Reducing Hong Kong’s waste, one upcycled product at a time

Industrial design graduate Kevin Cheung rummages through rubbish for items he can turn into something useful. Now he's out to spread the word about how to reduce the city's waste

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 June, 2015, 2:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 July, 2015, 8:28am

All it took was a picture of a packed landfill on TV to catch Kevin Cheung Wai-chun’s attention.

Seeing it filled with plastic bottles, boxes and other non-disposable materials, he realised that something needed to be done to prevent all that waste.

Deciding to do his part to foster a greener environment, Cheung put his industrial design degree from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to use.

From reshaping plastic bottles into speakers to reusing wallpaper of different textures to make wallets, Cheung, 28, now works as an upcycling product designer.

Watch: Kevin Cheung shows off his upcycled musical instruments

“I started this project three or four years ago and you cannot imagine how much waste we are actually [creating],” he says. “When you look at our landfills, which will be filled up in a few years, all of the things we will throw inside are solid waste. A lot of those objects are still very useful.” 

Upcycling is the process of transforming discarded materials to create another product of better quality or greater environmental value. Recycling, on the other hand, requires more manpower, as things such as paper, metal or plastic will be shattered, melted and moulded by machines in order to become something else. 

According to Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department, an average of 14,311 tonnes of solid waste per day was disposed of in landfills in 2013 - the latest year for which statistics are available - with 6,359 tonnes of that domestic waste.

To do his part in reducing that number, Cheung goes around the city collecting discarded items such as wooden wine boxes, paper, plastic and box files from landfills, convention centres and the plastic resources recycling centre in Tuen Mun.

“People who have never thought about upcycling are always fascinated about why I am doing this because it gets a little bit dirty sometimes,” Cheung says of digging through trash.

Another way he’s trying to minimise waste in the city is through collaborating with others, such as local musician Michael Lai Hiu-yeung.

After working together to teach children how to make a miniature xylophone from plastic bottles, Lai is working on an album of songs to be played on instruments made by Cheung. These include a guitar made from a plastic bottle and a cajón drum made of plywood. There’s also a thumb piano, made of spokes from a bicycle wheel and wood from wine boxes. 

Through workshops and collaborations with other non-governmental organisations, Cheung hopes to continue educating Hongkongers about reducing the amount of waste they create. 

“I think [it’s] important to remind people when they throw away something to try to think a little bit differently,” he says. “Other than seeing it as a waste, see it as a useful material. Do something with it and you don't have to throw a lot of things into our landfills.”