Hong Kong, like many developed cities, has seen it’s waste load swell exponentially alongside it’s population. The waste disposal infrastructure is no match for the rate and volume at which we generate refuse. The Hong Kong Audit Commission stated on October 27 2015 that in 2013 Hong Kong created 5.49 million tonnes of municipal solid waste. This is a comparatively large waste load compared to neighboring cities at a similar level of development like Seoul and Taipei, and was almost double the amount of daily domestic waste in Tokyo.
Of this 5.49 million tons of waste produced, 3.48 million tons (63%) were disposed of at landfills, and the remaining 2.01 million tons (37%) were recovered for recycling. In the same year, America recycled 50% of municipal waste. As reported by the Hong Kong Environmental Bureau, all existing landfill sites will be full by 2019.
The government hopes to reduce the amount of rubbish generated by 40% by 2020, partly through introducing waste charging in 2016
But how can we contribute to finding a solution to this ever-growing issue?
Most of us have become more aware in recent years of how to reduce waste, by bringing our own bags to the supermarket, shopping in markets buying non-packaged food in bulk, using cloths or napkins instead of paper towels or filtering tap water instead of buying bottled.
(Check out our previous blog post, How to get clean water in Hong Kong. The blog post details the case against bottled water, and why an effective water filter is an absolute must. To learn more about the different water filtration systems, and which filtration method Vivid Living would recommend, please sign up for our Newsletter here and download our FREE White Paper here.)
These are minor adjustments that give us a sense of satisfaction that we are ‘doing our bit’ for the environment. But is this really enough?
Here are 6 simple ways for us to downsize our own garbage production, and save money in the process.
1. CREATE A COMPOST COMMUNITY
Did you know that 40% of residential waste is compostable material?
Compost is an inexpensive, natural process, which generates a valuable and nutrient rich fertilizer, which can be used for gardening.
You can buy a purpose-built compost bin relatively cheaply in Hong Kong.
The 15L Bokashi Food Waste Recycle Bin is $295, fits under your kitchen sink, reduces the number of trash bags you need per week to one, and is available to buy at Bokashi in Lei Cheng Uk Shopping Centre, Kowloon.
If your apartment is as small as mine, and you can’t think how you would squeeze in a 15-liter bin, the Williams Sonoma Kitchen Compost Bucket is the best option for you. At $249HKD plus shipping, this stylish steel bucket is ideal for an apartment where space is at a premium. It has an airtight seal-on lid to control odors, and a removable inner plastic bucket to simplify emptying and cleaning.
Feeling creative? Start one yourself!
The SCMP provide excellent tips on starting your own food waste solution.
- Find a space on your balcony or roof for the compost bin. (If you don’t have an outdoor space you can create your own indoor compost bin).
- Composting is all about getting the right balance of “green” and “brown” components: Green (wet) stuff includes vegetables and fruit scraps, tea bags and tealeaves. Avoid: animal products, except eggshells. Brown (dried) stuff includes dry leaves, shredded paper egg cartons, newspaper, tissue paper, cereal boxes and other such items.
- Find a suitable large lidded container; layer it with about one part green to two parts brown until it is just over half full.
- Cover, leave for roughly one week to start the decomposition process. Stir the bin once a day to circulate the air and help with the breakdown of food. It also prevents the bin from smelling.
Why not get your neighbors involved!
2. CONSERVE WATER RESPONSIBLY
Perhaps due to Hong Kong being an island city, with 17 reservoirs, we seem to take running water for granted. Many Hongkongers do not seem concerned with water conservation. China Water Risk states that the Hong Kong annual per capita water consumption is 172 cubic meters. Compared to London, Melbourne and Paris, which use 80, 86 and 119 cubic meters respectively, this is remarkably high.
Water scarcity affects every continent. Almost one fifth of the world’s population lives in areas of physical scarcity. With the existing climate change scenario, that will rise to almost half the world’s population by 2030.
Here are some ideas for reducing household water waste:
- Use the water you clean food with or that your dehumidifier collects for watering the plants in your home.
- Use a basin or large container to wash dishes rather than allowing the tap to run.
- Re-use water left over from steaming foods to make a delicious soup.
- If you have to run water in the shower to wait for it to get hot, catch it in a basin and use it for cleaning the shower or bathroom floor.
- Invest in a good water filter, reducing the use of plastic bottles.
3. GIVE AWAY DON’T THROW AWAY
No matter how outdated, unwanted or unused something is in your household, it might be exactly what someone else needs and wants.
Outgrown baby clothing and toys, books, old appliances and devices, duplicate kitchen utensils, clothes that don’t fit or aren’t worn, or games that are gathering dust. Your trash may be another person’s treasure. There are several ways to easily give things away.
