Chinese consumers wasted roughly 17 to 18 million tons of food served in big cities in 2015, a quantity sufficient to feed 30 to 50 million individuals annually, according to a report released at a seminar Saturday in Beijing.
"That might equate to the total number of people living in South Korea in the same year," said Dr. Wang Ling'en, a leading researcher from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the China Academy Science.
Of the four cities - including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Lhasa - surveyed in 2015, vegetables top the list of food waste occurring at the consumer level and account for as much as 29 percent of the total.
The institute's newly revealed survey indicates staple foods, like rice and noodles, and meat are two other main sources of food waste, representing 24 and 18 percent of the total, respectively.
This is despite experts recommending people strive for a simple but balanced diet without too many dishes, particularly for those who dine out with relatives and friends during festivals.
Surprisingly, research found that each consumer from the above cities throws away 93 grams of food per meal, while more food is wasted or thrown out at school cafeterias and larger restaurants.
"By 2012, the equivalent of 1.6 Earths were needed to provide the resources and services humanity consumes each year," said Lu Sicheng, director general of the World Wildlife Fund in China, meaning natural resources were already being hit by over-exploitation several years before 2012.
Lu said people have forced natural systems to the edge, where land and fresh water are vital for food processing. Reducing food waste is a priority, and cannot be delayed.
A series of activities themed on "eating up" has been organized nationwide since the "clear your plate" campaign launched in 2013. But there is still no room for complacency, as more efforts should be stepped up to boost awareness in the next-generation that frugality is a virtue and waste is shameful, said Prof. Cheng Shengkui, principal investigator of the institute, in an interview with China Daily website.
By explicitly connecting each section of the report to the scientific method, the government at various levels could easily learn how to react to minimize food losses and waste based on data-based tracking and analytic tools, explained Prof. Ge Quansheng, director general of the institute, when asked what the report highlighted.
Jointly organized by the institute and WWF, the event won support from many non-government organizations and enterprises, including the United Nations Environment Program China Office, All-China Environment Federation and Walmart Inc. Participants are expected to ally with each other to contribute their efforts and ideas to maximizing the reduction of food waste across China.
Of all the available solutions to address food waste, cultivating a healthy eating habit seems to hold the most promise, suggested Wang Shi, chairman of Vanke Foundation.