Most of us use the phrase ‘throw away’ on a daily basis. But what does this really mean? Where is ‘away’? The language that we used has allowed us to dissociate ‘away’ with landfill and our planet, in the same way that we dissociate ‘burger’ with cows. It is easy to do this in our leafy city where our waste in Hong Kong is taken away by garbage collectors daily. Out of sight, out of mind. In order to live more consciously, we need to awaken ourselves to the facts; ‘away’ is a real place, it is our home. So here is a look at the landfills in Hong Kong. The three primary landfills in Hong Kong are WENT (West New Territories Landfill), SEN, (South East New Territories Landfill) and NENT, (North East New Territories Landfill). The strain on these landfills is immense as Hong Kong is the fourth most densely populated place in the world, the amount of waste we are producing is just not sustainable. Taking a glance at the statistics is scary, but don't shy away - here is a simplified version of the facts and the process. Be brave, and read on! Firstly, let’s take a look at the numbers. The average daily quantity of waste thrown in to Hong Kong landfills is 15,332 tonnes, this is increasing at about 1.5% each year. This seems almost unbelievable but it is the shocking truth. Other landfills have been exhausted, and this is not a sustainable plan. Space is not the only issue when considering landfills, harmful gases and liquids are produced by the waste that harms our air and earth. Leachate is a liquid created by solid waste, it is primarily made of water that was in the waste before going to landfill, and has seeped through the other items within, creating a harmful sludge. Furthermore, landfill gas is produced in significant quantities, it is made up of several gases and chemicals such as methane. We know the consequences of methane gas all too well, as one of our biggest contributors to global warming. Other treatments include burning the waste, but this, again adds a huge amount of pollution to our already toxic environment. However, it is not all doom and gloom! By not shying away from the facts, we can make change happen. One important stride towards change is the introduction of a “waste charge”, which will be implemented in 2019. This involved a $0.11 fee for each litre of rubbish collected. This will hopefully deter us from throwing things in to landfill and give our waste some more thought. There are recycling processes that each of us should be aware of. Wastewise helps Hong Kong businesses to follow methods to reduce industry waste. The recycling of domestic waste is supported by the Programme on Source Separation of Domestic Waste and Separating waste using the separation bins on house estates.
Although much goes in to the same landfill, not all waste is the same, here is a breakdown of our most common waste items, and their impact. Electronics It is hugely important to properly recycle your electronics or ‘e-waste’. This is the fastest growing part of the world’s domestic waste stream.Globally in 2016, we reached 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste and that number is expected to rise to 52.2 million metric tonnes by 2021. Around 80% of that material either gets landfilled, wrongly recycled, incinerated or exported to a country with less strict environmental regulations to be incinerated. Those doing this work are exposed to terrible hazards and toxins as they burn the plastics and other materials in order to get the metals inside, shortening the average life expectancy for this profession to 25 years old. So please take the extra time to separate your electronics, it not only saves the environment, but lives too. Textiles Sustainable fashion is an expanding industry, and this is due to our growing awareness of the issues with textile waste. In Hong Kong alone, around 253 tons of textiles are sent to landfills per day. Many of us believe we are exempt from textile waste when we choose to donate it to a charity shop. Oxfam’s cheery slogan makes us feel as though we have done a great deed, ‘Save lives, declutter yours’. However, up to 80% of charity shop clothes will either end up in a landfill or exported overseas for profit. Although the number of textiles in landfills is rising, and exporting textiles takes advantage of developing countries, there are other solutions. Shopping sustainably and recycling your wardrobe can lessen the burden of textile waste. Plastic We are no strangers to the issues of plastic waste but having a gentle reminder of the figures of the growing problem can do no harm. Not only does Hong Kong throw away 5.2 million plastic bottles PER DAY, but it is becoming more evident that a lot of our waste ends up in our oceans. Sky’s researchers have announced that as humans, we pollute the oceans with more than eight million tonnes of plastic every year. That’s the same weight as two million elephants. The move towards reusable bottles and bags in our daily lives is such an easy switch and can have high rewards. Food Waste We may view food as the easiest to recycle as it bio-degrades in a matter of weeks. But this is assuming that all of our food waste is organic. We throw away million tonnes of milk, bread and potatoes are every year, much of this ends up in landfills. Our landfills are slowly but surely filling up with rotting food, sometimes taking years for it to decompose. As much as 50% of all food produced in the world ends up as waste every year according to figures from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Keeping food out of landfill conserves the already-limited space, it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions caused by broken down food scraps. Methane has a warming potential 21 times that of carbon dioxide. We also have to respect the labour and resources it takes to produce the food in the first place. The process of growing, making, distributing, storing and cooking it all uses a large amount of fuel, energy and water. 1 kg of tomatoes takes 214 litres to produce, and 1kg of beef takes an enormous 15,415 litres produce. Substantially cutting down how much food we throw away would take a large amount of pressure off of resources as the world attempts to meet future demand. So next time we throw something ‘away’ try to picture the very real place that it is going to and live consciously.