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I sat down to review my saved articles about Hong Kong environmental issues and spread them out. Here’s what I saw:

“Homes at fault as waste rises for fifth straight year”

“Address needs of recycling industry”

“Effort needed to cut down on waste”

“Fuel’s errand: Hong Kong’s green projects have been shelved or denied funding”

“Stink of failure: …Hong Kong’s growing mountain of waste”

You get the idea.

Garbage is a huge problem here. Not that the streets are a mess – actually, Hong Kong streets are really clean for such a big city. But virtually everything is going directly into landfills and very little is being recycled. According to the government’s own projections, all three of Hong Kong’s landfill sites will be full by 2019.

Instead of taking action, Hong Kong is moving backwards. The amount of waste produced daily per person has increased from 1.27 kg in 2011 to 1.39 kg in 2015. This compares to .80kg per person in Tokyo and 1kg in Taipei. In addition, waste recovered (recycled) has gone down from 49% in 2011 to 35% in 2015. I am not alone in finding this alarming, but there is massive government inertia on the issue.

I come from a city that had weekly curbside removal of all types of recyclables plus composting. Of course it was never enough, not everyone used the services, and there were always concerns about landfills. But in Hong Kong, I see a different level of environmental neglect all around me.

The vast majority of HK’s 7 million people are housed in huge apartment blocks that have few, if any, recycling bins. There are sometimes recycle bins outside apartment buildings but they are utterly inadequate for the number of households. My building has its own recycling bins but garbage removal trucks leave here with the recycling bags all jumbled together on top. I’ve been told that our waste handlers sort them at the dump… I hope that’s true, but I’ve also been told that neither glass nor plastic bottles are recycled because the business is not profitable.

Grocery stores are big culprits, wrapping practically all fresh produce in plastic. I find pomelos (which have about 2” of skin) and coconuts individually wrapped in plastic, plastic containers of apples or lemons, sometimes individual apples and pears wrapped in styrofoam socks, which also clad cauliflower which is then wrapped in plastic. There is a petition to get stores to reduce packaging but the response from both citizens and the stores is muted.

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Styrofoam socks wrap pears that are then encased in plastic containers

HK’s recycling industry is challenged by a lack of policy, sufficient recyclable material (because it’s all going into landfills), government investment in recycling (if it doesn’t make money, the government won’t invest in it) and education. I think it all comes down to a lack of will from the top, and certainly there is complete lack of accountability from the Environmental Protection Department which underperforms magnificently with no repercussions from government or the community.

I realize that Hong Kong is hardly the only place with these problems but I came here thinking that surely a city this advanced and populated would have reasonable systems in place. But it doesn’t and there is nothing approaching a recycling, conservationist culture here.

In spite of the low probability my household recyclables are being disposed of responsibly, I faithfully make my daily trip down to the recycling bins in our apartment. I figure at least I can do my part and hope that somehow the light (low wattage, that is) will come on in Hong Kong soon.