China cracks down on food waste

The Chinese Government has officially backed an anti-food waste and extravagance campaign after new Leader Xi Jinping ordered state officials to cut down on lavish living.

The Clean Your Plate Campaign was started by Chinese microbloggers in mid-January and calls on citizens and restaurants alike to cut down on food waste, which, according to state-run website China Daily, accounts for about 70 per cent of the country’s waste (mostly sent to landfill).

China Daily has reported that as part of the drive, 750 Beijing restaurants are now offering smaller dishes to help reduce the amount of food wasted.

The government has now given its backing to the campaign, and The People's Daily newspaper – the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party – ran the campaign on its front page. The government has reportedly given the campaign its backing as it aligns with Xi Jinping's crackdown on government indulgence. As part of the drive to encourage 'frugality', the party has dropped a number of extravagant government indulgences, such as banquets and welcoming ceremonies, in a bid to appease a public struggling with high living costs. Further, unnecessary ministerial travel has been reduced in the hopes of minimising traffic disruption in cities.

All television and radio channels have also been issued with instructions banning advertising that promotes ’the culture of giving luxury watches, rare stamps and gold coins — a practice often associated with corruption’, according to National Public Radio (NPR).

Drop in luxury food sales

The drive to cut food waste and conspicuous pomp has led to a severe drop in luxury food sales. NPR reports that business for high-end caterers in Beijing has dropped 35 per cent in 2013. Further, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce states that sales of shark fin soup Beijing hotels fell 70 per cent during the Lunar New Year holiday last month.

The Financial Times quoted one Shanghai hotelier as saying: “All the five-star hotels have been hit… Our government business was almost cancelled totally. They did not reduce the price of their banquets – they just cancelled them outright.”

In a rare admission, Xu Zhijun, Vice President of China Land & Resources News Agency, conceded that official extravagance had alienated many members of the public: “There are still a lot of people who don’t have enough to eat, yet many local citizens have thrown away a whole chicken or fish,” he said. “What people find even more unbearable is the government reception dinners wasting huge amounts of public money.”

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also taken steps to reduce food consumption by its three million members, with leftovers being reused to make new meals. According to the official Xinhua news agency, “Unfinished rice and other dishes should be re-cooked into fried rice with eggs and fried steamed bread, and leftover parts of vegetables be made into various pickles and appetizers.”

The ‘Clear the Plates’ campaign is the newest of China’s moves to counter waste and comes just days after the government announced it was to champion the cause of a circular economy and boost the nation’s recycling industry so that it is worth 1.8 trillion Yuan (£183 billion) by 2015.