Avoiding waste and recycling are the best way to solve Hong Kong's environmental challenges

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 July, 2013, 3:17am


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I refer to the letter by J. R. Paine ("HK needs not one, but three incinerators", July 13).

Friends of the Earth (HK) has been lobbying the government to focus on reducing the generation of waste through appropriate policies, namely, waste charging, producer responsibility and landfill bans.

The crux of our waste problem is our disposal mentality, where we tend to dispose and buy again, rather than save things for reuse.

As a result, Hong Kong generates more waste per capita than other comparable jurisdictions such as Tokyo and Seoul.

In the full spectrum of waste management, we need to reduce, reuse and recycle our waste (which rank higher in the waste management hierarchy), so as to reduce its volume before any thermal treatment or disposal of it at landfills (which rank lower). Our government's past documents state the benefits of focusing on upper-level methods of the waste management hierarchy, though it seems it is still concentrating on lower-level strategies.

Incineration is one method of reducing the volume of waste, but if we do not implement meaningful waste avoidance policies, the city will rely heavily on thermal treatment methods that destroy many useful recyclable materials by turning them into ash (which requires landfill disposal).

With a little planning, these recyclables can instead be retained as raw materials available for reuse by different industries.

Singapore is a classic reference for us to consider, as it relies heavily on incineration and does little on waste avoidance, and still claims to have reached a recycling rate of 58 per cent in 2010. Singapore's four incinerators service a current population of only about 5.3 million.

The reason for industrial solid waste and glass being dumped in Hong Kong's landfills is mainly because there is a lack of waste avoidance policies, coupled with our government not providing subsidies to recyclers to recover low-value recyclables such as glass.

Glass should not be dumped into landfills, as used glass can be recycled to make new glass-based products.

Whether landfills are on land or at sea, they have a limited lifespan. However, if we control our seemingly unquenchable desire for consumption, and design products for recycling ease, these are the most effective and eco-friendly solutions to our growing waste challenges.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, director, general affairs, Friends of the Earth (HK)