Millions of tonnes of food wasted in China every year could feed anywhere between 30 million and 50 million people, according to new research, with large restaurants and many schools responsible for a big share of the wastage.
The study, quoted by state media, showed that around 17 million tonnes to 18 million tonnes of food were wasted across China annually between 2013 and 2015, once again bringing into focus the problem.
The findings were made public at a recent seminar organised by the UN Environment Programme.
According to 2015 data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, one-third of all food produced for human consumption around the world (around 1.3 billion tonnes) is lost or wasted each year. This includes 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat.
With its huge population and important social etiquette, where a host is expected to serve excess food, it is not surprising that China has had a problem with food wastage – something which could have become more serious as the economy boomed.
Cheng Shengkui from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), one of the country’s top research institutions, shared the details of the survey conducted in four cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Lhasa and Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.
Cheng was quoted by state-run Economic Daily as saying that the team of 140 researchers and volunteers “surveyed 6,983 tables of 366 restaurants” in the four cities for more than 100 days.
“We also interviewed more than 750 individuals, finished 7,489 questionnaires and weighed more than 32,000 dishes,” he said.
Cheng’s team found the food is “wasted more in primary and high schools in China than at universities and companies”. Their research report prompted the government and Beijing's schools to launch a series of educational activities to help students save their food and avoid waste.
Liu Yao, another CAS researcher, told the state media earlier that the problem of wastage was “especially severe in large restaurants, which are venues for business discussions and networking events”. He said, “The customers were only using dinner as a platform for negotiations. They didn’t really care about the food itself.”
Cheng said wastage at official banquets had been curbed since the government began its anti-corruption and frugality campaign in 2013.
“Also having an impact is the government-backed Clean Your Plate campaign, which encourages people not to order too much at restaurants and to eat everything provided,” he said.