Hong Kong is grappling with a growing mountain of waste resulting from China’s ban this year on imports of 24 types of unprocessed rubbish–part of an effort to upgrade its recycling industry and reduce pollution.
The Hong Kong government acknowledges its inability to cope with the problem, saying that it lacks the land to develop an effective recycling industry. Critics say, meanwhile, that the city has done too little to upgrade and develop its waste management system, Reuters reported.
Until last year, Hong Kong exported over 90% of its recyclables to China. That all changed at the end of 2017 as the effects of the Chinese ban, which included Hong Kong despite its status as a special administrative region of China, started to be felt around the world.
Huge mountains of old newspapers, cardboard and office scrap have piled up on Hong Kong’s docks over the past few months while plastic waste has been dumped into the landfills.
A city of more than 7 million people, Hong Kong deposits around two-thirds of its waste into landfills—5.6 million tons annually. Little is recycled.
Hong Kong’s deputy director for environmental protection, Vicki Kwok, said the government had announced multiple measures over the past few months to stymie the flow of garbage, including funding support to help upgrade local recyclers and was prioritizing waste reduction at the source by appealing to businesses and consumers.
An average Hong Kong resident throws away around 1.4 kilograms daily, more than double that of Asian cities such as Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei, which have implemented extensive recycling programs, according to the government.
Food waste, which accounts for the bulk of total waste generated, amounts to some 3,600 tons each day.
The government is aiming to open a facility this year that would convert food waste into energy and usable resources. However, the total recycling capacity will be a maximum of 200 tons daily while a second phase starting operations in 2021 will process a maximum of 300 tons per day.
Kwok said the government was planning to expand three active landfills set to reach capacity starting next year.
Hong Kong, which has already filled up 13 landfills in its history, is planning to start charging consumers for what they throw out but implementation is unlikely to take effect in the coming two years, the government has said.
Landfill waste is typically highly toxic and can severely damage surrounding ecosystems. The planned expansion of the landfills is likely to further impact a growing number of residents in affected areas, green groups have said.
In the meantime, municipal waste continues to rise unabatedly, surging 80% over the past 30 years, while Hong Kong’s population has grown 36%, according to the government.