A Converstation with Charles Woolmington - Operations Director of Compass Group, Hong Kong

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What motivated your personal interest in sustainability and food waste reduction?

For me it is the sense of achievement and the sense of “Wow - how cool is that!?” You get when we all make a difference. This comes from seeing first-hand what we achieved daily as well as hearing the stories through the media. Two stories that have really inspired me recently have been, firstly the 30%-reduction of plastic bags from coastal waters off Europe due to the reduction of single-use plastic shopping bags from retailers. Secondly, the invention of a mobile recycling plant that can be solar powered; it turns waste plastic bottles into building bricks. When you see stories like this it definitely makes you want to do more.

Can you share a story about a food waste hero who inspired you?

My real heroes for food waste are the many companies such as “Feeding Hong Kong” and “Food Angel” who collect the leftover food from operators and distribute it to the needy. I have seen this grow over the last 10 years. Without those initial people so many other organization’s in Hong Kong would probably never be where they are today with their own programs.

What change have you made, personally, to be more mindful of food waste?

Living in Hong Kong food is very expensive, so being mindful of not wasting food is even more important. It’s important here to buy smaller quantities, more often. We very often will buy our fresh ingredients daily rather than weekly so it’s best to plan your meals for the week, especially with salad items, etc. Many items are imported so you need to take into account some fresh items may be days or weeks old before they hit the supermarket shelves compared to our home countries, so they will have a shorter life. Also, wherever you are in the world be mindful of “best before dates.” Of course, be sensible and know your food but not all food is bad once is passed its best before date.

What will it take for Hong Kong to make food waste a priority?

I feel that food waste issues in HK are driven more by private organization’s and charities. The government run programs, such as the “Big Waster” program through Schools and public events. However, I feel that as an organization, we do more to support food waste programs than I see in my personal life. I live in a high-rise block of flats like most of the population in HK and my family recycles our non-food waste and we have to take this daily to a collection point. There isn’t a food waste collection program yet. We educate through our schools to reduce our waste, but unfortunately when we get home we don’t do enough. The government has a food waste plan and are building organic food waste facilities; there will be three by 2021 with two more planned. Before that point, though, we need to educate ourselves as individuals and make it more convenient for households to collect their waste.

What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

There is one thing that really sticks in my mind; it was something a friend once told me years ago. We were all talking about making New Year’s resolutions and my one friend simply said, “if you want to make a difference then remember to turn the tap off while you brush your teeth.” This always stuck in my mind and I continue to remember this every time I brush my teeth. Over the years, I am sure I have saved a fair bit of water and money too. Just imagine if we all did this!