Waste man­age­ment: What we can do to?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - KEN DAVIES

This is the fourth in a se­ries of ar­ti­cles ex­plor­ing poli­cies to ad­dress Hong Kong’s waste man­age­ment chal­lenges.

Afa­vorite quote from for­mer US pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s inau­gu­ra­tion speech can work here as much as in the US: “Ask not what your coun­try can do for you, ask what you can do for your coun­try.” While we are right to de­mand that the gov­ern­ment adopt more sus­tain­able so­lu­tions to Hong Kong’s waste man­age­ment prob­lem than the old pol­icy of per­pet­ual use of land­fills, we also need to con­sider what ac­tion or­di­nary cit­i­zens can take.

True, some of the waste that has to be dis­posed of ev­ery day is be­yond our per­sonal con­trol. The con­struc­tion in­dus­try, a main­stay of the Hong Kong econ­omy, gen­er­ates a quar­ter of the solid waste dis­posed of in the ter­ri­tory’s three strate­gic land­fills — though this is only 6 per­cent of to­tal con­struc­tion waste, the other 94 per­cent al­ready goes to fa­cil­i­ties where it can be re-used. Around 2,000 tons a day of de­wa­tered sludge are pro­duced by sewerage and waste wa­ter treat­ment plants. Ve­hi­cles emit waste gases which pol­lute the air we breathe. Our ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment is pol­luted by in­dus­trial ef­flu­ent and un­treated sewage.

But much of the waste is what we throw in the bin, and we can con­trol that. Each of us, on av­er­age, dumps more stuff than res­i­dents of Taipei, Seoul or Tokyo. Do­mes­tic waste makes up 44 per­cent of all waste re­ceived at land­fills. We can re­duce this if we al­ter our con­sump­tion habits so that we ac­quire and use less, and throw less away. Where this is not pos­si­ble, we can re-use or re­cy­cle what we do not need.

The largest item is food waste: “pu­tresci­bles” make up 44 per­cent of our daily off­load (the next largest is pa­per, at 22 per­cent, and plas­tics, 19 per­cent). While some of this is ined­i­ble ma­te­rial like veg­etable peel­ings and bones, much of it is per­fectly good food that is left over at the end of a meal.

There needs to be a change in our food cul­ture. Eat­ing less, and bet­terqual­ity food makes us healthier and re­duces the risk of obe­sity. There is no need to store ex­ces­sive quan­ti­ties of food, much of which will be chucked out when it reaches its sell-by date. Buy­ing what we need makes our house­hold bud­get go fur­ther. And chil­dren should be taught — by adult ex­am­ple — to clean their plates. In restau­rants, we can ask for smaller por­tions. If you have too much food in the kitchen, you can help feed the hun­gry by do­nat­ing some of it at one of the many col­lec­tion points op­er­ated by char­i­ties. They usu­ally ac­cept un­opened pack­ages of non-per­ish­able food that has not yet reached its “best be­fore” date, so don’t try giv­ing them the leav­ings from your din­ner ta­ble (which you shouldn’t have any­way if you’ve done what I told you).

If you ha­bit­u­ally re­place your com­puter or iPhone as soon as the lat­est ver­sion goes on sale, con­sider whether you can go on us­ing your cur­rent model for a few months or years longer. This may be a good bet any­way, as it means you can wait un­til the ini­tial bugs have been ironed out.

Be­fore get­ting rid your old com­puter, think whether you might have an al­ter­na­tive use for it or whether your fam­ily or friends could use it. When you do even­tu­ally dis­pose of it, do so safely by tak­ing it to a col­lec­tion center.

The same goes for clothes. Do you re­ally need so many? You can free up closet space by do­nat­ing or sell­ing items you have stopped wear­ing. They’ve prob­a­bly gone out of fash­ion any­way. Be cool!

In poorer times, we of­ten had to wear “hand-me-downs” be­cause we couldn’t af­ford new clothes, so now that the econ­omy has de­vel­oped we shun “sec­ond-hand” items. But in pros­per­ous coun­tries it is now highly fash­ion­able for rich peo­ple to shop for used clothes at char­ity shops like Oxfam. Find one and use it.

Thanks largely to an ini­tia­tive launched by the gov­ern­ment in 2005, 80 per­cent of us now have clearly la­beled re­cy­cling bins in our apart­ment blocks or near our houses in which we can put pa­per, alu­minum cans and plas­tic bot­tles. On some es­tates there are also fa­cil­i­ties for col­lect­ing and re­cy­cling food waste as com­post or land­scap­ing.

It doesn’t take much ex­tra ef­fort to sep­a­rate our waste in­stead of dump­ing ev­ery­thing in the same bin. If, though, you know some­one, per­haps el­derly or dis­abled, who does find this irk­some, you might vol­un­teer to help them do this.

There are also lo­cal col­lec­tion points en­cour­aged by the Com­mu­nity Re­cy­cling Net­work that can take low-value re­cy­clables in­clud­ing waste plas­tics, glass bot­tles and small elec­tri­cal and elec­tronic items.

As ini­tia­tives like EcoPark (in Tuen Mun) de­velop, there are more and more op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­cy­cle more cat­e­gories of waste to pro­duce things we can use. This in­cludes turn­ing cook­ing oil into biodiesel, waste wood into wood chips, waste glass into glass paving blocks. As Head of Global Re­la­tions in the OECD’s In­vest­ment Di­vi­sion up to 2010, the au­thor wrote and pub­lished ma­jor pol­icy re­views for the gov­ern­ments of China, In­dia, In­done­sia and the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion.

Ken Davies

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