Hong Kong landfills overflow as household waste rises for fifth year running

Figures show 3.7 million tonnes of municipal solid waste were dumped in the city last year, up from 3.57 million tonnes in 2014

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 November, 2016, 7:08pm

The amount of waste dumped in the city’s overflowing landfills has risen for the fifth year in row with the bulk of it still coming from households, new data has shown.

Two-thirds, or 3.7 million tonnes, of the 5.5 million tonnes of solid waste discarded last year was comprised of municipal solid waste – rubbish generated domestically from homes, and commercial or industrial activities – most of it food, paper and plastics. The remaining 1.8 million tonnes was mainly comprised of waste from the construction sector.

The city discarded 3.57 million tonnes of municipal waste in 2014, 3.48 million tonnes in 2013, 3.4 million tonnes in 2012, 3.28 million in 2011 and 3.3 million in 2010.

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Environmental authorities in 2014 implemented a blueprint to cut per capita municipal solid waste disposal by 20 per cent by 2017 and 40 per cent by 2022.

“Between 2010 and 2015, the amount increased at an average rate of 1.9 per cent per year, outpacing population growth of 0.8 per cent but slower than economic growth of 2.9 per cent,” according to a research brief by the Legislative Council secretariat.

A full set of official 2015 waste data will be released by the government before the end of the year.

Recycling rates for municipal waste dropped 23 per cent from 2005, driven by a sharp decline in plastic recycling caused by fluctuations in waste import and exports.

While household waste remained the lion’s share of the mix of municipal solid waste, the brief pointed out that this proportion was shrinking. The share from the commercial and industrial sector rose from 27 per cent in 2010 to 36 per cent last year.

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Hahn Chu Hon-keung, who heads environmental advocacy for The Green Earth was “not optimistic” that the government would meet either target if waste charging was not legislated soon.

“At stake will be whether or not the government can get a bills committee formed for the waste charging bill before the end of the first quarter next year,” he said. “The volume of waste disposal is still increasing and whatever they’re doing now, it’s not stopping the bleeding.”

He also raised concern over the alarming increase in plastic waste as a proportion of municipal solid waste. About 800,000 tonnes of plastic was discarded into landfills in 2015, up 8.9 per cent from the preceding year.

The Environment Bureau hopes to prepare the necessary legislative proposals for the implementation within the legislative term.

It has hinted at the need to introduce mandatory source separation for food waste to ensure diversion of food waste from landfills and to maximise the recycling potential of food waste.