Landfills, Food Waste & Incinerators
Landfills are areas designated for the disposal of waste via burial. Hong Kong currently has three landfills in operation: the West, South East and North East New Territories landfills.
At the most basic level, a landfill is a structure that is either built into or on top of the ground. Liners (which may be made of natural or synthetic materials) help separate the waste from and avoid contaminating the surrounding environment. Waste is then placed atop this lined structure.
Conditions are specifically designed to minimise decomposition, since organic waste releases greenhouse gases as it decomposes. The environment is kept as dry and anaerobic as possible – the opposite of a compost pile! Hong Kong landfills are classed as Sanitary Landfills. They are engineered using an impermeable lining which allows the leachate and landfill gases to be collected and treated, ensuring they don’t end up in the environment. They are operated to prevent potential nuisance caused by odour, landfill gas and leachate. Treated landfill gas can be used beneficially to generate electricity and energy for on-site use or to be supplied to the electricity grid.
Hong Kong’s three landfills are expected to be full by the 2030s.
Despite this waste crisis and the Government’s focus on waste reduction campaigns and legislation, Hong Kong’s average daily waste to landfill increased by 3.7% from 2017 to 2018, from 15,516 to 16,096 tonnes per day.
South East New Territories (SENT) Landfill Photo: Minghong
How much waste is produced in Hong Kong?
The latest government statistics from 2018 report that 5.87 million tonnes of solid waste* was disposed of at the strategic landfills.
The average daily quantity was 16,096 tonnes per day, which has increased by 3.7% as compared to 2017.
The Hong Kong Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022, a government report put out by the Environment Bureau, announced Hong Kong’s commitment to decreasing the amount of waste, with a target of reducing the 2011 amount of waste created daily from 1.27kg per person to 0.8kg in 2022. Unfortunately, the volume has steadily increased, not decreased, annually so far.
* Solid waste comprises primarily municipal solid waste (domestic, commercial and industrial waste), plus construction and special waste.
What will Happen When the Landfills are Full?
The government has started reclamation of about 16 hectares to form an artificial island near Shek Kwu Chau island (south of Lantau Island). Construction of an Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF) with a maximum treatment capacity of 3,000 tonnes per day will be completed by 2024.
There has been much controversy and opposition from the public surrounding the building of this facility. The contract was awarded at a cost of HKD 31 billion (USD$4 billion). The surrounding sea near the reclamation is home to vulnerable finless porpoise and chinese white dolphins and white-bellied sea eagles. There are concerns about air and sea pollution when the facility is operational.
Proposed IWMF off Shek Kwu Chau
Food Waste in Hong Kong
Food waste is any waste, whether it is raw or cooked, edible or the inedible parts generated during food production, distribution, storage, meal preparation or consumption of meals.
Food waste makes up the largest proportion of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) thrown out each day. To put this into perspective, in 2018, 3565 tonnes of food waste was sent to landfill every day. Approximately 2/3 of this was from households and the other third was from commercial (restaurants, hotels etc) and industrial sources.
Hong Kong’s food waste disposal is equivalent to throwing away the weight of approximately 250 double-decker buses every 24 hours or nearly 100,000 double-decker buses every year!
How is Food Waste handled Now and in the Future?
The Government’s strategy is to first reduce food waste at source with education programmes detailed on the platform Food Wise HK. Edible Food donations will be supported through an NGO network. Up to 200 tonnes (only) of food waste collected daily will be treated at the Organic Resources Recovery Centre (ORRC) where some food will be turned into compost. Biogas will also be extracted for energy use. There are two more planned Organic Waste Treatment Facilities that when built will process a further 500 tonnes of food waste per day. When the incinerator is operational much of the food waste will end up in there.
Did You Know?
Despite government efforts to encourage waste reduction, since 2011 the amount of waste thrown out by Hong Kong people has actually increased year on year!
In 2011 the amount was 1.27kg per person, per day, in 2018 it was 1.5kg.
Did You Know?
Plastic waste makes up 21% of rubbish dumped in landfills.
Of this 139 tonnes per day is plastic bottles!
Did You Know?
In 2018, 6,712 tonnes per day of Municiple Solid Waste (from homes) went to landfill, everyday.
That equates to 1.5kg from each person in Hong Kong!
Did You Know?
169 tonnes of plastic dining ware (containers and cutlery) and 41 tonnes of polyfoam dining ware was thrown away each day in landfills!
BYO containers and cutlery to help stop this waste.
Resources & Reports
WASTE BLUEPRINT FOR HONG KONG 2035
HONG KONG BLUEPRINT FOR SUSTAINABLE USE OF RESOURCES 2013-2022
A FOOD WASTE & YARD WASTE PLAN FOR HONG KONG 2014-2022 Environment Bureau
CHEMICAL RECYCLING: STATUS, SUSTAINABILITY, AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) 2020