Waste is such a complex issue but also a tremendous ocean of opportunities, including business and we jumped on the chance to bring together some of Hong Kong’s biggest social movers and shakers to bring light to the problems and solutions surrounding waste (listen up, entrepreneurs).
Unless you live off the grid, you’ve probably heard all the staggering statistics surrounding the state of our planet today. To start, our oceans are filled with plastic, so much so that there will be more plastic than fish by weight by 2050. Moving onto to waste, every day in Hong Kong there are 370 tons of waste thrown into landfills and that’s not even talking about electronic waste that working double time on damaging our soil with chemicals. Or maybe you’ve noticed the hordes of cardboard collected by the elderly communities not just in the streets of Hong Kong but also in most of the major cities in Asia? And we’re barely scraping the tip of the iceberg here. The list goes on.
Did you know that Hong Kong produced 3.7 million tonnes of municipal waste in 2015 – the highest figure for five years. And most of it got dumped into landfills.
But, there’s always a bright side. Imagine for a minute if waste from one organisation or industry could be used to supply the raw materials of another one? Well it can, and the process goes by the fancy term we like to call “circular economy” and it defines a community where everything produced gets either reused, recycled or upcycled. It’s a paradigm away from our current linear model, which relies on the “take-make-dispose” model of production.
This year, IRIS – a health and wellness festival in Hong Kong – offered us an opportunity to put together a panel on sustainability and we jumped on the chance to get down to the nitty-gritty when it comes to Hong Kong’s waste situation. We invited experts in the field including thought leaders from local grassroots communities like the Circular Community of Hong Kong, HK Recycles and No More Junk. In earlier discussions, we all agreed that no one in Hong Kong was is really sure if waste is really being recycled. Even though trash is getting separated at home, no one actually knows what happens next. This skepticism probably comes from witnessing recyclables being mixed up again after collection, time and time again.
We decided to get to the bottom of it once and for all and find out the truth behind the waste situation in Hong Kong. We drew up our questions and took them to the experts. Here is who sat on our panel:
- Tom Ng, member of 正澳社區回收 街坊 NO MORE JUNK Bay Gāai-fōng
- Aigul Safiullina, founder of Sustainable Minds and former co-founder of Zero Waste Life
- Tanja Wessels, founding partner of the Circular Community HK
- Philippe Li, business developer at HK recycles
QUESTION: What is Municipal Waste?
Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is comprised of solid waste from households, commercial and industrial sources. MSW is disposed of at landfills. In 2017, that figure stood at nearly 6 million tonnes.
Food waste is comprised of waste produced during food production, processing, wholesale, retail, and preparation, as well as after meal leftovers and expired foods. It makes up roughly 36% of MSW.
Construction waste includes waste arising from construction work such as construction, renovation, demolition, land excavation, and road work. Through waste sorting and separation, inert material is used as fill in reclamation sites, when available. The non-inert portion of the waste still goes to landfills.
Chemical waste is comprised of substances specified as posing a possible risk to health and/or the environment.
Clinical waste is generated from various healthcare, laboratory and research practices should be managed properly so as to minimize danger to public health or risk of pollution.
Waste Cooking Oils (WCO) include oils abandoned from any cooking process for human consumption, other than those from households. It should be handled properly to promote the recycling of local resources and prevent them from re-entering the food chain.
QUESTION: What can be recycled?
Paper waste: newspapers, books, magazines, office papers, cardboard but remember to remove plastic coated pages, plastic tape, and other non-paper materials as well as to keep the waste paper dry
Metals: iron/aluminum cans (clean), milk powder cans, and cookware
Plastics: beverage plastic bottles, personal care product, and plastic bottles
Electrical Appliances: small, cooker, toaster, oven, hair-dryer, vacuum cleaner, electric fans, iron, mobile phone, telephone, camera, recorder, MP3 player, electronic dictionary, notebook, computer, printer, DVD/cassette tape player, etc.
Note that air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, etc. should go to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling program.
QUESTION: What cannot be recycled?
Beverage or milk cartons with plastic or aluminum interior coatings
Aerosol cans, chemical containers
Mops, correction fluid containers or medicine containers
QUESTION: Why is Hong Kong’s recycling rate is so low compared to other Asian cities?
There are barriers preventing companies and individuals to engage in recycling:
SOLUTIONS FROM AN INDIVIDUAL POINT OF VIEW
QUESTION: Is it possible to live a zero-waste lifestyle in HK? How can people begin to go about it?
- Have a strategy applicable to your personal lifestyle and to start small.
- Evaluate how much waste you produce in a week, only after you start separating your waste and weighing it will you see more clearly
- Figure out which of the items you are ready to refuse or at least replace with sustainable alternatives
- Start small, month one you can focus on composting food, month two is to replace your kitchen supplies with the alternatives and month three could be devoted to your bathroom
- Start to get in the habit of refusing things: takeaway meals (or bring your own containers when possible), goodie bags and low-quality products with short lifecycles, etc.
- Don’t buy alternatives right away as you can shop your home first and be creative with DIY products
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be kind to yourself – just take it slow and enjoy your journey.
“The easy way of thinking is ‘no waste = no problem’ so I’d encourage everyone to refuse before thinking how to reduce or recycle.”
QUESTION: What can we as consumers and companies can do to use fashion as a force for good?
- Ask questions, get curious, signal to companies that people are savvier nowadays
- Celebrate brands and people with progressive values – that can be done financially and publicly on social media
- If you want to go to the edge of things and this is not for everyone, stop shopping and find joy in other ways
SOLUTIONS FROM A COUNTRY POINT OF VIEW
QUESTION: Can you recommend us of circular services to support in Hong Kong?
Vcycle: Founded in 2017, V Cycle tackles Hong Kong’s environmental issues on two levels; ecological and social. The 10 Tonne Challenge is a charity campaign focusing on plastic bottles collection and poverty alleviation. Four cardboard grannies participated in the campaign to sort plastic bottles by colour. The bottles will be recycled and upcycled into creative, multi-purpose bags. The sewing and stitching process will create job opportunities for rehabilitation participants. Proceeds from the sales of the bags will go towards improving the lives of many other cardboard grannies.
HK Composting Community: 3,600+ tonnes of food waste is sent to HK landfills every day. Rotting food produces methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Gets turned into nutrient-rich compost.
The R Collective: The R Collective rescues and up-cycles surplus luxury materials that are destined to be wasted and transforms them into beautiful, enduring affordable luxury designer pieces.
Tiostone Environmental: By mixing recycled glass with coal ash and other construction waste, Tiostone produces 100,000 to 150,000 square metres of ec0-bricks in Hong Kong a year.
Kevin Cheung: An upcycling product designer experimenting with waste materials, reusing them to create new products and also collaborating with different NGOs to produce the products locally.
Boombottle: A speaker system made from a waste plastic container.
Rice Bell: A bicycle bell made out of wasted rice cooker bowl. The aluminum dome shape creates a good resonance sound.
QUESTION: What are the #LittleGreenSteps that panelists believe we can implement into our lives on a daily basis?
Tanja: Refuse, refuse, refuse (find other ways to experience joy, goddamit!)
Aigul: Strive for a simple life focusing on your well-being, social relationships, and experiences over-consumption. The healthier and happier we are, the healthier and happier is the planet 🙂
Philippe: Be consistent and use reusable items frequently. Don’t keep buying reusable items as that defeats the purpose of lowering your personal ecological footprint.
Tom: BYOstuff, and not only say no to plastic, but also say no to all single use. Plan your consumption to avoid impulsive shopping.