China’s clean plate campaign – would it help us?

Amazingly, approximately one third of total greenhouse gas emissions causing carbon levels to rise come from food production including global food waste.

In Leicestershire approximately 35 to 40% of everything thrown into a black bin is food waste. Disposing of this food waste at landfill sites costs the County Council (therefore us!) over £4.5 million each year. This is about £60 per family per month. Moreover on average one in six of the bags of food bought in Leicestershire will be thrown away uneaten. See

Why do people not take much action about food waste?

One reason people give me for not taking much action to reduce their carbon footprints, is a general feeling of hopelessness about it all. This is especially the case when taking countries like China into consideration. They have a valid point.  China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of food. It has the second to highest population in the world, only recently overtaken by India.

What may be a surprise is the massive problem China has with food waste – just like us! A study by Nature published in 2021 estimated that about 27% of food was wasted annually. One contributing factor to this problem is that in China, providing a banquet for family and friends is a very important sign of generosity. Maybe it’s similar here in the UK at family parties.

In 2021, the Chinese government announced the Clean Plate Campaign. The aim of this is tackle food waste and increase public awareness about food security.

Also in 2021, the National People’s Congress (China’s Parliament) passed the Anti-Food Waste Law.

Food providers who mislead customers into making very large orders, can be fined up to £1250. The law also bans making and distributing binge-eating videos, a popular activity.

In response, in some cities, such as Shanghai, some buffet restaurants charge customers a ‘clean plate’ deposit which will be returned if there’s no food left.  Maybe a more successful approach has been taken by some restaurants where people are weighed to estimate how much food they can have but it’s not very popular!

Do we have a culture of leaving food on our plates? 

How can we reduce our food waste – if it is an issue for us – and what can the Government, food producers and supermarkets do to change this situation? As is so often the case with the climate crisis, there don’t seem to be any simple answers but we are creative people and we will find a way.

Julie Fagan, volunteer, Harborough Climate Action and Eco Church.