Upcycling cultivates waste reduction and recycling habits - EJ Insight



Upcycling cultivates waste reduction and recycling habits

The Legislative Council passed the Waste Disposal (Charging for Municipal Solid Waste) (Amendment) Bill 2018 at the end of August, while the two-month public consultation on Scheme on Regulation of Disposable Plastic Tableware also ended on 8 September 2021. The two measures are important milestones in Hong Kong's implementation of Waste Reduction for All, however, people can actually take a step further towards "recycling of resources" in their daily activities.

In recent years, cultivating upcycling has become the most effective environmental protection programme. Unlike recycling, which breaks down waste into raw materials for future use in production, upcycling does not change the original form of the waste, but only transforms useless or unwanted products into new ones of new functionalities and better quality, emphasising the creative and innovative re-use of materials for greater value and for reduced environmental impact.

There are many upcycling products in various places across the world, such as cute doll made from old gloves, small candle made from discarded bottle cover, children's desk made from old skateboard, chandelier made from wooden drum, and more. A museum in Taiwan once held a Special Exhibition of Old and New Uses, exhibiting many wonderful works of old objects with new uses, including wall clock made from gramophone record that engraved with laser patterns, home lighting made of motorcycle parts. These works not only present the infinite possibilities of old products, but also inject new life into old objects, adding ingenuity and creativity to life.

Some merchants even make commercial products out of disused ones, further enhancing the function and value of abandoned objects. In Germany, two young men gave new life to old things with creative handcraft. Operating an accessory shop in Berlin displaying creative fashion accessories, such as soft hats from coffee bean sacks, handbags from old CD storage clips, they created an upcycling European brand. At the same time, a department store in Nagoya, Japan cooperated with a fashion brand to make masks from fabrics of used clothing unsuitable for sale, turning them into a fashion item during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Hong Kong, a designer created an upcycling brand with paper boxes, transforming them into wallets and card holders, she also holds workshops to promote environmental protection and recycling.

Upcycling not only gives value to disused things, but also promotes the idea of making the better use of everything. The town of Kamikatsu of Tokushima in Japan provides a perfect demonstration of this idea. With the recycling rate of over 80%, the town with 800 households also uses waste parts wisely, such as turning waste wine bottles into decorations, or old clothes into scarecrows, etc. Nothing in the town is regarded as rubbish, Kamikatsu has become a "zero waste town" and "Japan's most environmentally friendly town". In May last year, the zero-waste design hotel Hotel WHY opened in the town, it was built with discarded cedar wood and agricultural tools, demonstrating the best use of waste resources.

The success of the town to maintain "zero waste" is because of the detailed garbage recycling and classification. There are as many as 45 types in 13 categories of recycling and classification, and the classification requirements are stringent. For example, the milk cartons after drinking must be washed, folded and dried before disposal; glass bottles must be divided into colored and colorless; a lipstick must also be broken down to different parts before classifications, the paste as "flammable", the lipstick tube as "small metal", and more. To execute such detailed recycling and classification, it all depends on the support and cooperation of the residents.

In February this year, the Hong Kong government announced the Waste Blueprint for Hong Kong 2035, setting out the vision of Waste Reduction‧Resources Circulation‧Zero Landfill to meet the challenges of waste management by 2035. The government put forward two main goals: (1) Gradually reduce the per capita municipal solid waste disposal rate by up to 40-45%; (2) raise the recovery rate to about 55% by implementing Municipal Solid Waste Charging, while the long-term goal is to move away from the reliance on landfills for direct waste disposal by developing adequate waste-to-energy facilities. To achieve the goals, the government has strengthened the central collection service for recyclables, continued to expand the community recycling network in 18 districts, and set up a GREEN$ electronic participation incentive scheme to encourage more people to integrate the practice of waste reduction of recycling into their daily life.

However, Hong Kong's recycling index has not yet improved. According to the "Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong - Waste Statistics for 2019" released by the Environmental Protection Department at the end of last year, the municipal solid waste recycling rate in 2019 decreased 1% compared with 2018. This is far from satisfactory.

To achieve the ultimate goal of "zero landfill", apart from reviewing the current recycling policy, we must also engage our people in the green transformation. We need concrete actions to realize the vision. In particular, publicity and education must be strengthened to engage more people to develop a habit of waste reduction and recycling.




Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong