Household waste. No time wasted sweeping up Hong Kong’s rubbish
Hong Kong’s waste problem has been making global headlines recently. However, the streets are not littered with rubbish. The city is clean. This is thanks to the 10,800 workers who provide cleaning services, including street sweeping and waste collection. Workers, usually older women, normally begin cleaning at daybreak and continue until late evening. They work tirelessly to ensure the public spaces in Hong Kong do not start resembling mismanaged landfills. Every street in Hong Kong is manually swept at least once every day and in the busy commercial centres they are swept even more frequently. Clean streets are not purely aesthetic; it also contributes to disease management and public safety for the 7.3 million people who live in the city.
One of the most important tasks that Hong Kong’s street cleaners perform is separating the waste that is left on the street, usually in alleys between residential high-rises. In older areas of the city, buildings do not always have refuse collection services and residents leave their domestic waste on the street. There has been a push in recent years to educate residents about sorting waste for recycling at home, however, anecdotal evidence suggests that not many residents are doing so. Each morning household waste, discarded household items, and food waste is piled around refuse collection points and in alleys. This waste is sorted and removed by Hong Kong’s street cleaners.
Dealing with domestic waste is a large facet of Hong Kong’s waste management plan. In 2016, the total amount of solid waste disposed of at Hong Kong’s strategic landfills was 5.61 million tonnes. That is 9,756 Airbus A380-800 airplanes, loaded to maximum capacity. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) contributed 3.79 million tonnes of waste to landfill. MSW includes domestic, commercial and industrial waste.
Hong Kong’s strategic landfills were built under the Waste Disposal Plan and cost more than 10 Billion HKD to build. The landfills were intended to last until 2020. However, they could be full even earlier if nothing is done to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. Domestic waste is the largest section of waste and thus domestic waste management is pivotal to achieving Hong Kong’s waste to landfill reduction goals.
We see opportunity for developing the waste sector in Hong Kong. A large section of domestic waste could be diverted away from landfill, by means of resource recovery and recycling. Toma-Now | Tomorrow Matters Now, Green Economy specialists, unpack the waste value chain and move beyond recycling to waste beneficiation.
About the Author
Janie Potgieter is a Leadership Development and Social Impact Driver. Janie is a longtime TOMA-Now collaborator and representative in Hong Kong.
She holds an MA in Linguistics and Language Acquisition from the University of Stellenbosch.