Sunday, November 15, 2009

..And Close The Loop

Though small, Hong Kong manages to pack in plenty of architectural wonders, tourist attractions, wildlife reserves and lots and lots people. It’s truly amazing how much Hong Kong has to offer in relation to its small size. But all this activity in such a small place has its downside. Waste in the ‘territory’ is becoming an increase problem. There are three landfills, which by the mid 2010’s, each will reach maximum capacity if the current growth rate of waste continues. This will require the HK Government to designate an additional 400 hectares to the development of a landfill, including the cutting down of precious carbon dioxide breathing trees, and adding another location where dangerous chemicals can enter the local habitat or poison the ground water.

Surprisingly, in my research I have found few initiatives in Hong Kong that have attempted to tackle this problem. Poisonous metals and chemicals aside, Hong Kong’s consumption-led life-style produces a staggering amount of solid waste – each year, more than 6 million tones of (municipal) solid waste is generated. Friends of the Earth (FoE), a global environmental advocate with a local branch in Hong Kong has a number of recycling initiatives for: clothing, CDs, electronics, etc; all of which, unfortunately, seem to be lacking critical features for success.

First, they lack the scale needed to engender consistent behavior. It is practically a truism to say behavior is a hard thing to change. If a service is not consistently provide, it will be hard to change peoples’ consumption and waste management behaviors. An example of a successful waste management program is when the government provides multiple bins for recycling different waste products and commits to picking those bins up on a consistent basis, over a long period of time. Unfortunately, FoE does not have the resources to commit to any recycling program of this scale and therefore cannot produce an effective recycling program.

Second, the programs do not attempt to manage or change the values of society. In Hong Kong it is polite not to spit, to give up your seat on the MTR (Subway) to the elderly, to throw rubbish in a bin, to use two hands to exchange name (business) cards and to wear a mask when you are sick. Unfortunately, it is neither polite nor impolite to recycle, reduce or reuse (rrr), it’s just something overly green people choose to do. In order to change behavior (without using economical stimulants. E.g. taxes), initiatives must change the perception of rrr – it must become as acceptable as holding the door for a perfect stranger.

Other programs in Hong Kong, such as the Energywi$e and Wastewi$e labeling schemes, are programs sponsored by the HK Gov that attempt to reward companies with positive publicity for their contribution to environmentally friendly practices. Unfortunately, these programs are also lacking. In order for these labels to be truly successful, consumers must first be aware of it and second value it. Both seem rare among HK consumers.

For my San Diego people, please have a look at Recycle San Diego (RSD) offers a critical amount of services and flexibility for corporate clients and consumers alike to adjust their behaviors over time. RSD also participates in a number of community outreach and educational initiatives, attempting to change the values and priorities of consumers and professionals so that eventually recycling will become common etiquette.