Composting would bring all sorts of benefits

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2000, 12:00am

I refer to the letter from John Nash on composting (South China Morning Post, March 8).

When given time and the appropriate conditions, organic matter breaks down naturally as a result of the metabolic activity of certain micro-organisms.

Composting is simply the acceleration of this process through the creation of ideal living conditions for these organisms. Finished compost resembles rich, dark soil. It is high in nutrients and is ideal for use as a soil amendment.

With the exception of a government operation at Sha Ling for handling pig manure, and a limited number of farms (notably those practising organic methods), Hong Kong is not composting and we should be asking why not. From an environmental standpoint, Hong Kong simply cannot afford not to.

The figures that describe the waste situation are staggering. The amount of municipal solid waste that requires disposal at landfills is 8,600 tonnes per day.

However, 28 per cent of domestic waste by volume is organic and therefore compostable; 270 hectares of land are occupied by Hong Kong's three strategic landfills, that have an annual running cost of $360 million; 400 refuse collection vehicles are employed by the Government, which directly contribute to Hong Kong's deteriorating air quality and noise pollution and use up scarce fossil fuels.

Landfills contribute to the production of greenhouse gases and produce toxic leachate that can contaminate soil and groundwater systems.

What sort of legacy are we leaving for future generations? I constantly hear people talk about sustainability. Yet there is an element of rhetoric to that discussion if there are no simultaneous committed plans for action.

Admittedly, environmental issues are multi-dimensional and require a multitude of perspectives and skills to be applied over varying time-frames. However, the first step in making positive change is to acknowledge an issue to be of top priority.

The SAR Government should give serious consideration to the prospect of a region-wide composting infrastructure, not only for commercial and livestock waste, but also for domestic organic waste.

Public policies that hinder the trend towards waste prevention need to be amended. This includes, but is not limited to, re-directing investment away from 'end-of-the-road' waste management operations such as landfills and future incinerators, and towards re-cycling industries such as composting, repair, and re-manufacturing operations.

Investigation into possible infrastructure design and implementation schemes needs to take place without delay. Public awareness campaigns need to introduce the compost process.

Meanwhile, I encourage SAR citizens to engage in critical thinking about their role in environmental protection, both as consumers and as citizens in a democratic society, and to involve themselves in the discussion of sustainable approaches to waste management in Hong Kong. The production of compost in Hong Kong could have positive consequences for its citizens beyond the mere reduction of waste.

Presently, most of the food grown in the SAR, and that which is imported from neighbouring Guangdong, is grown with artificial fertilisers and pesticides.

Compost provides farmers with an alternative approach to nutrient management, which may lead towards a safer and healthier food production systems.

By composting, perhaps we can kick-start the trend towards an organic and sustainable agriculture in Asia.

If any readers are interested in starting a community composting project, I would be happy to discuss ideas and pass along useful resources. I can be contacted by e-mail at, or by writing to: Stephanie Fung c/o GPO Box 6559, Central, Hong Kong.