Why we are all paying for Hong Kong's home renovation fervour

Peter Kammerer says our construction waste will pile up as long as our zeal for home improvement trumps that for the common good

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 January, 2014, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 January, 2014, 10:31pm

Hong Kong's wasteful ways are on full display in the flat next to where I live. Just two years ago, it was gutted so that the new owner could put his individual stamp on his surroundings; all that had been installed, from floor coverings to bathroom fixtures, was torn out and replaced. Now that the place has been sold, the inevitable is happening all over again and the noise is deafening and the dust is thick, as would be expected when every inch of 800 sq ft is being ripped to shreds. Piles of smashed tiles, wood and ceramics, fresh from suppliers not so long ago, are being heaped downstairs in the garbage.

I've witnessed this four times in the 17 years I've lived in the North Point building. With some 12 flats to a floor, 28 floors and two blocks, and a fairly regular tenant turnover, you would rightly conclude that renovation activity is frequent.

Owners want their home to be their castle. They have every right to do what they like with their property, building codes considered. But the disposal charge for construction waste is supposed to make people think twice about what they replace. Media advertisements advising against wastefulness are prominent. Yet each time a new owner moves in, all is forgotten as the desire to personalise takes over.

The owner is not always at fault. I've overheard the workmen next door convincing my to-be neighbour that the plumbing is of poor quality and has to be replaced. The same arguments were put to the previous occupant. In the name of a bigger payday, it's conceivable other features have been discussed.

Authorities, mindful of landfills that will be brimming over in a matter of years, advise against this sort of behaviour. They suggest working with the renovation contractor to minimise construction waste and arranging with recyclers for collection of recoverable items. In the excitement of moving into a new home, all this has been forgotten next door. As the owner flits about with plans for this to go here and that there, the workmen seem to be enjoying smashing whatever gets in the way of their hammers.

If this is the approach to setting up a new home, there is no reason to believe that the mindset towards waste will change after the owner moves in. Plans to charge for household waste will depend on whether the fee is high enough to make people think twice about what they throw away. If the construction waste charge and what has been happening over the years to the flat next door is any guide, deterrence will require more than a token gesture. But that is just a small part of creating a less wasteful culture.

It all starts with the people who are supposed to be setting an example for society: our lawmakers and government. With a few exceptions, they cannot be said to be doing a good job. Despite 15 years of discussion, household recycling and the recycling industry remain at a rudimentary stage. This is perhaps understandable given the wastefulness of officials when it comes to public spending. Over the past few years, there has been a catalogue of excess, from white elephant infrastructure projects to hefty overseas travel bills and costly entertainment expenses. With such disregard at the top, why should those of us beneath bother?

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post