Recywhat? Hong Kong’s attitude to recycling.

“Recywhat” seems to be the attitude to recycling in Hong Kong, one of the most developed towns in Asia. Despite Hong Kong being as well developed (or even better developed) than most European or American cities, the attitude to recycling is appalling.

I grew up in Germany with the concept of recycling in mind. I remember as a child, I was around eight to ten, we already had two rubbish bin. A black bin for pretty much anything and a green one for waste paper. Later, we collected all kinds of packaging, milk cartons, yoghurt cups, tins, etc. Everything was carefully cleaned and stored. Once a week, every Friday, I had to take my bicycle and go to the local recycling station. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about this extra amount of work every Friday. I much more preferred hanging out with my friends.

To my relief, the city council took my problems seriously and introduced a third rubbish bin – the so called Gelbe Tonne (yellow rubbish bin). Almost every packaging ended up in there. From milk cartons, cans, plastic, aluminum foil, you name it. It was collected once a week and brought to the recycling station in our city.

My first “recycling shock” came when I visited the UK. I realized the concept of recycling at the source (meaning each household) is unheard of on the island. Instead everything is just put together in one big bag and thrown away. Only later I learned, that there are two recycling variations – at the source and at the rubbish depot. The former might be more convenient for the recycling companies, the latter is certainly more convenient for the users.

In Hong Kong, no one seems to care about recycling. And even if you wanted to, I wouldn’t know how to recycle stuff. That is particularly true for glass recycling. Glass has always been forbidden to be thrown to a normal rubbish bin in Germany. Instead, there are glass collection containers for disposal. These containers are completely missing in Hong Kong. Indeed, I just throw everything, and I mean everything, to the rubbish. I’ve never seen a recycling container before here. Well, I’ve seen some recycling containers at my wife’s previous flat. Around 50 households shared three containers, each around 1/3 of the size what a single household has in Europe. To me, it seems the sole reason of installing these containers is to look environmentally responsible.

My suspicion was confirmed by the NYT in a recent article. Only 3% of glass is recycled in this city. The rest is just thrown away! Personally, I don’t understand why. The article mentioned that the costs of collecting the glass is too high. I don’t see how that can be the case. Hong Kong’s one of the most concentrated places in terms of housing. All there is to do is to setting up glass collection bins and empty these every two weeks. That will also create employment and help the part of the society without a college degree.

Paper is only collected by the elderly to support their living. They sell old newspapers to recycling companies. But it’s not “professionally” collected, so a lot will end up in the normal rubbish.

To me the recoiling issue, just as the air quality discussion, shows that Hong Kong is governed by a clique that only listens to the property tycoons and big shots who are only bothered by their tax rates. Any attempt to increase environment standards, be it energy efficiency, recycling, clean air is blocked as it’ll cost money to do.

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About Basti

I've been living and working for ten years in Greater China (Mainland China, Hong Kong). I'm working in the field of Product Design / Product Consulting and Manufacturing for accessories and wearable devices. My passions are travelling (especially China and Asia) and I used to ride a motorbike. Now, with two children, my hobbies switched to changing diapers, cleaning and feeding babies.

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