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Hong Kong drowning in waste as China rubbish ban takes toll

Hong Kong drowning in waste as China rubbish ban takes toll

HONG KONG: Hong Kong boasts glittering skyscrapers, seamless transportation and billion dollar infrastructure projects, but it is struggling with a much more mundane problem: disposing of its trash.

The former British colony 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.

“Hong Kong is a rich city with third-world quality recycling,” said Doug Woodring, founder and managing director of Ocean Recovery Alliance, a Hong Kong-based non-government organization. “It has been too easy to send unprocessed waste to China.”

Until last year, Hong Kong exported over 90 percent 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 tonnes annually. Little is recycled.

Hong Kong’s deputy director for environmental protection, Vicki Kwok, said in an interview that the densely populated city was unable to absorb all the recyclables due to a lack of available land in one of the world’s most expensive property markets.

 “We have to rely on exports and that makes us more susceptible, compared to other jurisdictions, to external market factors,” she said.

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.

Green groups say the measures will do little to alleviate pressure on Hong Kong as the local recycling industry is unable to process all the waste that used to be sent to China.

Woodring said the government was too reliant on expanding landfills as a means of disposing of trash rather than reallocating land for waste management.