Hong Kong produces
too much waste, a problem that most people are becoming aware of
thanks to the proliferation of recycling bins and news reports about
the landfill shortage. But waste management is about much more than
providing bins and landfills. Different kinds of waste require different
solutions - and often have significant costs attached. The Environmental
Protection Department (EPD)'s job is to ensure the most appropriate
options are applied in Hong Kong.
Waste can be
reduced, re-used, recovered, recycled or converted into energy before
landfilling is even considered. The EPD has developed programmes
and built facilities of high international standards to transfer,
treat and dispose of waste. Still, Hong Kong is producing more waste
than our landfills can cope with. They will be full within the next
seven to 11 years if waste loads continue to grow at the present
rate. This poses a great challenge for the community, and the department.
We will need to take tough decisions, and build on our past waste
management experience and strengths, if future waste arisings are
to be dealt with properly.
Hong Kong produces
9 440 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day - enough to fill more
than three Olympic-sized swimming pools. One of the first goals
in managing waste is to reduce that amount so there is less waste
to treat or dispose of. This is a considerable challenge for Hong
Kong, given that municipal waste loads have increased by 1.6 per
cent per year over the past five years while the population has
grown by only 0.8 per cent.
is waste produced by households, commerce and industry. About 41
per cent is now recycled - a jump of five per cent over 2002 due
to an exceptionally high demand for waste metal - but only a relatively
small portion of the total comes from the domestic sector, which
recycles around 14 per cent of its waste. Several programmes therefore
have been introduced to improve waste recovery from households.
The largest is the Waste Recycling Campaign in Housing Estates which
began as a pilot programme with 41 housing estates in 1998. It now
reaches more than 1 333 estates covering some 1.58 million households.
In 2003 the campaign collected over 146 000 tonnes of waste paper,
9 000 tonnes of aluminium cans and 1 000 tonnes of plastic bottles
(see Community Awareness chapter for details).
have also been introduced on a pilot basis to collect used products,
such as computers and electrical goods, which do not have a ready
market. They are either re-furbished or dismantled to recover metals
and other recyclable materials. The principle here is not for the
government to provide a recycling service, but to determine the
viability of recovering these materials so producers can take on
the responsibility themselves, passing on costs to customers if
necessary. Many other places have already adopted product responsibility
schemes, such as Europe, Japan and Mainland China, and Hong Kong
lags far behind in this area.
first attempt at product responsibility was with mobile phone batteries,
starting on a voluntary basis in 2002. The response was lower than
expected, indicating more work needed to be done to understand the
markets, logistics and feasibility of these schemes. Eventually,
mandatory schemes may be required. In 2003, new pilot schemes were
introduced in partnership with two community organisations, the
Caritas Youth and Community Service and the St James' Settlement.
The Caritas group collects computers, while the St James' Settlement
is collecting electrical and electronic equipment. Items that are
still in working condition are donated to the needy and the rest
are dismantled to recover materials for recycling. The EPD also
ran a trial scheme to collect used tyres for recycling and is now
consulting tyre associations, car owners and other stakeholders
on the best arrangement, should it be decided to go for large-scale
Apart from testing
the feasibility of recycling specific types of waste, the government
is also trying to get more people into the habit of separating their
waste. A dry-wet waste separation trial began in March 2003 involving
residents from four housing estates. Each household was provided
with green bags for dry, recyclable waste and black bags for wet,
non-recyclable waste. During the first six months of the 12-month
trial, more than 1 000 green bags were collected each day.
All the above
measures will help to ensure that 40 per cent of municipal waste
is recycled by 2007. That target was laid down by the government
during a review of the Waste Reduction Framework Plan in 2001. While
the continued growth in municipal waste is a long-term concern,
a more urgent problem is construction waste.
About 7 000
tonnes of construction waste were deposited in landfills each day
in 2003 - roughly 40 per cent of the total waste being dumped. The
figure fluctuates from year to year, but is rarely below 7 000 tonnes
per day. The seven to 11 years of life left in existing landfills
could be reduced to only four to seven years if no suitable outlets
for inert construction material are identified.
