Zhu Dajian: Why do Japanese Restaurants Generate Less Food Waste? Tips to Stop Food Waste 丨 Media Focus – Shanghai Observer_Tongji SEM Zhu Dajian: Why do Japanese Restaurants Generate Less Food Waste? Tips to Stop Food Waste 丨 Media Focus – Shanghai Observer_Tongji SEM
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Zhu Dajian: Why do Japanese Restaurants Generate Less Food Waste? Tips to Stop Food Waste 丨 Media Focus – Shanghai Observer

Mon, Aug 24, 2020

Recently, Zhu Dajian, a professor in the Department of Public Management of our school, published an article in the Shanghai Observer (a Jiefang Daily app). He believes that people need to think systematically from the perspective of a circular economy to stop food waste. The 3R principle should be also introduced to prevent and control food waste from end to end. The following is his published article.

Stopping food waste is of great significance to China’s development. The key point is how to do it, especially how to integrate case-based exploration (one case in one place) and finally upgrade into systematic innovation and how to move from passively resolve food waste and manage negative lists to building a new catering model with Chinese characteristics.

I think that we need to systematically think about food waste from the perspective of a circular economy and introduce the 3R principle (reduce, reuse, and recycle) for end-to-end waste prevention and control. We can control the source of food waste, try our best to make full use of food and ingredients, recycle catering waste at the end, and set a limit for final wet waste disposal. Such systematic thinking is positive for both producers on the supply side and consumers on the demand side. In this process, the external cost of food waste caused by private consumption will be internalized through economic means.

First, we can implement the principle of “Reduce” to control the source of food waste. Canteens, restaurants and hotels need to make innovative improvements in both quantity and quality to reduce food waste on the supply side. In terms of quantity, there have been measures taken such as changing a large amount into a smaller amount or one portion of food into half portion of food. In 2012, I went to Rio for the UN Sustainable Development Summit and saw a buffet where everything was measured by the kilo in Brazilian restaurants. It was not the popular fixed-price buffet in China that allows customers to eat as much as they can, which could generate a lot of waste. The buffet-style I saw in Brazil allows customers to pick up their favorite food and then have their food weighted to prevent food waste. I have always believed that we could use such approach after innovation and transformation. Recently, I have seen restaurants in Shanghai that have begun to explore a new model that resembles this. They have made four types of menus to match with different tastes (vegetarian, more vegetables and less meat, more meat and less vegetables, and all meat). Different types of food have different prices. Consumers can choose what they want and pay by quantity.

In terms of quality, some studies have found that food waste at schools and takeaway restaurants is closely related to food taste. It is necessary to improve the quality of food processing on the supply side to ensure effective consumption and stop unnecessary waste. The “clear your plate” campaign is now being conducted to reduce food waste on the consumer side. However, this is not enough. We need to form and stick to habits that helps reduce food waste, such as ordering food in moderation (not ordering too much) and changing from serving individual dishes to serving meals at tables. At present, we are given a discount for eating more and pay a higher unit price for eating less. This approach may need to be changed. More discounts should be given to moderate consumption, while those who cause waste should pay more. Shanghainese prefer the small-portioned and delicate food traditionally on both the supply and the consumer sides. This tradition can be carried forward to control food waste and be promoted as a new model.

Second, we can implement the principle of “Reuse” to make full use of food and ingredients. In the food value chain, both producers and consumers have the opportunity to make full use of food while ensuring food safety. In terms of producer, developed countries have some social organizations that collect leftover but edible food (especially fresh vegetables) from supermarkets and then distribute them to people in need. In terms of consumption, there are some people abroad who often go to restaurants that have guaranteed food quality and safety to look for leftover vegetarian food, thus reducing food waste from restaurants. They do this not because they are poor but because they believe that they can live well with less money. They are called “freegans” which is a combination of “free” and “vegan”.

The good news is that the current trend of innovation is trying to control food waste. Similar large-scale innovative activities have also appeared in Shanghai. The food bank established by Shanghai Oasis (a social welfare organization) is one example. It has set up 100 recycling offices in Shanghai. They collect and distribute food with good quality that is still within its shelf life but has been removed from the shelf in brand supermarkets to those in need in a series of processes that to ensure food safety. In fact, such food collection and reuse activities could be expanded from supermarkets to schools, restaurants, communities, etc.

Third, we can control and reduce kitchen waste by implementing the principle of “Recycle” at the final stage. Developed countries implement the 3R principle to manage and control food consumption and waste. There are generally several management steps. The first step is to control the source of food waste. The second is to distribute leftovers to people in need. The third is to use food waste as animal feed. The fourth is to use food waste in the industrial field. The fifth is to compost the waste. Finally, untreatable food waste will be buried or incinerated. The third to sixth steps are all recycling or final disposal activities.

The important fact that people have realized now is that final food waste disposal activities such as food waste used as animal feed, industrial raw material and compost, or is incinerated and landfilled are all-passive. A proactive approach would be to set up waste discharge limits to control food waste. For example, why do Japanese restaurants generate less food waste? This is because restaurants that generate more than a certain amount of food waste will be required to pay higher disposal fees. Restaurants are certainly reluctant, so they are motivated to enable their consumers to not order too much food and to not leave too much food. Singapore has an explicit law that requires people to pay twice if they waste food in restaurants. This is the internalization of external costs. Much of the household waste in Chinese cities is food or wet waste. The final disposal of such waste has been the biggest problem for a long time. Megacities like Shanghai face the challenge of handling nearly 10,000 tons of wet waste a day. There is a big gap between the construction of facilities for final wet waste disposal and their capacity to handle all the waste. If we can effectively control food waste and increase of garbage, we will have better catering patterns and successful waste disposal mechanisms.