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In Hong Kong, diners fined for leaving leftovers

At one restaurant, customers are charged 64 cents per ounce for food left on their plates.

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Deep in the belly of one of Hong Kong's largest malls, a mechanical stomach is digesting a social ill that is now catching the attention of this city's restaurateurs and environmentalists: too many leftovers.

Elsewhere in the territory, restaurant owners are starting to sound like your mother. They are putting little signs on tables that threaten to fine diners who leave food on their plates.

US and European cities have wrestled with excess food waste for more than a decade, but Hong Kong's prosperity and shrinking landfill space are only now pushing it to adopt a new consumption ethic. Neither the 'GoMixer' beneath the Festival Walk Mall, nor the prospect of punishment, has had much impact yet. But they are signs of things to come.

In the past five years the amount of food wasted by Hong Kong's restaurants, hotels, and food manufacturers has more than doubled, according to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). Food accounts for about one third of the 9,300 tons of waste deposited at landfills every day, says P.H. Lui, the EPD's chief environmental protection officer. By comparison, 12 percent of the US waste stream was food scraps in 2005, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. "This is a problem that we have to overcome," says Mr.

Lui, who attributes the rapid rise in waste to the greater prosperity Hong Kongers have been enjoying recently. Landfills are filling up, and even if they had unlimited capacity, rotting food in a landfill gives off methane, one of the most notorious of greenhouse gases.

The Hong Kong government is setting up an experimental composter that will transform four tons of food waste a day into soil conditioner, encouraging hotels and catering firms eager to burnish their "green" image to truck some of their waste up to the recycling center in Kowloon.

"In the longer term we'll need hundreds of this kind of facility," predicts Lui.

Festival Walk, an upscale mall where patrons of the food court leave 1,200 kilos (2,645 pounds) of food on their plates every day, is dealing with at least part of the problem at the source. The mall's managers have installed a "digester" in the basement that "eats" 100 kilos of leftovers daily.

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