- Give to charity – for furniture, household items, electrical appliances and toys, Crossroads take most practical items and distribute them not only in Hong Kong but also across the world to people in need. Food Angel welcomes donations of fresh food, canned food, oils and condiments, cooked food and also frozen food. Food can either be dropped off at one of their kitchens on Hong Kong Island or Kowloon, or can be picked up by their door-to-door team.
- Freecycle allow you to post details of what you want to give, interested parties contact you and you choose whom you’d like to give your item to.
This need not only apply to assembling IKEA furniture and ‘fixing’ a late-night plumbing disaster in your bathroom. Avoid over-packaged and environmentally unfriendly products by making them from scratch yourself. Lauren Singer, a NYC blogger who lives a zero waste life and has a popular blog, makes her own body lotion, shampoo, toothpaste and even deodorant!
Bring it yourself. We have all heard a lot about DIY, but it’s time to start a new trend. People in Hong Kong are constantly mobile. This not only makes it hard to eat healthily, but a lot of the time also means eating on the go, which guarantees more packaging and more rubbish. A little preparation at night or early in the morning will save you time, money and trips to the trashcan. Invest in a solid stainless steel lunchbox, cutlery set and flask (for coffee, tea, or even soup!), and some mason jars. Overnight oats are an easy and healthy morning time saver.
Aquaponics is a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in.
Back to the Roots began as a Kickstarter campaign and now retail a miniature aquaponic water garden. Alternatively you can create your own:
First, set up a frame. The Antonius frame from IKEA is perfect, and comes with wire baskets. You also need two plastic containers, one 50L and one 25L for the fish tank and the grow bed respectively.
You then need to plumb the fish tank, using a small electric pump in one corner of the fish tank, which takes the water up to the grow bed. When you have installed the pump, you can put in a bell siphon to slowly flood the grow bed, and then drain it quickly. To complete the plumbing of the tank, add a ball-valve by-pass, to enable you to control how much water flows into the grow bed.
Finally, add water into the fish tank and start the pump. Check everything is working properly, and to see if the system is watertight!
Fill the top container with some growing media, e.g. lava rock, river stones or similar matter. Then you are ready to add the fish and start putting plants into your system. Start small, with just a few fish and gradually you can increase the number.
For more detailed information, check out this Wikihow.
7. USE IT UP
Food waste makes up almost half of the solid waste produced in Hong Kong. 2013 saw Hong Kong generate 4,189 tons of food waste. 3100 tons of this came from households.
An organization called Food Angel collect mostly raw ingredients from suppliers, supermarkets and wet markets that would have gone to waste, and their professional chefs prepare meal boxes for people in need.
Foodlink is a registered charity, which receives surplus food from hotels and restaurants in Hong Kong, and uses the food to provide hot meals to people in need.
Feeding Hong Kong is a member of the Global Food Banking Network. They rescue surplus food that would have ended up in a landfill, and redistribute it to people in need.
All three of these organizations welcome volunteers to help in various capacities; more information is available on each of their sites.
But what about individual household waste? Changing plans, lack of time to cook, overbuying or over-preparing are some reasons for our high level of household waste. Here are some tips for making sure we make the most of what is in our kitchen.
Each week estimate how many meals you will eat at home, and the ingredients you will need for each.
Include quantities on your shopping list, e.g. four carrots, enough salad for two lunches.
Take note of the foods you waste during the week and adjust your next shopping trip accordingly.
Many foods have different storage recommendations based on gas emission and speed of spoiling. Print a page of storage information, and stick it to your fridge door, ensuring everyone that handles food in your household knows how to store it and where.
Refrigerate apricots, figs and melons. Don’t refrigerate avocadoes, peaches, or plums. Store apples, tomatoes and bananas by themselves.
Don’t wash berries until you want to eat them to prevent mold.
Befriend your freezer! Cook a big batch of soup, stew or curry and freeze it in individual, airtight metal or glass containers. Silicone lids ensure you get an airtight seal keeping the food fresh.
If you have a surplus of herbs, wash and chop if needed, press into ice cube trays and drizzle a little water over to fill. When frozen pop cubes out into a freezer-friendly container. Alternatively mix them with butter and garlic and you have pre-made herb butter!
Prepare ripe fruit for smoothies in advance. Chop it, bag it, and freeze it as a replacement for ice in your morning drink.
Yoghurt and whole eggs don’t freeze well, but milk, hard cheese and egg whites do.
Whilst we can look to the government for large-scale waste disposal projects, we should also each do our own bit to reduce the footprint we leave.
Supporting and utilizing organizations such as HK Recycles, who help people track and measure hundreds of tons of recyclable material every year can help make a difference.
By making key decisions to first reduce unnecessary purchasing, reuse sustainable items, and separate and recycle as much of our household waste as possible, our individual efforts can contribute to an improvement to this ever-growing matter.