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Professor Marie Harder at the Magnolia awards speech

Meet the Brighton professor leading Shanghai’s fight against food waste

University of Brighton’s Professor Marie Harder has received the city of Shanghai’s Magnolia Gold Award for her contributions to life in the Chinese metropolis.

Normally a resident of Lewes in East Sussex, Professor Harder – also known as Professor Marie Waxman – has spent a significant part of the last ten years working in Shanghai, facilitating international exchanges and collaborations between University of Brighton and the city’s Fudan University, one of the top five universities in China.

However, her Magnolia Gold Award – given each year to foreign residents who have made a significant contribution to a city of around 25 million people – recognised Professor Harder’s development of a system to encourage Shanghai’s residents to better recycle their food waste. Shanghai residents love to prepare fresh food at home, but this creates large amounts of trimmings as waste. This is not only a misuse of valuable resources but is also linked to significant greenhouse gas emissions due to methane produced by food decaying in landfill.

Using Shanghai’s high-rise residential compounds as ‘living laboratories’, Professor Harder has worked with local not-for-profits and neighbourhood organisations to systematically demonstrate and then scale up the most successful approaches for encouraging food waste recycling among the city’s residents. As a result, the city is now diverting almost 10,000 tonnes on average every day to be used mostly in the production of ‘green energy’ biogas.

Professor Marie Harder, Professor of Sustainable Waste Management in the University of Brighton’s School of Architecture, Technology and Engineering, said: “For Shanghai, we found the weakest link was that residents didn’t really think it was their job to sort the food waste. As soon as that need was made very clear to them, everything else ran smoothly. Today, no city in the world diverts more food waste away from landfill as Shanghai and I’m incredibly proud to have been recognised by the city for the part I’ve played in helping make that happen.”

Though now working much of the year in Shanghai, Professor Harder hopes to be back in Lewes in October. In the meantime, she reveals the impact home has had on her in China: “I really miss being in Sussex, but what I carry with me all the time is the community spirit that people have there. I take this kind of community perspective with me into my work in China.”

The Magnolia Gold Award was created by the Shanghai Municipal Government to recognise and honour the contribution of expatriates to the city’s economic, social or cultural development. The white magnolia is the city’s flower, ‘symbolizing a pioneering and enterprising spirit’.

Alongside Professor Harder, nine other individuals representing the USA, Germany, Italy and Japan received this year’s Magnolia Gold Award.

Catherine Johnson • February 23, 2022

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