According to Environmental Protection Department (EPD) figures, if we continue to throw more than 6 million tonnes of garbage into our landfills each year, as we did last year, the current landfill sites will last only five to nine years. Hong Kong is running out of places suitable for landfill sites, and every tonne of domestic waste that ends up in a landfill costs the taxpayer HK$800. 'This is a very important time for recycling in Hong Kong,' said Philip Stride, director of Sustainable Solutions Limited(SSL), a Hong Kong-based company that has been working with property management companies to establish recycling systems at private housing estates since 2000. Following several pilot schemes, the Environmental Protection Department is now actively promoting source separation of domestic waste. Grants are available from the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF) to support up to half the cost of setting up a waste separation system in housing estates. 'After five years [of promoting recycling], this [ECF] grant is the only thing that we feel is making an impact,' Mr Stride said. The concept of recycling has suddenly become a lot more palatable to many property management companies. And with the ECF grant, the property management companies should be able to fully recover their investment in a recycling system within a year. Once the initial investment is recovered, a waste separation programme should generate a small but tangible income from the sale of recovered recyclable materials. 'I don't think you should ever pay anyone to take away recyclable waste as you can't guarantee that they won't throw it away into a landfill,' Mr Stride said. 'There's a trust issue - is it really being recycled?' But having a few small recycling bins in a central refuse collection point does not generate enough waste to make it worthwhile for the recycling companies to collect. 'It's all about scale,' Mr Stride said. 'What recycling companies love are massive cages full of waste.' Recycling companies will then pay management companies a fee for the metal, paper and plastic collected at their properties. The solution is to instigate programmes where recoverable domestic waste such as plastic, metal and paper are separated by individual households and collected on every floor of every tower block. When the waste is gathered together at a central collection point, the volumes then become significant. Some management companies have used their recycling income as a prize to encourage more waste separation; others have used it to fund gardens. One of SSL's first projects involved working with Hong Yip Company, a subsidiary of Sun Hung Kai Properties, to develop a recycling system for 1,669 households at Royal Peninsula in Kowloon City. In the first month of the waste separation scheme, the quantity of recyclables collected increased by 46.7 per cent from 5.3kg to 8kg per household a month. The EPD's poster child for generating income from recycling is a 6,504-household private housing estate in Heng Fa Chuen, managed by the MTR. Last year, the Eastern district estate generated an income of HK$230,000 from the sale of recyclable materials. Hong Kong has no legislation to compel any households to reduce waste or recover recyclables. Property management companies may implement recycling programmes, but the power to instigate a recycling programme in private estates lies with the owners' or residents' associations. While the new EPD grant is helping property management companies make the 'no-brainer' decision to initiate waste separation at source, Mr Stride said the driving force behind recycling programmes was the younger generation's interest in environmental protection. 'The information is flowing from children to parents, to owners' committees then to the property management companies,' he said. Children and young people seem more aware of the 3-Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle. 'Of the 3-Rs, the most important is reduce,' said Mr Stride, who supports the government's plan for a domestic waste charge next year to encourage people to further reduce waste. 'Hong Kong is one of the very few countries that does not have a charge for waste. Some people produce a relatively small amount of waste while some produce a lot, so the current system isn't fair.'