Rapid de­vel­op­ment.

AS ONE OF THE WORLD’S FORE­MOST ECO­NOMIC HUBS, A SHOP­PING MECCA AND A BAN­QUET CAP­I­TAL, THE CITY HAS AL­WAYS BEEN A HOT­BED OF CON­SUMERISM. IT’S ALSO AN IN­NATELY TRAN­SIENT PLACE; PEO­PLE, RESTAU­RANTS AND TRENDS COME AND GO FASTER HERE THAN PER­HAPS ANY­WHERE ELS

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

The sta­tis­tics are alarm­ing. In the past 30 years, the amount of waste Hong Kong throws out ev­ery year has in­creased by al­most 80 per cent, de­spite the fact the pop­u­la­tion has grown by only 36 per cent. The city gen­er­ates an av­er­age of 1.36 kilo­grams of rub­bish per per­son per day—far more than Tokyo (0.77kg), Seoul (0.95kg) and Taipei (1kg), mean­ing we have one of the largest per­capita waste foot­prints in Asia.

Why are our fig­ures so much higher than those of other ma­jor Asian cities? Doc­u­men­tar­ian and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cate Sean Lee-davies sug­gests the ex­cess stems from Hong Kong’s non-in­ter­ven­tion­ist style of gov­ern­ment. “There’s a gen­eral idea in Hong Kong that we can just live the lux­ury lifestyle and not give a hoot about the con­se­quences,” he says. “Hong Kong has al­ways had a lais­sez- faire kind of gov­ern­ment and peo­ple don’t like hav­ing their lives in­fringed upon. There’s an at­ti­tude of ‘As long as you make money, you can do what you want.’ I think that’s the men­tal­ity that peo­ple in Hong Kong have al­ways been used to.”

That’s also the per­cep­tion our north­ern neigh­bours have of Hong Kong, ac­cord­ing to Chan King-ming, a pro­fes­sor at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong and di­rec­tor of its en­vi­ron­men­tal science pro­gramme. His Main­land Chi­nese stu­dents are shocked by what they see as a “high-waste so­ci­ety where ev­ery­thing is used then dumped.”

And dumped it is. A whop­ping 64 per cent of the six mil­lion tonnes of waste the city gen­er­ates each year goes into land­fills. That com­pares to just 19 per cent in South Korea, 2 per cent in Tai­wan, 1 per cent in Sin­ga­pore and none what­so­ever in Ja­pan, which re­lies on a mix of re­cy­cling and in­cin­er­a­tion. And Hong Kong’s three land­fills will be full by 2019. The sit­u­a­tion is crit­i­cal, so what’s the so­lu­tion?

The first step—and it’s safe to say the gov­ern­ment and green groups are unan­i­mous on this point—is to re­duce the amount of waste gen­er­ated. Chan sum­mons the Bud­dhist con­cept of noth­ing­ness: “If there are no ma­te­ri­als used, then noth­ing needs to be treated.” The onus is on ev­ery­one to min­imise the amount they con­sume—whether that means re­fus­ing pack­ag­ing at the point of sale, choos­ing re­us­able nap­kins over pa­per servi­ettes, or think­ing twice about up­dat­ing your wardrobe ev­ery sea­son.

The gen­er­a­tion of some waste, though, is in­evitable and the city must find ways of deal­ing with it. Many res­i­dents feel the gov­ern­ment is not do­ing enough to en­cour­age re­cy­cling. Hong Kong is one of the few de­vel­oped cities in the re­gion—and in the world—not to have laws that make re­cy­cling com­pul­sory. And most residential build­ings do not have fa­cil­i­ties for re­cy­cling. It’s worth not­ing that once ma­te­rial en­ters a rub­bish bag, its fate as land­fill is sealed—noth­ing is sal­vaged from that point un­less scavengers are brave enough to sift through the waste. While South Korea re­cy­cles 60 per cent of its waste, Tai­wan re­cy­cles 50 per cent and Syd­ney re­cov­ers a whop­ping 68 per cent, Hong Kong’s fig­ure hovers around 36 per cent.

To ad­dress the prob­lem, we first need to know what we’re throw­ing away, as dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als must be dealt with dif­fer­ently. Per­haps the most as­tound­ing statis­tic is that food makes up more than 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s waste load, ex­clud­ing con­struc­tion in­dus­try waste. Do­mes­tic house­holds dis­card 920,000 tonnes of it per year—equiv­a­lent to the weight of 250 dou­ble-decker buses ev­ery 24 hours. Pa­per and plas­tic each make up 20 per cent, and me­tal, glass, wood and tex­tiles

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