HK should do more to conserve water, energy and food

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 10:40am

As a city, we lack natural resources. But Hong Kong's affluence means we seldom have shortages of anything. However, the abundant supply in water, food and energy has made us one of the most wasteful cities on the planet. From food waste in restaurants and supermarket chains to excessive energy use by shopping malls and outdoor billboards, evidence of wastage is everywhere. The latest example that puts us to shame is the water waste in our public swimming pools.

It is common sense that swimming pools use a lot of water. But that is not any reason to waste the precious resource. According to the city's first audit of water use at government amenities, up to six million litres of water is being used and lost at five pools every day - the equivalent of half an Olympic-sized pool. The Sha Tin Jockey Club swimming pool appears to be particularly wasteful. With a daily average of just 990 swimmers in the seven-pool complex, each uses 1,323 litres of water, compared with the 20 litres recommended by the Australian utility Sydney Water for its swimmers.

Assuming the findings by the Water Supplies Department are correct, the amount of water wasted is alarming. There is no reason why we have to splash out when swimmers elsewhere can adhere to better guidelines. The severe drought in the 1960s has become a distant memory for many ever since the government began buyikng water from the Dongjiang in Guangdong in the 1980s. Sadly, adequate water supply remains a challenge for many countries. It would be a shame if we bought water only to wash it down the drain. A better conservation approach is needed.

Equally frustrating is our excessive use of energy. Our notoriously freezing shopping malls remain a problem, though are not as bad as they used to be. After years of campaigning, calls to raise the temperature of air-conditioning to 25 degrees Celsius have paid off, with 100 malls signing a charter in June. Government offices and public venues have also adopted the guideline to save energy. But a recent survey by this paper shows individual shops inside the malls do not heed the calls, with some temperatures dropping to 19 degrees. This is attributed to the fact that tenants usually pay a fixed air-conditioning fee and do not have any incentive to reduce energy consumption.

Among the daily 9,100 tonnes of municipal solid waste dumped in our landfills are edible fruit and vegetables discarded by supermarkets. That food waste could feed 48,000 families of three for a day. Thankfully, growing public criticism has finally prompted change, with some donating unsold food to charity. Obviously, more should be done. Waste may well be part of modern life. But with better strategies and effort, a change in attitudes and habits can be achieved.