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Typhoon Mangkhut

Hong Kong produced three times as much tree waste this year as in 2017, mainly thanks to Typhoon Mangkhut

  • A total of 44,600 tonnes of yard waste went to landfill this year, almost half of it trees felled in the September storm
  • City’s infrastructure is struggling to keep up with an ever-increasing supply of tree waste
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 10:47pm

The amount of yard waste collected by government departments that ended up in landfill this year was triple the amount of last year, according to official data, a reflection of a noticeable increasing trend over the past five years.

A total of 44,600 tonnes of yard waste was sent to landfill this year. Trees felled by Typhoon Mangkhut in September accounted for 20,480 tonnes, almost half the total.

The amount dumped in landfill was three times as much as last year’s total, which was 14,506 tonnes, according to statistics released by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) to lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho on Wednesday.

The government has been criticised for failing to handle the tree waste resulting from the typhoon, which was stored at a temporary collection area on the former airport runway at Kai Tak, the size of 12 soccer pitches. It was later revealed that most of the waste ended up in a landfill in Tuen Mun. Only about 900 pieces of wood were selected for reuse.

Thousands of truckloads of typhoon tree waste need new home

Aside from the waste generated by the super typhoon, some 24,000 tonnes of yard waste was collected and sent to landfill by nine government departments, including Leisure and Cultural Services, Lands, and Civil Engineering and Development, by the end of October this year.

The amount of tree waste sent to landfills annually has grown over the past five years, multiplying by four from more than 6,200 tonnes in 2014 to more than 24,000 tonnes this year.

Yard waste refers to green waste or garden waste, consisting of all types of vegetation. In 2014, the Environment Bureau promulgated a comprehensive strategy for dealing with food and yard waste. It advises major generators of yard waste, including government departments with extensive planting and landscaping projects, to reduce yard waste at source, for example by minimising festive plants and being more cautious when landscaping.

Typhoon Mangkhut tree debris shouldn’t be sent to Hong Kong’s already overflowing landfills

Other strategies include collecting data and identifying better ways of treating unavoidable tree waste.

The city’s infrastructure, which has insufficient capacity, is also failing to keep up with an increasing supply of tree waste, despite the authority’s claim that it had devised suitable policies to promote composting and recycling.

According to government specifications, a composting plant in Yuen Long can only handle two to three tonnes of waste a day, and requires detailed sorting. The Siu Ho Wan recovery centre handled about 200 tonnes of organic waste daily but it was mostly food.

I have not seen any resolution on the part of the government to deal with yard waste in the past few years, because there has not been much change
Ted Hui, lawmaker

The EPD said it had been exploring different proposals to use yard waste resources, including installing an industrial wood shredder to convert 2,300 tonnes of tree waste into wooden chips.

Lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung, who has been following yard waste issues, said he had been urging the government to acquire wood shredders at each department to deal with the yard waste, but it wasn’t until after Mangkhut that the EPD bought one. “It is not acceptable,” he said.

“I have not seen any resolution on the part of the government to deal with yard waste in the past few years, because there has not been much change,” Hui said about the overwhelming amount of yard waste going to landfill, adding that the government did not take it as seriously as other matters because yard waste accounts for a small proportion of the total solid waste in landfill.

“Food waste and yard waste are both organic waste, but yard waste is easier to deal with. Plus, the government should take every opportunity to ease the pressure on landfill sites,” Edwin Lau Che-feng, executive director of environmental NGO The Green Earth said, adding that it would help if the government could set a timetable to reduce and reuse yard waste.