Alumni Linkage — OU People

Alumni Communication & Support Alumni Linkage Past Issues November 2018 Issue Alumni Linkage — OU People

Things like leftover vegetables and coffee grounds are often considered garbage, but they are embraced as treasures by 'food designer' Eric Cheung. Since graduating from the OUHK's Energy and Environment programme in 2014, he has used his self-developed skills in dye extraction from leftover vegetables in a wide range of applications to make our world a greener place.

Scientific exploration for the endless possibilities of leftover food

Eric went to Korea to participate in an exchange activity relating to social innovation when he was at the OUHK. He met his food design partner there and the two later set up 'Run 2 Tree Studio' to make good use of leftover food. Its products have included extracts, dyes and other things. Talking about the business of leftover food, many people would think of developing agricultural or industrial items. Eric was inspired by some curry stains on his clothes during a meal. 'There's low usage of industrial and agricultural products in Hong Kong. But most people are fond of beautiful things. So I suddenly wondered if leftover food could be used to make colourful dyes,' he recalls.

Eric’s graduation thesis was on the cling of leftover food. 'The OUHK has helped me a lot. I was able to read academic research findings and use laboratory facilities to do experiments, laying a solid foundation for my future work. Water pollution was one of the important topics of the curriculum, including the impact of the bleaching and dyeing industry. This has also strengthened my awareness of the importance of water environmental protection,' he says. Eric's research and production of dyes from leftover vegetables later not only reduces waste, it also is of benefit to the conservation of water resources.

Eric’s skills of turning leftover vegetables into dyes have already been adopted by the food industry and used on fabrics for the production of artistic items. He also takes part in many educational activities to share his knowledge of feasible environment friendly lifestyles with the public. In 2015, he was invited to join the world expo in Milan and explain his ideas in interviews with the local and international media.

From laboratory to work studio

From a $200 investment in a flea market with his partner to having a studio at PMQ – a hub for creative and design industries in Central – it has not been easy for Eric the scientific researcher. As for his experiences in starting a business, he mentions three points: be bold to learn from trial and error; start production only when there is demand in society; and set a bottom line for losses with no money loans. Eric was delighted to know that the OUHK had launched the Open InnoChallenge scheme recently to help students translate their innovative ideas into entrepreneurial endeavours. He immediately agreed to return to the University to share his experiences with younger students and offered them internship opportunities to give back to his alma mater.

Eric says humbly: 'We're just getting started and not yet on track', although his business has stabilized. He still continues to engage in scientific research and says jokingly that durian had been one of the targets of his bold experiments. 'Every day comes with new ideas and materials for experiments and the possibilities are endless.' He got a fascinating blue from red cabbage and a precious grey from the shell of water caltrop. This colour exploration has given him joyful surprises one after another.