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  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 7:03am
NewsHong Kong

Hong Kong family close to achieving goal of zero household waste

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 9:05pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 November, 2013, 12:22pm

It began about three years ago. A mound of dirty nappies and used baby wipes was driving Claire Sancelot and her husband mad. Since then, the 37-year-old economist and mother of three young children has been on a mission to reduce waste.

"We now only produce about half a bucket of waste every week, and we're a family of six and a dog," Sancelot said. It's a significant drop from when the family, which includes a live-in helper, was throwing out a big bag of rubbish a day.

Hong Kong produces about 13,400 tonnes of waste a day, or 1.36 kg per person, 40 per cent of which is food waste. The charity Oxfam estimates that a three-person household eats 1.12kg of food a day, and throws out almost as much.

Video: How to make your home 'green' in Hong Kong

"We realised all this consumption was unsustainable," said Sancelot, who runs an ethical women's clothing line in the city. She decided to avoid consumption altogether, and rarely shops. Instead, she scours online boards for second-hand women's designer clothing, children's clothes and books. She also refuses packaged products, preferring to take her own bags and reusable containers to markets and restaurants.

"You don't have to be rich, you don't have to have a lot of space, or to be a hippy to be zero waste," she said.

As she pulled out the rubbish bin hidden under the kitchen sink, it was empty except for a ramen-noodles wrapper. There was no whiff of decomposition so common in kitchen bins, as all the vegetable peelings and leftovers had gone into compost containers by the laundry room.

"It's really in the kitchen and the toilet that the most waste is generated," said Sancelot, walking through her brightly painted, clutter-free apartment.

Sancelot has been documenting her family's experiment on her blog Hong Kong Green Home; showing experiments with compost, posting tips on going paperless and giving hints on making French toast from stale bread. "You save money, you save space and you save time once you've got the infrastructure in place," she said. "For someone who follows my blog, they could be where I am in six months if they wanted."

Hers is part of a growing movement of green-living blogs and communities that are looking to reduce their impact on the environment, and bring together local vendors. Sancelot has created a network of organic and local vendors providing for about 30 households in her apartment complex.

"I'm sure Julien hates me right now. I'm giving him too much work," she said, talking about Julien Ki, an organic farmer who brings her fresh produce once a week.

Take a tour of Julien Ki's farm.

She has also linked up with a local soap producer and is looking to add locally made organic skin-care products and laundry detergent to her shopping basket.

"I used to think it was harder in Hong Kong to be as green as we are in Australia, but Claire's gone and done it. We don't really have an excuse anymore," said homemaker Nicole Serje, who is also trying to reduce waste. "It's been most valuable finding out places to get products and trying to find locally made produce."

The Sancelot household also has a "no gift" policy, unless it is edible and without packaging.

But she admits getting to where her family is now was not easy. The amount of waste she saw made her constantly angry, antisocial and prone to preaching. Now she refuses to write anything negative in her blog.

"Sometimes I think she's like the little boy sticking his finger in the dike [to stop the flood], but someone's got to do it," said her husband Prasad Padmanaban. "It's the right thing."


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This article is now closed to comments

Good for Ms. Sancelot and her family. Meanwhile, rational minds like hers are still trying to penetrate the breathtaking stupidity, special interest dominated thinking of government over waste management in Hong Kong.
Ah no but you don't understand. We have to have a lengthy public consultation first, otherwise Christine Loh doesn't know whose vested interests to protect. Whoops, I meant: what the best policy is.

And please don't expect our government to take a competent decision on which tycoon to give that juicy incinerator contract to. Whoops again, I meant: on what long-term waste management facilities we need.
As long as the government points the finger at the end users and calls them the 'domestic waste producers' the problem will continue. Don't shift the blame to the consumer while sparing those who profit by manufacturing the wasteful containers. These include the importers who bring in the packaging and pre-packaged products, and the retailers who use excess packaging.in their daily business. I can't buy fresh salad greens in most stores without being given a large stiff plastic container or a sealed plastic bag both of which contain more than I can use before it spoils. Apples, plums, and other fruit come packaged in larger numbers than I need and surrounded by plastic as well. To eliminate such excessive packaging would require some retrofitting,both mental and physical on both sides, so that there the customers could get only as much as they needed and take it home in a minimum of packaging, using proper-sized containers, preferably ones they brought in with them.
The type of compost bin she's using is the airtight bokashi style. It ferments for about a month, then you need to dig a hole in the ground, cover in soil to complete the decomposition (a month or more the better). Some people incorrectly apply the fermenting food waste directly in the potted vegetable soil. You need a separate decomposing soil bin for this, or most ideal a backyard in the ground. Most HK flats do not have a backyard or a large enough balcony to do this.
I think the government should initiate community composting, but must promote local farming at the same time so that the compost can be put to good use. All public space/parks, rooftops, instead of flowers and plants, should be growing food instead, subleasing to interested individuals. Idle private lands could also be required under a new legislation to lease out to local farmers, but that maybe controversial, as private owners of farm-zoned land only interested to wait for developer's redevelopment.
Lovely Flat. Lots of space, front and rear balcony...2,000sq feet ?
"...There was no whiff of decomposition so common in kitchen bins, as all the vegetable peelings and leftovers had gone into compost containers by the laundry room..."
Try doing that in your average flat in HK!! A lot of people live in the space she has in her kitchen and back balcony!
I praise her way of living, but she does not know what the average family in HK occupies. Go away, rethink your ideas and strategy for the HK family then push your re-worked model for living.
Gasification technology reduces fresh and existing landfill waste to between 5-7% of its original mass, creating syngas that can be used to run turbines or other gas applications. It is used in Europe and is starting in SE Asia but HK is still talking about incinerators. Syngas applications have an emissions profile as clean as, and in some cases cleaner than, natural gas. But HK wants to build incinerators. Composting does lead to methane release which releases more than 32 times the carbon of CO2 so that is a good half-way option but it is also a flammable gas. There are options but HK continues to stick with old technology. Don't you wonder why?
I have long wondered why community gardens couldn't be part of the urban planning and so-called green zones or open spaces. Not only would it help with food-sustainability issues and introducing children to where there food comes from, it would also contribute to lowering the carbon footprint due to fewer imports and would give another use and location for compost. I have yet to see this issue being mentioned by any of the green groups here. Hope that changes soon.
Urban farming is happening in some big cities but not hk. I suggested above maybe every building to install a compost machine and have the guard to handle it. The cost is minimal to share and they all can share the compost for plaiting plants at home. Win win.
Hk calls ourselves as asia world city (of producing most waste?). We are the only few so called world class cities without good recycle scheme. It is time to rethink.
HK waste management ? = extend landfills = build a man made island in the sea as the new ash lagoons = burn 'n bury
Recycling needs something to recycle but recyclables need to be burned so they can co-combust the food waste that will not combust itself as it is 90% water content from wet markets and 75% water content from malls
What would happen to the man made ash lagoon island the next time a super typhoon turns north from the Philippines instead of west ? 3 meter tsunami surges washing cancerous ash deposits into the seas, killing marine life for hundreds of miles, swamping Lantao, Cheung Chau and Macau with cancerous fly ash deposits



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