Three Hong Kong fast-food giants between them used 180 million items of disposable plastic for both eat-in and takeaway meals last year, according to a green group.
Cafe de Coral, Fairwood and Maxim’s provided seven to 14 pieces of plastic per takeaway meal, adding up to about 100 million disposable items a year, a Greenpeace study released on Thursday said.
Even eat-in meals such as hotpot and rice came with plastic plates, cups and other single-use cutlery, making another 80 million pieces a year, the study found.
The annual volume of waste created by these three chains alone could cover the distance between Hong Kong and Tokyo nearly 10 times if the items were placed end to end, the group said. This did not take into account plastic waste generated by people dining elsewhere.
All three chains joined a HK$1.2 million (US$153,000) government-funded incentive scheme, which started on November 15 and ends in January, in which customers who opt not to use plastic utensils can receive stamps to redeem a free set of reusable cutlery or a hot drink.
But Greenpeace questioned the effectiveness of the scheme.
“A takeaway meal from a fast-food shop uses seven to 14 pieces of plastic on average, it’s the main culprit for plastic pollution in Hong Kong,” said Greenpeace campaigner Chan Hall-sion.
According to 2016 statistics – the most recent available – municipal solid waste, or refuse generated from households as well as commercial and industrial sources, accounted for 67 per cent of what went into the city’s landfills. Of this, 35 per cent was food waste, paper 22 per cent, and plastics 21 per cent.
The city’s landfills are set to reach capacity by 2020, according to the Environmental Protection Department.
From 2005 to 2015, the proportion of utensils in plastic waste rose 3 percentage points to 8 per cent, and plastic waste at landfills increased by a quarter, according to lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan.
Greenpeace started a campaign two months ago to get local restaurants to reduce plastic waste for takeaway items. More than 200 food shops across Hong Kong joined and some restaurants offered customers discounts of up to HK$10 to encourage them to use less disposable tableware, Chan Hall-sion said.
“Fast-food shops can transfer the HK$2.40 plastic cost as a discount for customers who are willing to bring their own reusable utensils. It’s a win-win situation which promotes the use of reusable cutlery among citizens,” Chan said, adding that the government could do more on reducing the use of single-use utensils in the catering industry.
“Seattle successfully curbed the problem of plastic waste by rooting out the supply of plastic items and replacing them with stainless steel utensils. I think Hong Kong restaurants can do the same to alleviate plastic pollution,” she said.
But catering sector lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan said the blame should not entirely be shifted onto fast-food chains.
“Hong Kong citizens should take responsibility to reduce plastic waste by using their own reusable tableware,” he said.
In response to inquiries from the Post, a spokesman for Fairwood said customers who dined in were only provided with reusable tableware, except at two takeaway stores at the Sun Hung Kai Centre in Wai Chai and Kowloon Station.
A spokesman for Maxim’s said the company’s takeaway utensils were made from recycled plastic. It also planned to replace the supply of stirrers for hot drinks with non-plastic materials.
Cafe de Coral did not reply to the South China Morning Post’s inquiries.