Hong Kong boasts glittering skyscrapers, seamless transportation and billion dollar infrastructure projects, but it is struggling with a much more mundane problem: disposing of its trash.
The former British colony is grappling with a growing mountain of waste resulting from China’s ban this year on imports of 24 types of unprocessed rubbish – part of an effort to upgrade its recycling industry and reduce pollution.
The Hong Kong government acknowledges its inability to cope with the problem, saying that it lacks the land to develop an effective recycling industry.
Hong Kong, a city of around seven million people, exported over 90 per cent of its recyclables to mainland China in the past. In the pictured above, tonnes of waste paper to be shipped to the mainland are piled up at a dock in Hong Kong, China, September 15, 2017
Hong Kong might be famous for its skyline and habour, but now the former British colony is struggling with the amount of trash it has to dispose without the help from Beijing
Critics say, meanwhile, that the city has done too little to upgrade and develop its waste management system.
‘Hong Kong is a rich city with third-world quality recycling,’ said Doug Woodring, founder and managing director of Ocean Recovery Alliance, a Hong Kong-based non-government organisation.
‘It has been too easy to send unprocessed waste to China,’ added Mr Woodring.
Until last year, Hong Kong exported over 90 per cent of its recyclables to China. That all changed at the end of 2017 as the effects of the Chinese ban – which included Hong Kong despite its status as a special administrative region of China – started to be felt around the world.
Huge mountains of old newspapers, cardboard and office scrap have piled up on Hong Kong’s docks over the past few months while plastic waste has been dumped into the landfills.
Critics say that Hong Kong has done too little to upgrade and develop its waste management system, leaving it in a difficult position after China’s ban on rubbish imports took effect. The above picture was taken in a recycling dock in Hong Kong in September, 2017
The Hong Kong government said the city lacks the land to develop an effective recycling industry. A woman collects cardboard on a street in Hong Kong, China September 15, 2017
An average Hong Kong resident throws away around 1.4 kilograms daily, more than double that of Asian cities such as Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei. Pictured is Hong Kong’s iconic skyline
A city of more than seven million people, Hong Kong deposits around two thirds of its waste into landfills – 5.6 million tonnes annually. Little is recycled.
Hong Kong’s deputy director for environmental protection, Vicki Kwok, said in an interview that the densely populated city was unable to absorb all the recyclables due to a lack of available land in one of the world’s most expensive property markets.
‘We have to rely on exports and that makes us more susceptible, compared to other jurisdictions, to external market factors,’ she stated.
Ms Kwok said the government had announced multiple measures over the past few months to stymie the flow of garbage, including funding support to help upgrade local recyclers, and was prioritising waste reduction at the source by appealing to businesses and consumers.
Green groups say the measures will do little to alleviate pressure on Hong Kong as the local recycling industry is unable to process all the waste that used to be sent to China.
Beijing’s ban on imports of certain waste also applies to Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region of China. Workers are pictured dismantling electronic waste at a recycling park in Guangdong Province, which neighbours Hong Kong, on January 12, 2018
Apparently, the effects of the Chinese ban – which was announced last July – has started to be felt around the world. A worker (pictured) dismantles electronic waste at a government-sponsored recycling park in the township of Guiyu, China, on January 12, 2018
Mr Woodring said the government was too reliant on expanding landfills as a means of disposing of trash rather than reallocating land for waste management.
‘Hong Kong has the capability to build processing plants,’ he said, referring to recycling. ‘There is plenty of land. The land has just been misused and misallocated.’
An average Hong Kong resident throws away around 1.4 kilograms daily, more than double that of Asian cities such as Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei, which have implemented extensive recycling programs, according to the government.
Food waste, which accounts for the bulk of total waste generated, amounts to some 3,600 tonnes each day – the equivalent of 300 double-decker buses.
The government is aiming to open a facility this year that would convert food waste into energy and usable resources. However, the total recycling capacity will be a maximum of 200 tonnes daily while a second phase starting operations in 2021 will process a maximum of 300 tonnes per day.
Ms Kwok said the government was planning to expand three active landfills set to reach capacity starting next year.
The Hong Kong government had announced multiple measures over the past few months to stymie the flow of garbage. Pictured tricycles carrying electronic waste are seen in the township of Guiyu, Guangdong Province, China January 12, 2018
Green groups say the measures by Hong Kong government will do little to alleviate pressure as the recycling industry is unable to process the waste that used to be sent to the mainland. Bags full of parts of keyboards about to be recycled are seen in mainland China (pictured)
Hong Kong, which has already filled up 13 landfills in its history, is planning to start charging consumers for what they throw out but implementation is unlikely to take effect in the coming two years, the government has stated.
Landfill waste is typically highly toxic and can severely damage surrounding ecosystems. The planned expansion of the landfills is likely to further impact a growing number of residents in affected areas, green groups have stated.
In the meantime, municipal waste continues to rise unabatedly, surging 80 percent over the past 30 years, while Hong Kong’s population has grown 36 percent, according to the government.
The environmental group Green Earth estimates that Hong Kong throws 5 million plastic bottles into landfills each day.
Edwin Lau, executive director of Green Earth, said the government needed to put in resources to subsidize and manage the industry directly.
Hong Kong’s recycling industry is dominated by private players that operate in a piecemeal fashion with overlapping logistics.
‘The government has a role to tackle social issues such as the waste management issue,’ he stated. ‘Just expanding the landfills to cope with more waste, that is really backward thinking.’
China stops taking ‘foreign garbage’: Why Beijing no longer accepts rubbish sent by other countries for recycling
The Chinese government started allowing companies to import solid waste from other countries in the 1980s due to ‘a lack of resources’ in their own nation.
But the central government said that over the years some ‘profit-minded’ firms had brought in toxic waste that would endanger the health of its citizens, according to its official website.
As a result, China has issued a ban on imports of 24 types of unprocessed rubbish, often known as the ‘foreign garbage’.
TV sets about to be recycled are seen in a warehouse at the government-sponsored recycling park in the township of Guiyu, China’s Guangdong Province, on January 12
A plan of the ban was issued in July last year by China’s state council.
As stated by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua, the plan stated that the imports of 24 types of solid waste, including plastic waste, unsorted paper waste, crude textile waste and vanadium slag waste would be banned by the end of 2017.
While the imported garbage that could be replaced by domestic resources would be phased out by the end of 2019.
The ruling Communist Party said the new rule was part of an effort to upgrade its recycling industry and reduce pollution.