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Feature: Hong Kong faces up to the pressure

Hong Kong’s waste is well managed and has a number of unique features. There is no gate fee for waste at landfills and anyone can deliver any waste for disposal — even hazardous waste for treatment at no cost to them at present. Hong Kong landfills most of its waste and is reliant purely on market forces for recycling. Transfer stations are open 364 days a year.

The population of Hong Kong is very close to that of greater London, at just under seven million people. In 2004, Hong Kong generated 6.4 million tonnes of waste, 17,500 tonnes per day, of which 9,290 tonnes is
municipal solid waste (MSW). The following wastes are generated in Hong Kong: domestic 40%, construction and demolition 38%, commercial and industrial 13%, special waste 9%. By way of contrast, London in the late 1990s generated more than 11 million tonnes a year.

Hong Kong’s waste has decreased greatly during the past few years as industry has moved over the border to mainland China. London’s waste has also recently seen a decrease despite its population increasing.

It is estimated that around 40% of Hong Kong’s
MSW is recycled each year, with a big jump from 36% in 2002 to 41% in 2003 due to the rapid increase
in prices for secondary raw materials in China.

Of the waste recovered, 91.5% is exported into mainland China, 8.5% of which (waste paper only) being recycled within Hong Kong. The materials reclaimed are: ferrous 42%, paper 38%, plastics 12%, non-ferrous 4% and other materials 4%.

While the market is the main driver for recycling of waste in Hong Kong, there are now Government support programmes to encourage the reclamation of waste from households. An Environmental Conservation Fund of HK$100m (£7m) has generated 66 projects to date. Source separation by households started in January 2005 with 180 housing estates participating, but the intention is to extend the programme to most estates. The main problem is a lack of space both within the individual housing units and the communal space.

Waste for recycling is mainly handled informally, with waste diverted by people on the street or from waste containers. Aluminium cans are traded at HK$0.08 (less than 1p) per can, but few cans get through to the waste disposal system.

There are product responsibility schemes covering tyres, electrical and electronic equipment, bottles and batteries. These schemes are purely voluntary with no statutory backing and affect mainly imported pro-ducts.

In the 1980s, Hong Kong embarked on an ambitious programme to deal with its waste effectively over the coming 15-20 years. The plan was adopted in 1989
and there are now pressures to move beyond it.

Incineration used to play a role in the disposal of Hong Kong’s waste until the 1990s, but the second of the territory’s incinerators closed in 1997. It remains intact, a derelict eyesore on the harbour side, quite close to the Island West Transfer Station. In the future, incineration or other methods of thermal treatment may return but public opposition is likely to be intense.

However, the alternative is likely to be to reclaim land from the sea to create new landfill sites, to which there is increasingly vociferous opposition. There will need to be some compromise in order to develop Hong Kong’s waste management system in the future.

So the only waste disposal option available at present is landfi

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