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Tackling Food Waste in China’s Restaurants


Tackling Food Waste in China’s RestaurantsTackling Food Waste in China’s Restaurants

In 2020, Xiang Li at Rare visited restaurants across China to interview more than 30 different owners and employees about the everyday attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that contribute to food waste. Similar to global trends, Food waste in China remains significant challenge. A 2020 survey found that restaurants in Chinese cities waste the least 34 million tons of food Every year, which can Feed up to 49 million people.

China Teacher 2021 New law against food waste He highlighted the national ambition to address food waste. As an expert in designing behavior change programs in the country, the Rare team believes that ambitious behavior change programs can help China reduce its food waste footprint.

Against this background, Nader joined “Pride is on our plates“- A project led by the Chinese NGO Shenzhen One Planet Foundation that aims to help support small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in reducing food waste. We mainly focused on small and medium-sized restaurants.

Understand the scale of the problem

When conducting research to understand the problem, we found significant gaps in misunderstanding about food waste in restaurant operations. according to the Our initial research, About 87% of small and medium restaurant owners/senior managers believe that food loss and waste in their business is “less than in a typical restaurant.”

We realized that our behavior change interventions needed to be supported by quantitative data on food waste. So, one of our first steps was to have restaurants record and monitor food waste on a daily basis. This helped restaurants recognize the extent of the problem (which is often underestimated) and track progress as they made changes.

Box 1. An innovative approach to tackling food waste in China

Tackling Food Waste in China’s RestaurantsTackling Food Waste in China’s Restaurants

During an interview with one restaurateur, he claimed that the best way to motivate other restaurateurs is simple – “You just have to tell them they can save money – and that’s enough!”

Then we asked him about his motivations for running this restaurant. He spoke passionately about how he left his previous job managing this restaurant to inherit the traditional recipes that his family had passed down through the generations.

From a behavioral science perspective, this is consistent with the finding that individuals believe others are motivated by material incentives, while their own motivations are driven more by spiritual or higher-level pursuits.

Throughout the project, we wanted all restaurant employees to feel like their individual efforts were part of a larger team effort. We created public “pledge” cards and posters for employees to showcase their unique role in combating food waste in restaurants, with a significant focus on the role of social influence in driving behavior change.

Tackling Food Waste in China’s RestaurantsTackling Food Waste in China’s Restaurants

Chinese restaurant employees sign public pledge cards on a poster titled “I’m Proud to Reduce Waste”

Building a community to inspire change

Flower Rhyme restaurant in Kunming, Yunnan, has joined the project as a pilot restaurant. The founder of this restaurant uses Yunnan’s signature local flowers to prepare delicious dishes, which are very popular among customers.

The restaurant introduced a series of measures, such as staff pledge posters and weekly team meetings with a focus on food waste to enable staff to identify solutions.

Tackling Food Waste in China’s RestaurantsTackling Food Waste in China’s Restaurants

Ms. Pi Yunhong describes how ingredient labeling can help better manage ingredient inventory

“I am amazed to see that the staff looks at the restaurant like a family,” said restaurant owner Bi Yun Hong. “They have come up with ideas to reduce food waste, but they also suggest many new green measures, such as using leftover tea as fertiliser, and collecting ice from the refrigerator to use in Watering plants During peak dining hours, when waiters are very busy, kitchen staff will take the initiative to help pass dishes and pour water to customers, which was unthinkable in the past.

In the fast-paced restaurant environment, I’ve seen that food waste is often generated by simple actions performed quickly. Hence, we have helped restaurants offer simple waste prevention solutions such as cups or spoons specifically designed for serving size, or improved labels that make it easier for employees to identify food that is nearing expiration. This can reduce daily food waste and make work easier for busy kitchen staff at the same time.

Moving away from traditional training and lectures, we also designed an innovative game pack for restaurant staff to learn and discuss food waste solutions that employees found most engaging. For example, “Master Chef Werewolf” is a popular card game adapted for restaurants, where each member of the kitchen staff is assigned a unique superpower and must work together to identify and eliminate sources of food waste.

Tackling Food Waste in China’s RestaurantsTackling Food Waste in China’s Restaurants

Yun Nan Dao Rice Noodle Restaurant staff playing “Master Chef Werewolf” game.

The way forward

We are currently supporting 20 small and medium restaurants in reducing food waste through a structured pilot programme, which provides tailored support to develop and implement some of the above approaches. The early data was promising: On average, participating restaurants saw a roughly 20% reduction in food waste compared to baseline data collected at the beginning of the pilot. Since the introduction of the Food Waste Act, there has been an increasing demand from the government to incorporate innovative and practical solutions into practical guidance and regulations. As we look to the future, scaling our successes will require collaboration with government and associations, broader recognition of the power of behavior change, and expanding our efforts beyond medium and small restaurants to address food waste into other high-impact areas..

This article is part of the Ohio State University Wilson Center’s project to develop U.S. and Chinese climate leadership in food and agriculture.

Xiang Li He is the founder and director of the Rare China Center for Behavior, and is an experienced leader committed to catalyzing positive change by applying behavioral science to environmental challenges. In the “Pride on Our Plates” project, Shiyang is working closely with Rare Europe to conduct behavior-focused design to develop tools for restaurants across China to combat food waste.

Sam Gray He is a director in Rare’s European office. As a European Project Partner, Sam has been closely involved in the delivery of Pride on Our Plates, and works with Rare’s Center for Behavior and Environment to build new projects that put behavior change at their core.

Top of the picture:Courtesy of China Rare Behavior Center. Xiang Li, from the China Rare Behavior Centre, conducted interviews to get a better understanding of the daily values, beliefs and attitudes of SME employees.
All other photos: Courtesy of China Rare Behavior Center
sources: fao.org, Futuredirections.org, OECD, Rare.org, Switch-asia.edu, Worldvision.org

Acknowledgments and Disclaimers: Pride of Our Plates is supported by the European Union “SWITCH-Asia” program and delivered in partnership with the Shenzhen One Planet Foundation and the WWF Beijing office. The content and opinions expressed here are those of the author (Nadir) and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the European Union or SWITCH-Asia and no official endorsement should be inferred.
For more information about Rare’s 50 years as a global leader driving social change for people and nature, visit the Rare Center for Behavior and the Environment https://rare.org/



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