One way of reducing
construction waste is to separate inert materials, such as earth
and rocks, for re-use. The material can be used in reclamation sites
and has also been tested for use in concrete, roads and drainage
channels. To encourage more waste separation, the government required
public works contractors to include a waste management plan in their
tenders from 1 July 2003, which outlines how contractors will carry
out on-site sorting and minimise waste generation. Their performance
is monitored and, if the plan is correctly carried out, they receive
special payment under their contract. Work is proceeding to introduce
a similar plan for private sector projects.
to reduce waste is to charge producers directly for waste handling
or disposal. This is a practice carried out in most countries, from
Vietnam and Peru to Sweden and Canada. A long-standing proposal
on construction waste charges was tabled before the Legislative
Council in December 2003 and is awaiting approval. Inert material
brought to a public fill (reclamation) site would be charged $27
per tonne. Mixed waste that contains at least half inert material
could be brought to a sorting facility at $100 per tonne. Mixed
waste with less than half inert material could be disposed of at
landfills at $125 per tonne. These charges are in the low to middle
range of that charged by other countries. By introducing charges,
Hong Kong would be joining most of the rest of the world in making
waste producers shoulder some of the cost of waste management.
loads at source is a major priority for the EPD, but it will not
stop waste from arising. Another strand in waste management is to
reduce the bulk of waste before it is disposed of, thereby extending
the life of landfills.
The large quantities
of waste generated daily in Hong Kong, combined with the limited
availability of land, means waste treatment needs to be an integral
part of how we manage waste. Until the early 1990s, Hong Kong used
incinerators, but these were built to outdated standards and were
polluting. In 2002 the EPD invited Expressions of Interest from
Hong Kong and international operators on waste treatment options.
59 proposals were received and, in the past year, studies have been
conducted on their technical and land requirements, costs, life
cycles and environmental impacts. An advisory group comprising mostly
non-officials, including key stakeholders, is overseeing the studies.
have been categorised into six types: composting, anaerobic digestion,
gasification, a combination of mechanical and biological treatment,
combustion of fuel derived from waste for the production of cement,
and incineration. Some might be surprised to see incineration on
the list, but modern incinerators meet much higher environmental
standards than in the past and are being built in advanced countries
such as Sweden and Germany. No decisions will be made until after
a public consultation in 2004.
Apart from treating
waste to reduce its bulk, treatment is also required when the waste
is hazardous or of a difficult nature. The EPD has operated a composting
plant for livestock waste since 1991 and a Chemical Waste Treatment
Centre since 1993. The chemical waste facility, on Tsing Yi Island,
is equipped to treat a wide range of chemical and hazardous waste.
New equipment was acquired in 2003 to handle mercury-containing
waste such as fluorescent tubes and energy-saving light bulbs.
Even after treating
waste to reduce it, and after reducing waste arisings in the first
place, there will still be considerable quantities requiring disposal.
Hong Kong's three strategic landfills were supposed to last until
2020 when first planned in 1989. But the unforeseen growth in waste
loads means they will only last until 2011-5, depending on the landfill
site, leaving barely enough time to build another facility. The
waste reduction and treatment measures described above will not
be sufficient to buy more time for these landfills because many
will come on stream too late.
of Hong Kong Waste Treatment and Disposal Facilities
Click to Enlarge
Hong Kong needs
another 500 million tonnes of landfill capacity to meet our needs
up to 2050. The existing landfills currently can provide 100 million
tonnes. If they were extended, an additional 100 million tonnes
of capacity could be created. The remaining 300 million tonnes of
capacity would need to be found from another source. Solving the
landfill shortage will take time, but in 2003 several steps were
taken towards addressing this problem. A study on extending the
existing landfills and identifying potential new landfill sites
was completed in April 2003. It recommended that the proposed landfill
extensions be acted on immediately. A detailed feasibility study
and environmental impact assessment will be carried out on each
individual landfill in 2004. On potential new landfill sites, the
study noted that Hong Kong only had two or three options, given
its limited land resources, and it was recommended that work proceed
immediately to identify the most suitable site. The public will
be consulted on both the extension of existing landfills and the
building of new landfills.
waste crisis is severe. Difficult decisions need to be taken in
the next few years on which new waste management facilities to adopt,
where they should be built and how they should be paid for. These
will require input from everyone in the community - and understanding.
As described here, waste management is a complex topic. It is not
enough to dig a hole and dump our waste. We must adopt safe ways
of dealing with our waste for the sake of people's health and the
environment. Managing waste is not just the responsibility of the
one that everyone in the community must share.