Hong Kong’s waste management lags behind other developed Asian cities

Hong Kong is facing a waste crisis.

Landfills in the city of 7 million people are nearly full. Volume of waste has risen for a fifth straight year.

Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei—each generates about half of Hong Kong’s waste. This is due to clean policies that encourage recycling.

Hong Kong’s density and exorbitant land prices slow recycling efforts. Operators are reluctant to earmark sites for recycling facilities, say environmentalists.

The city’s three landfills are expected to reach full capacity in two years.

“At the time, there were relatively few people living near these three corners that the government had identified to build giant landfills. But as the years have gone by, we are running out of space, and in some areas people are moving closer and closer to the landfills. And also, we can’t really extend them very much more. So we need to have a completely different system,” said Christine Loh, Hong Kong Undersecretary for the Environment.  

The government is looking for solutions.

It has promised new infrastructure, including a multibillion dollar incinerator. The city is also considering a waste-charging scheme.

“The economic tool—to get people to understand they are going to have to pay as they throw—is very powerful,” said Loh.

Hong Kong’s coastline also sees waste from mainland China, where companies discharge waste into the sea to save the cost of proper disposal.

Waste management had been a low priority since Hong Kong was handed over to China 20 years ago.

“The government has been extremely slow since the handover. They have been preoccupied with political reform, constitutional development, and they have kind of ignored a lot of the mundane issues of running a city smartly,” said Paul Zimmerman, local district councilor and environmentalist.