protection Department), only 1% of food waste is recycled. Not only are the city’s landfills filling up rapidly, food waste decomposing in landfills releases methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. On top of that, all the garbage trucks required to transport all this food waste around the city are adding to air pollution, traffic congestion and accidents. The food waste issue can’t be ignored if Hong Kong is to achieve its target of net zero emissions by 2050.
An enterprising solution is the ORCA (which stands for organic refuse conversion alternative), a unique hyperlocal waste technology solution for kitchens. Designed in Canada, it is a machine that ‘digests’ food waste and turns it into an environmentally safe liquid, which is discharged into the city’s municipal wastewater system. This on-site waste treatment does away with the need for traditional bin storage and garbage trucks to transport food waste. In Hong Kong, where the sewage treatment plant generates energy from waste, the ORCA’s effluent is being used to generate renewable energy, offering a sustainable, circular alternative for managing food waste.
“Development of this technology has been a very welcoming message to the foodservice and hospitality industry.”
Coming in various sizes, the ORCA can be installed in the smallest restaurants to the largest hotels, municipal facilities and even casinos. Not only does it deal with the waste disposal issue, it can also track how much food waste is put into it at what time and which day, providing data to management and operational teams to help them make better purchasing decisions to avoid over-ordering, and reduce waste during preparation and serving of food. “Our customers know that this technology isn’t only good for the environment, but it is also good for their bottom line. You can’t produce good food without taking care of your garbage.” Dawn explains that for hotels or malls that have several food outlets, each outlet or department is given a unique code that is used to open the ORCA and feed it, so that the ORCA can track how much food waste comes from each code.
So how does it actually work? This industry-leading technology works somewhat like a human stomach. Food waste is fed into the ORCA, which has ‘arms’ that stir the mixture to keep it aerated, and microorganisms sprayed into the mixture periodically to break down the food. Depending on the size, the ORCA can digest from 7 to 45 kgs of food waste an hour, 24‑hours a day. The mulch is eventually transformed into liquid and filtered through a thin screen into existing plumbing infrastructure to which the ORCA is connected.
“We’re the only (food waste digester) in the market that doesn’t require hot water, which lowers the restaurant’s utility bill.” Dawn also assures that the compact-sized machine emits no stench, saves space and time required to sort food waste, and reduces the health and safety risks of hauling heavy bags of rubbish into the dumping area.
“We call for collaboration to advance the solution for food waste treatment”
“We are just one piece of the puzzle to help bring peace of mind to chefs, restaurant owners and hotel owners, to the sector and to society.” Dawn knows that the ORCA is just one of the solutions to the complex socio-environmental problem of food waste. On top of collaborating with the hospitality industry, they are also working with universities in their R&D projects to further improve and refine solutions to meet the operational needs and challenges faced by the hospitality industry.
The ORCA Asia team also actively participates in the Food Made Good community, not only to connect with more players in the foodservice industry, but also to help advance the agenda of Hong Kong’s food waste policy.