Disposing of rubbish is something of a second nature to everyone. It is an integral part of our everyday life but how often do we actually stop to consider the impacts of our ‘rubbish’ actions? Simply put, some of us- a minority, do it better than the majority. This brief insight will attempt to address: the reduction of source of rubbish; recycling; incinerating; and the all too easy option of putting everything into a landfill.In short, precious land space will be saved and the harm to the environment will be reduced.
Reducing the source of rubbish
This is perhaps the first and foremost window which should be addressed. By reducing the source of rubbish, it is inevitable that there will be a decrease in the disposal of rubbish further down the chain. The reduction of waste can often be cost-effective and the buying of durable and reusable products is a much greener way to approach the reduction of waste.
The lifespan, the reusability and often the quality of such products will be much greater than disposable or cheaply made products. The latter having a positive health impact on our bodies and the others a positive impact to our environment. When an item is faulty, instead of replacing it, consideration should first be given to repairing or restoring the item. This will reduce the hassle of removing the article and finding somewhere safe to dispose of it. Other methods of reducing the source of rubbish include: the avoidance of excess packaging; giving unwanted items to family and friends; and reducing toxic waste by purchasing only in quantities needed.
Recycling around the world
Switzerland has one of the highest percentages of recycling in the world. What is it they do which gives them the label of being best at recycling? There are bottle banks at every supermarket which have separate slots for clear, green and brown glass. There is a free paper collection once a month. Aluminium and tin cans are taken to local depots, batteries taken to supermarkets and old oil/ chemicals taken to special sites. Plastic PET bottles are most commonly used and 80% are recycled. In addition to caring for the environment, there are strong incentives. Recycling is generally free. Disposing of other rubbish costs around HK$9.00 per bag (Equivalent of €1: £0.6: $9 in 2005. - Adapted and taken from BBC UK
- accessed 15/7/2013), which must bear a sticker. If it doesn’t have a sticker, the rubbish will be left outside your house to rot.
(Adapted and taken from BBC UK
- accessed 15/7/2013)
There are a lot of concepts which can also be drawn from Denmark. The Danish policy is to regard waste as a resource. There are strict standards set by the Government. Denmark has a population of around 5.5million (Adapted and taken from data.un.org
- accessed 15/7/2013) with Hong Kong around 7million (Adapted and taken from data.un.org
- accessed 15/7/2013). More than 0.1% of Danes are in the business of collecting waste. This proves the potential of increased labour which will boost the economy whilst increasing recycling. The Government encourages industries to produce products which leave a minimum of waste after use. The Danes whilst having a vast country and a sparse population, lack the concentration to justify recycling plants. On the other hand, Hong Kong is much more densely populated and therefore it would be reasonable to justify the need and requirement of a recycling plant. In the U.S in 1999, recycling prevented about 64 million tons of material from ending up in landfills and incinerators.
(Adapted and taken from BBC UK
- accessed 15/7/2013)
It can clearly be seen that recycling can be very successful based on data on other countries’ practices. Hong Kong has implemented various initiatives in attempts to reduce waste and increase recycling by: providing waste separation bins; implementing land allocation policy; amendment of Building Regulations; Source Separation of Domestic, Commercial and Industrial Waste. There is still much to be learnt from other countries and perhaps a reduction of waste and an increase in recycling can be further achieved by enhancing active participation and charging for waste disposal which should increase the amount on recycling and reduce harm to the environment.
This practice is commonly used in Japan and various European countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany. It is a method which is advantageous for countries with scarce land and the energy output can be used for heat and electricity. In addition, the volume of incinerated waste is reduced by around 90%.
However, with the burning of waste, it becomes a barrier to recycling. There is the emission of gases. The biggest concern is the output of furans and dioxins. These are very to dangerous to our health and despite the installation of special equipment to clean; there is still a risk of exposure. Another concern is the vast output of carbon dioxide which needless to say does not help in reducing the effects of global warming. In addition, sulphur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, fine particles and heavy metals also pose great health risks. Whilst these can be treated, the disposal of these harmful wastes requires suitable methods of treatment which often require additional miles and special locations. Lastly, incinerators are unsightly and local communities will oppose its presence in their locality.
Landfills are used by many countries and if proper systems are in place, methane can be captured and used. In addition, landfills can hold large amounts of waste in inert conditions and optimistically, many materials can still be recovered.
On the other hand, it is said that landfills are like mummifiers than composters. In Hong Kong around 9,000 tonnes of Municipal Solid Waste is produced per day with 52% of this going to landfills (Adapted and taken from South China Morning Post
- accessed 15/7/2013). Waste is put on top of waste but this collection is not addressed. Items in landfills degrade very slowly if at all, even for biodegradeable items. There is an increased focus of disease such as rats and flies. Notwithstanding careful engineering, there can be harmful leaks of liquid which seep into the groundwater. Moreover, the methane produced is highly flammable. The spaces available for landfills are finite and also create more pollution from the transportation of waste. In Hong Kong alone, the Tseung Kwan O landfill is said to overflow by 2016 (Adapted and taken from South China Morning Post
- accessed 15/7/2013).
It is evident that the key to addressing waste and garbage disposal is by approaching the reduction of rubbish at source with great enthusiasm. This should make up 40% of Hong Kong’s waste management with the remaining 60% attributable to recycling, incinerating and disposing into landfills. The make up being 28.8%, 18% and 13.2% respectively. Clearly, recycling will create more jobs as separation of waste is required, this will only have a positive impact on the economy. It is less harmful to the environment unlike incineration and landfills. Understandably, not all waste can be recycled therefore incinerators should be used instead and landfills as a last resort. By following this method of 1) reduction of waste; 2) recycling; and 3) incinerating and/or using landfills, it is the least harmful to our environment and help preserve the precious and scarce land of Hong Kong.
Researcher: Vincent Chung
Translator: Elizabeth Yick