Throwaway Wisdom

Throwaway Wisdom

May 5, 2017 

It is often the case that we judge ourselves and others on what is important and valued. We feel a close connection with those who treasure the same things. We could also take the opposing view: what we discard says a lot about us as well. At a time of the year when we seek wisdom from careful observation and reflection, it is also possible that our waste – those things we have no further use for, or which are surplus to our needs – can act as an important marker of values and attitudes.

During our recent 'food drive', we made an attempt to draw attention to our habits and practices surrounding one particular form of waste – waste food. Based on calculations taken through the daily monitoring of food waste in our composting program, we were able to state, with some accuracy, that the annual wastage of food from Jessie‘s Kitchen amounted to 27,000 kg. This statistic pointed to two things: how should we handle our waste and what might be done to reduce it?

As noted above, we took action some years ago to work with Teng Hoi, a Hong Kong based conservation organization, to process all of our waste food into organic soil, which is in turn used by our Primary School students to grow various types of plants in our rooftop planter boxes. In a very real sense, our waste food becomes 'food for thought'! We have taken other steps to scrutinize our usage of electricity, paper, and other 'consumable' items. These actions, however, are essentially aimed at minimizing or mitigating harm.

The 27T event staged in Charles Kao Square in the week before the Easter break was an attempt to 'visualize' the problem through an 'installation', a creative 3-D display in a public space that built progressively throughout the week. It was a somewhat serendipitous coincidence that the 27T event shared the venue with student artwork as a part of the Primary School Visual Arts Exhibition. In creating a display of donated, non-perishable food items, we sought to raise awareness of the problem among members of the ISF community and change the behavior that created the problem in the first place.

In the end, we did not quite reach our target. Together, we donated just over 18,000 kg of food. This total suggests that our waste food target for 2017-18 should be a number well below 18,000 kg! The donated food was collected on the final day of the exhibition by a philanthropic volunteer organization, Feeding Hong Kong, and will be distributed in the coming weeks to those in need of our help (http://feedinghk.org).

As noted by some observant parents, the awarding of 'house points' for food donations from Secondary School students did generate considerable excitement, along with some competition, among our more enthusiastic students. This youthful exuberance should not detract from an essential truth: the small 'mountain‘ of food in Charles Kao Square was representative of the choices we make each day in Jessie‘s Kitchen; it was also representative of choices we make in other aspects of our daily lives, habituated choices, hardened into immutable patterns of behavior that ultimately impact on our part of the planet in a tangible, measurable way.

There is a well-known expression we are what we eat, which reflects the idea that we become what we consume. In considering how our choices and values shape what we throw away, perhaps we might also say that we are what we discard.

Dr. Malcolm Pritchard
Head of School

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