Have a green new year - EJ Insight


Have a green new year


During the Chinese New Year, many shopping malls, housing estates and households decorate their premises with various items, along with mandarin orange plants and peach blossoms, to enrich the festive atmosphere. Now comes the question: what is done with all that decoration and plants afterwards?


According to the report “Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong” published by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) at the end of last year, on average there were 177 tons of garden waste disposed in landfills daily in 2016 after the CNY, including festive plants and potted plants.


Hong Kong lacks a well-established system for recycling garden waste. Fortunately, in recent years, the EPD has implemented measures to reduce waste from the source and foster waste recycling to solve the problems.


After the CNY, we see quite a number of mandarin orange plants being abandoned. In view of this, the Housing Department has recently introduced a plan to collect the plants from various public housing estates. Quality plants will be selected for planting in the housing estate.


Hong Kong: High per capita waste volume


At the same time, the EPD also carried out peach blossom recycling activity. Citizens or shops could bring the plants to be disposed to the selected recycling stations at a specified time. The peach blossoms would then be processed into wood-derived fuel or horticultural fertilizer. In 2016, over 14,000 peach blossoms and mandarin oranges were collected.


However, Hong Kong is lagging behind when compared with other developed places in waste management. In 2015, Japan generated 0.96 kg municipal solid waste per capita per day, while the corresponding figures in the United Kingdom and Finland stood at 1.33 kg and 1.32 kg respectively. Now, what about Hong Kong? Well, we produced up to 1.39 kg in 2015 and 1.41 in the following year, the highest in 23 years.


Garbage problem bothers people in modern cities. Therefore, many places invariably advocate 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) to promote waste separation and recycling, and encourage citizens to reduce wastage.


Japan: Effective waste recycling


For example, the Japanese focus on packaging which is the cause of a lot of garbage. They stress recycling to solve this problem. The Japanese government strictly enforces garbage classification. The local garbage can be divided into combustible (such as kitchen waste and wood chips), non-combustible (such as glass, ceramics and metals) and recyclable (plastic bottles and waste paper). In addition, there are different collection time and quantity limits for the public to follow strictly.


As a result, the plastic bottle recycling rate in Japan was as high as 84 percent in 2016, while the recycle of aluminum cans exceeded 90 percent. Among the various places in the country, Kamikatsu-cho in Tokushima prefecture has seen garbage getting classified into 34 types and its total rubbish recycling rate reaching an impressive 80 percent. Now, it is moving towards the goal of “zero waste”.


Taiwan: Discarded plastic turns into jersey


As for Taiwan, its waste recycling rate is also extraordinary, up to 58 percent, and the usage rate of recyclables is also very satisfactory. This is due to a garbage classification policy implemented since 2001. The local government requires citizens to separate garbage according to three categories, before disposal: (1) recyclable wastes, which are subdivided into flat type (such as paper and plastic bag), three-dimensional (such as metal cans and computer equipment), and others (such as batteries); (2) food wastes; and (3) large wastes (such as mattresses). People who do not follow the rules are subject to a fine of NT$6,000 (HK$1,600).


The Taiwanese stress the importance of recycling and they make full use of recyclables. During the 2014 FIFA World Cup, some Taiwanese businessmen use recycled plastics to create environmentally friendly plastic materials (PET) to produce jerseys of 10 national teams. The move was highly appreciated. In 2016, over 80 percent of the reclaimed metal from Taiwan's disposal of electrical appliances and communications products had been reused. With the value of recycled materials generated from disposed containers reaching NT$3.2 billion, recycled resource has become one of the Taiwanese treasures.


South Korea: Collecting food waste with IT


In South Korea, Seoul has stipulated since 1995 that households should use pre-paid garbage bags for disposal, and charged them according to the weight of garbage. Household waste is divided into four major categories, including recyclable waste (i.e. packaging waste such as paper boxes, glass bottles and styrofoam; waste products such as electronic products; other recyclable items such as newspapers, scrap iron, clothing, etc.), food waste, large waste and residual waste.


Information technology is also used. For example, food waste and smell-inducing organic waste became a concern as they emit an odor. Residents are required to sort them according to the government guidelines before storing them in a container with radio frequency identification (RFID) in the common area of the residential buildings. The container records the weight-based billing details. Each container costs about 1.7 million won (HK$11,000) each, and can cater for the needs of 60 households.


As a result, the volume of household waste per capita in Seoul dropped nearly 30 percent in 20 years, from 1.3 kg in 1995 to less than 1 kg in 2014; while the recycle rate including food waste reached 67 percent in 2014, which was three times the level 20 years ago.


Waste can be valuable


Returning to Hong Kong, our garbage problem is very serious, and it calls more efforts to reduce waste at the source, as well increased recycling. Recently, some young people brought up an idea to use soya bean dregs collected from wet markets to make steam bread. They intended to turn it into a business. No matter whether it will be a success or not, the “Waste No Food” spirit is highly laudable.


In fact, many of the wastes are still valuable. With some creative ideas, they can turn out to be very useful. Earlier, the Conservation E3 Foundation conducted a free Paper Planting Plants workshop. Part of the Tree Adoption Program, the trainer introduced the practice of using pulp generated from waste paper to replace soil, and help seed germination and growth. It proved that waste paper is also valuable. The adults and the children who attended the workshop learned a practical and environmental friendly lesson.


At the beginning of the Year of the Dog, may I wish you all a happy new year. Let's work together to create a beautiful green environment, and live a green new year!







Dr. Winnie Tang
Honorary Professor, Department of Computer Science, The University of Hong Kong