Waste Management and Circular Economy in Hong Kong

© Agathe Roullin / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Hong Kong is one of the most populous cities in the world with a density of 130,000 people per square kilometer, generating more than 6 million tons of trash per year. Waste management is particularly difficult due to the geography of the archipelago which, like other island regions, lacks space. What strategies are implemented for treating trash and wastewater? What are their limits? A researcher in Hong Kong’s circular economy, Julie Metta (City University of Hong Kong), whom we met during Tara’s stopover, describes the situation.


Hong Kong, a major producer of waste and innovations

The Ellen McArthur Foundation states that “by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean”. This projection emphasizes the poor management of our household waste that results from over-consumption. The impact on marine and terrestrial ecosystems is recognized, especially when the plastic reaches our shorelines, a simple return to the source: To date, 90% of the waste at sea comes from the land.
Hong Kong, which generates more than 6 million tons of waste per year, is an interesting case study: Waste management here, like in other island regions, is affected by the lack of space. Hong Kong is one of the most populous cities in the world with a density of 130,000 people per square kilometer.
Of the 16 landfills functioning in the early 2000s, only 3 are still in operation to accommodate the detritus of this megalopolis’ inhabitants. In addition, the People’s Republic of China where Hong Kong had been exporting most of its waste, has banned the majority of transactions since 2017.


SLDLPP2350794© Elodie© Fondation Tara ExpeditionsDuring Hong Kong’s beach cleaning the Tara Foundation participated in, more than 7500 bottles and straws were collected in order to be recycled – © Elodie Bernollin / Tara Expeditions Foundation


For municipal waste management, the city has announced the goal of reducing the amount by 40% by 2022 (in comparison to 2011). Local businesses and civil society are organizing to meet this deadline. Circular economy initiatives are developing to maintain sustainable growth of the territory. In general, following the principle of liberalism, the government of Hong Kong is encouraging actions so that markets can find a natural balance.

This policy has been satisfactory in terms of financial management, but results concerning waste management are less evident. In fact, locally recycled materials provide raw material with a low environmental impact, but at a higher cost than the resources (either new or recycled) imported from the People’s Republic of China. New economic stratagems must therefore be set up in order to balance these weaknesses.


The Hong Kong EcoPARK: a collection of innovations in circular economy

Until 2017 more than 40% of municipal solid waste was exported to China for recycling, but only 1% of the waste was recovered locally. EcoPark is an industrial area of 200,000 m² dedicated to recycling. Established in 2003 by the Hong Kong government, the park aims to encourage local entrepreneurs to transform and use municipal waste, thus promoting a process of circular economy.

The park allows local manufacturers to benefit from efficient technologies to treat the huge amount of recyclable waste that Hong Kong has until now buried in landfills. The government hopes to create new markets for these innovative technologies as well as for the recycled materials. The goal is also to reduce Hong Kong’s need to export recyclable materials.
Among the companies and innovations present on this industrial site are:
The transformation of cooking oils from industry and the agro-food trade into fuel that can replace diesel (by the local company ASB biodiesel). This new fuel reduces emissions of pollutants and particulates. Every year Hong Kong generates 16,000 tons of bio-fuel thanks to cooking oils. However only 10% of Hong Kong’s oils are converted. In fact the demand for bio-diesel is very low because of its high cost.
The exploitation of plastics 1 and 2 (PET and HDPE) in order to produce granules – raw material for other industries producing plastic materials (by the Hong Kong company ChunShing).
Recycling of waste from the textile industry, which represents 7% of total waste in Hong Kong. In addition to its educational programs, the association recycles materials to make clothing – a smaller scale transformation led by “Redress”, an environmental organization.
Sludge treatment is also done near this Ecopark, in the T-Park. Operated by the French company Veolia since May 2016, this plant processes more than 2,000 tons of sludge daily for the production of electricity. The plant also provides many jobs, including the maintenance of the spa, and a public garden provided free for the premises. This technological, social and local achievement is a world first that reflects the dynamic Franco-Hong Kong collaboration in terms of circular economy.


vue aerienne ecopark hong kongAerial view of Hong Kong Ecopark- © Creative Commons


Educating about innovation and encouraging responsible action

EcoPark also has a waste management education center. Today, the technologies are sufficiently mature, but public awareness still needs to be raised in this direction. Communication and education are now essential for the strategy of circular economy to be properly implemented.

Citizens must become aware of the problem of waste and the opportunities that can be created to change from waste producers to waste reducers. Public awareness about waste and its management would allow the government and businesses to take more initiatives. To affect real change, the various communities in Hong Kong must be better informed about the issue of waste.

Julie Metta – City University of Hong Kong


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