No end to our wicked, wasteful ways

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am


Despite greater awareness of issues such as global warming and rapidly depleting natural resources, few Hong Kong households are motivated enough to make changes to their lifestyle.

A 2011 survey by Green Sense found that 70 per cent of 500 respondents were exposed to air conditioning for 18 to 23 hours a day. And government figures show household energy consumption rose 14.7 per cent from 1990 to 2008.

A WWF Hong Kong study over the same period suggested that half of this rise was due to wasteful habits that cost consumers an extra HK$400 million in power bills.

Many families not only fail to adopt energy-efficient electrical appliances, 'they think nothing of such wasteful acts as throwing away appliances that are still in good condition', says WWF senior campaign officer Angus Wong Chun-yin. Green groups blame the community's lukewarm response to environmental issues on the lack of a comprehensive government policy and of a support network for eco-friendly initiatives.

Paper, aluminium cans and plastic bottles are the only materials that can be recycled in Hong Kong, says Celia Fung Sze-lai, environmental affairs officer with Friends of the Earth.

'Everything else is destined for landfills,' Fung says. 'Even the blue, brown and yellow plastic collection bins [for recyclable items] are stuffed with other waste. Not treating the recycling initiative seriously, people dispose of other rubbish there.'

Fung says insufficient government support for recycling dampens families' enthusiasm to go green. 'Even if they want to do something for the environment, there's no point in separating leftover food from other rubbish as no place can recycle it,' she says.

It is estimated that families in Hong Kong generate more than 2,700 tonnes of food waste every day. But the city's first leftover recycling centre, to be opened in 2014 on Lantau Island, will be able to handle only 200 tonnes.

Fung says the government should promote recycling of kitchen waste to dovetail with its plan to introduce a household waste disposal fee, the public consultation on which ended earlier this month.

Friends of the Earth got 122 families to separate their leftovers from February to March to test how much waste could be reduced.

'The 64 families that practised separation used 14 fewer rubbish bags a month than those who didn't,' Fung says. 'Suppose a rubbish bag costs HK$1.30. Then they could save HK$18 a month.'

Most people think going green requires effort and time. But green groups say slight changes in lifestyle can make a difference. Here are some of their tips:

Place electrical appliances away from heat sources

This applies especially to air conditioners and refrigerators, which should be positioned away from stoves and sites exposed to sunshine. A refrigerator should be positioned at least 4cm away from the wall, as heat trapped in tiny spaces will mean more energy is needed for freezing.

Make sure you use energy-efficient electrical appliances

Retailers stock energy-efficient models of just five items - light bulbs, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, washing machines and refrigerators. Devices are rated from one to five, with one indicating the best energy-saving performance. Green groups say energy-saving bulbs use up to 10 times less electricity than traditional ones.

Reduce energy use by changing household habits

Wash the dust screen in the air conditioner once a month, as accumulated dust will cause the machine to use 5 to 15 per cent more energy. Disconnect power from electrical appliances if they are left unused for a long time, as devices in stand-by mode consume electricity. A 30-inch LCD television in stand-by mode will still consume 15 to 20 watts per hour, which is equivalent to the amount used by an energy-saving bulb.

Reduce meat consumption

Sheep, pigs and poultry account for 20 per cent of global carbon emissions each year. In countries like Brazil, large tracts of forest, which help absorb carbon emissions, are razed to clear land for livestock such as cattle.

Buy local produce

Imported foods require more fuel to transport them to the consumer. So it's best to buy food that is grown locally if you can.

Sort kitchen waste

Families in rural communities can turn leftovers and kitchen scraps into compost.