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Granny Lee, a cardboard granny pictured at North Point. Photo: Dickson Lee

China’s recycling revolution: Hong Kong and Taiwan - one trash can, two systems

  • One city teeters on the brink while the other boasts of zero waste going to landfill
  • The old English folk song that helped create a culture of recycling and domestic waste separation

Find out what happened when two Chinese cities - Taipei and Hong Kong - took very different approaches to recycling and waste disposal, and how they brought vastly different results.

In the process you’ll find out that a song known by Americans and Australians as signifying ‘ice cream’ means something entirely different in Taiwan, and it’s also one of the reasons why the Taipei government managed to boast of zero waste going to landfill in 2014.

China’s National Sword policy has had a massive impact on Hong Kong. Although it exists as a Special Administrative Region as part of China, the restrictions facing exporters of cardboard and plastic in the US and Australia apply also to Hong Kong, and that’s having an impact at the street level.

Hong Kong has very little land available to dump its domestic waste, and very few options to export it now China has closed the door. You’ll hear what’s happening to the companies at the frontline of that struggle from a third generation recycler, and you’ll hear what Hongkongers mean by the term ‘cardboard granny’ - and how the entire recycling ecosystem in Hong Kong is teetering on the brink of collapse.

Source and credits:

Michelle Fok; corporate sustainability consultant

Jackson Lau; Lau Choi Kee paper company

Philippe Li; Hong Kong Recyclers

Presenter: Laurie Chen

Hong Kong field producer: Lisa Harding

Original ‘Sister Lan’ recording: Shan Shan Kao

Voiceovers: Yuki Tsang, Joe Kainz