US architect's recycling centre plan may help solve Hong Kong's waste woes

US architect proposes processing waste within neighbourhood buildings and integrating them with facilities such as flea markets and gardens

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 October, 2014, 6:37am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 October, 2014, 6:44pm

An award-winning American architect has proposed transforming some of the city's municipal services buildings and refuse collection points into multistorey recycling and community centres.

Thomas Schmidt, a founding member of the American Institute of Architects Hong Kong, has drawn up a conceptual plan of a low-rise complex that could serve as the focal point of collection and handling of waste generated from a neighbourhood.

The buildings, of up to six floors, would house recycling, community, leisure and educational activities under one roof.

Schmidt came up with the scheme as the saga over funding for the extension of landfills and an incineration plant continues in the legislature.

"The goal of such a centre would be to sort and process as much waste as close to source as possible and divert as much material away from landfill as possible," he said.

Schmidt said food composting could be done in the basement with odour prevention systems installed, and the ground level with a truck docking area could be used to receive material for sorting and recycling.

The upper floors could house a flea market for second-hand products and a repair shop for furniture and electronic goods. There could also be an "upcycling centre" - a retail gallery to display and sell recycled products - in the building.

A community hall could be located on the upper floor and the rooftop could be used as a community organic garden, Schmidt suggested.

"European-style coin-operated self-service recycling machines could be installed and fitted with Octopus readers that give residents credits on their cards for cans and bottles deposited," said Schmidt, who previously won first prize in a design competition on the Central Police Station compound.

He has sent his concept to Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing, who has been searching for suitable sites to locate what his bureau calls community green stations - temporary structures that serve as recyclable storage facilities.

Schmidt said Wong should consider using refuse collection points and municipal services buildings to promote recycling.

"There are already established government-operated wet-market buildings and refuse transfer stations within most districts," he said.

"I wondered if some of these facilities could be modified and expanded upward to include a sorting and processing function, instead of just serving as a holding area for stinky rubbish, or as a market that is active for only a few hours a day."

There are 76 public markets - which are known as wet markets - and 25 cooked-food markets under the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department's jurisdiction. There are also 159 off-street refuse collection points across the city.

Schmidt said the refuse collection station next to Southorn Playground in Wan Chai, which occupies an area of 267 square metres, is a good example of one such place that could be put to better use.

An Environment Bureau spokesman said the bureau had received Schmidt's proposal and was considering it.