Shanghai Food Waste Management

As China has experienced double-digit economic growth over the past 30 years, more than 300 million people have moved into its cities. These cities have seen and created an enormous amount of economic benefit, and their middle class residents have become avid consumers.

Through this process, the relationship between people and food, and food waste, has changed. Whether attributable to increased affordability, convenience, or displays of wealth, major Chinese cities produced approximately 88.65 million tons of food waste in 2016 (E20 Research Institute, 2018). This figure is likely to grow as China’s economy soars, urbanization expands, and living standards improve.

First-tier municipalities like Beijing and Shanghai produce 1,000 to 2,000 tons of food scraps daily, putting significant pressure on food waste management systems to efficiently and effectively deal with this particular waste stream.

At present, a significant portion of food waste ends up in landfills or incinerators without undergoing proper treatment, or is illegally diverted into the informal system to feed livestock or produce cooking oil through practices that have resulted in serious food safety problems. This food waste has not only incurred economic losses and negative environmental impact, but it also threatens China’s agricultural capacity to deliver fresh, safe, and affordable produce to its rising middle class and urbanites.

This report examines the food waste management systems of urban China, using Shanghai as a case study, and identifies lessons and experiences that other Chinese cities can learn from. It explores the food waste management streams, formal and informal, in Shanghai, as well as the challenges and opportunities for consideration by leaders from the private, public, academic, and nonprofit sectors.

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