21 January 2019
Putrescibles, mainly food waste, account for 42.5 percent of total waste disposed of in landfills. Photo: HKEJ
Putrescibles, mainly food waste, account for 42.5 percent of total waste disposed of in landfills. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong takes steps to cut food and glass waste

Hong Kong, with a population of 7.1 million in 1,104 square kilometers of land, is seeking to reduce solid waste, particularly food and glass waste, through various measures.

In 2014, the city disposed of 9,782 tons of waste in landfills per day on average, according to the government’s Environmental Protection Department.

Of the total amount, putrescibles, mainly food waste, accounted for 42.5 percent, while metals, paper and plastics represented 42.3 percent.

As metals, paper and plastics are recyclable materials, the government is focusing on reducing the amount of putrescibles in landfills.

Around 73 percent of putrescibles, or organic materials that decay through the action of bacteria and fungi, come from domestic sources.

So in order to achieve its goal, the government is considering imposing a solid waste charge, which will be based on the quantity of waste produced.

In 2007, it conducted a trial scheme in 20 residential estates to examine the logistical requirements for waste recovery and disposal in various housing settings.

In 2010, it completed a baseline study on waste generation and management practices in different countries.

Environmental groups such as Green Power have been urging the government to implement the charge as soon as possible.

However, it is taking time for the Legislative Council to approve the proposal as a new levy is always controversial.

Pending the imposition of the charge, the government is trying to reduce food waste through public education.

In 2012, the Environment Bureau set up a Food Wise Hong Kong Steering Committee, which aims to promote community awareness of the city’s waste management problems and coordinate efforts within the government and public institutions to lead by example in food waste reduction.

The following year, the committee launched “Big Waster”, an animated character with a bad habit of wasting food.

The project has received a good response from the public: people can now be seen trying to avoid buying or ordering excessive food, which is likely to become waste.

Last year, the committee launched a Food Wise Eateries Scheme with about 450 eateries joining it to show their support for a “food wise” culture.

According to the government, the outlets have so far reduced food waste by 5 to 10 percent.

Wong Kam-sing, Secretary for the Environment, said the scheme will continue to help reduce food waste but a significant cut in waste will only be seen after a solid waste charge is imposed.

‘Polluter pays’ principle

Apart from food waste, another huge waste management problem confronting Hong Kong is the large amount of glass bottles being disposed of in landfills.

Although glass waste only represents 2.9 percent of landfill waste, it does not offer economies of scale for recyclers, and so they have no incentive to collect the material.

Over the years, the retailing network for drinks and beverages in Hong Kong has undergone some significant changes.

For one thing, groceries that used to serve as “bottle banks” by supporting the “deposit-and-return” system, have vanished on a large scale.

Also, unlike metals, paper and plastics, which can be exported for recycling, all glass waste in Hong Kong is now recycled locally, given that the prices offered by foreign glass recyclers are very low.

In 2014, about 74,000 tons of glass containers were disposed of, but only 11.4 percent of them were recycled.

In May 2016, the Legislative Council passed a bill allowing the government to charge manufacturers HK$1 for every one-liter bottle they use.

The new levy, effective from 2018, is expected to push soft-drink and beer makers to reduce the use of glass bottles and shift instead to plastic and paper containers.

The fund from the new levy will be used to support the glass recycling industry.

The government expects the levy, which is a part of the producer responsibility scheme under a “polluter pays” principle, will help reduce solid waste effectively, in the same way that the plastic bag levy started in 2009 has shown positive results in cutting waste.

Bring your own bottles

Although the government has made some progress in waste reduction over the past few years, much more can be done to improve the situation.

Some quarters want the government to consider imposing a levy on plastic bottles and paper containers.

On average about 5.2 million plastic bottles are being disposed of in landfills every day, according to government data.

On the other hand, 43,000 tons of paper containers are dumped annually, Green Power estimated.

The government can launch campaigns that will encourage people to bring their own bottles.

Besides, the “food wise” culture should not be limited to eateries but should include shops selling food products.

For example, campaigns can be launched to dissuade people from giving food such as mooncakes and cookies as gifts during festivals.

“Big Waster” can be tapped again for such campaigns.

This is the third article of a 12-part series. Read more at

The Hong Kong Economic Journal and EJ Insight are among 20 global media organizations that participated in this year’s Solutions&Co, organized by Sparknews, an international social impact amplifier.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing says he expects food waste to be reduced significantly if a quantity-based municipal solid waste charge is imposed in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Big Waster reminds people that buying or ordering excessive food will result in waste. Photo: GovHK

Chief reporter at EJ Insight

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