A Facebook group intended to reduce Hong Kong’s food waste has attracted more than 60,000 members since it was launched a decade ago as part of a university project, with dozens of posts a day.

Free Food Flow, which allows members to post information on leftover food in their homes and donate it to others, was started by Kelvin Kwok and seven fellow students for a course about social campaigns at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. 

Free Food Flow
Free Food Flow. Photo: Facebook screenshot.

Kwok and his classmates in the School of Journalism and Communication modelled their group on a similar page allowing people to barter items.

Kwok, now 32, told HKFP he was not surprised the project was still running and had grown to such a scale.

“[W]e modelled our group after another similar page, and that page grew to around 60,000 members as well,” Kwok said. 

Some of his former classmates were, however, moved by the success of the scheme. “They told me that previous projects somehow end when the semester ends and no one will run them afterwards.”

“They thought that we have been quite successful, in that the project is still here after ten years.” 

Win-win situation

Cindy, a clerk who is an aspiring baker in her spare time, began posting about her cakes in the group after she realised that she could not finish the ones she baked to practise her skills. 

She tried using foam cake dummies to practise piping floral decorations, but it wasn’t the same as the real thing. 

“Then I thought: why not give the cakes away? Then I can hear other people’s opinions about them and I won’t be wasting food,” said Cindy.

Cakes that Cindy gave away through Free Food Flow.
Cakes that Cindy gave away through Free Food Flow. Photo: Supplied.

To start with, she used a Tin Shui Wai WhatsApp group but soon stumbled upon Free Food Flow on Facebook.

“I observed the group for quite a while, because I was worried whether people would like [my cakes],” she said. Also, she was concerned she lived too far away from potential recipients. “In the beginning I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to give my cakes away.” 

The group soon proved her wrong.

Of all the people that she met through the Facebook group, one family made a particular impression. Cindy randomly chose a stay-at-home dad as the recipient of a purple floral cake but she only got to know about his family circumstances after they met.

The father’s child was in and out of hospital and money was tight.

“Coincidentally it was his wife’s birthday, and he told me that if he had bought a cake, he would be using his partner’s money, and he didn’t want to use his wife’s money to buy something expensive,” Cindy said. The father later sent her photos of his family enjoying the cake. 

Cindy will keep giving away cakes through Free Food Flow.

“Because I feel happy when I learn of other people’s reaction. Also, at least I will know what improvements to make. Whether I achieve my dream or not, at least I tried,” she said. 

The cake (left) that Cindy gave to the full time dad, and another cake (right) that she gave out through Free Food Flow.
The cake (left) that Cindy gave to the full time dad, and another cake (right) that she gave out through Free Food Flow. Photo: Supplied.

People who want to donate will make a Facebook post with a picture of the food, usually accompanied by a line to the effect of “eat at your own risk.” Would-be recipients will then leave a comment.

The donor then arranges to meet the chosen recipient at a time and place convenient to both parties.

Apart from cakes, other offers range from expired packaged snacks, takeaway food from fast food chains that people could not collect in time, and even one single apple.

“One apple, a gift from a colleague, I am too lazy to cut it, meet at Sheung Wan MTR station…,” one of the posts read. The apple had since been given away, according to the update in the post.

Mission complete

Ms. Wong is another active member of Free Food Flow. Her big family of more than 20 people gets together for a meal at her home each week.

“My foreign domestic worker cooks a lot every time, and because of my family’s habits, we won’t save leftover food for a second meal, and I thought it was wasteful,” said Wong.

Apart from home-cooked meals, Wong also gives away party food and packaged food from friends who work in the wholesale trade. 

Home cooked meals that Wong gave away through Free Food Flow
Home cooked meals that Wong gave away through Free Food Flow. Photo: Free Food Flow, via Facebook.

She has made donations dozens of times and met all kinds of people. Some would compliment her afterwards on the tasty food while others would complain if they missed out. 

One of her recipients was a group of housewives in Aberdeen, who would collect food from various families and distribute it to elderly people living alone.

Despite some unpleasant encounters through the Facebook group, Wong will continue giving away her home-made meals. 

“I just ignore them [people who complain]. My thinking is that after I have done my part, whether you eat it or waste it, my mission is complete.”  

The bigger picture

Kwok, who teaches financial management for an NGO at primary and secondary schools, is one of seven administrators of the group who are still involved after a decade. He himself sometimes accepts offerings through Free Food Flow.

One person he met through the group often shared sandwiches.

“That person was an employee of a Hong Kong retail chain, and the company policy dictates that the remaining food must be thrown away at the end of the day,” said Kwok.

“But the person did not want to waste food, so kept the food secretly and gave it away.”

Takeaway food
Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Hahn Chu, director of environmental affairs for the Green Earth NGO, said more could be done to encourage companies to donate food that could not be sold – such as legal protections against liability.

Food waste accounted for 30 per cent of all municipal solid waste at the city’s landfills in 2021, according to the Environmental Protection Department. An average of 3,437 tonnes of food waste was dumped each day.

The government plans to move away from reliance on landfills by around 2035, according to the bureau’s Waste Blueprint for Hong Kong 2035.

To reduce the amount of food waste, it is important to start at source, said Chu. People should not buy more than they can eat and should clear out and take stock of items in the fridge.

landfill Hong Kong
A landfill in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

With the upcoming launch of charges for municipal solid waste, reducing food waste will not only benefit the environment but also people’s pockets.

Giving away food can also redistribute resources from rich to poor.

While Hong Kong is a relatively wealthy city, some people are forced to collect vegetable scraps from wet markets after the market closes, Chu said.

“In a rich city with such a high economic level, these situations should not happen here.”

“If we can effectively distribute food … to alleviate the needs of the grassroots, I think it should be done.”

Correction 20.3.2023: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated the founder of Free Food Flow as Kelvin Kwan, it is Kelvin Kwok. We regret the error.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.