On January 1st, China banned imports of 24 kinds of trash – and the move is wrecking havoc on Hong Kong. Reuters describes a “growing mountain of waste” piling up in a city that recycles little of its garbage. Doug Woodring, founder of the Hong Kong-based Ocean Recovery Alliance, told Reuters, “Hong Kong is a rich city with third-world quality recycling. It has been too easy to send unprocessed waste to China.”
Every year, Hong Kong sends 5.6 million metric tons – two thirds of its garbage – into landfills. They used to export more than 90 percent of recyclables over to China – up until the start of the year. Reuters reports that mountains of cardboard and newspapers are piling up on Hong Kong’s docks as plastic trash heads to landfills.
The government says it doesn’t have the space to create a productive recycling industry. Critics say the city hasn’t done enough to upgrade its waste management system. Woodring, for example, told Reuters the government has depended too much on expanding landfills, saying in regards to recycling, “Hong Kong has the capability to build processing plants. There is plenty of land. The land has just been misused and misallocated.”
Deputy director for environmental protection Vicki Kwok told Reuters the government is planning to increase the size of three active landfills. The government also plans to begin charging people for the things they toss out – but it could be two years at least before they implement the move.
They also hope to open a facility in 2018 to turn food waste into usable resources or energy – however it will only be able to recycle 200-300 metric tons daily. That’s just a fraction of the 3,600 metric tons of food waste Hong Kong generates in a single day.
The government has announced measures to fight the waste dilemma like funding local recyclers, according to Kwok, but green groups say the local recycling industry isn’t able to process all the junk once shipped off to China.