Save, Reuse & Compost

Originally posted: May 2018

Edited n re-posted: May 2020

Its World Environment Day on the 5th of June.

Despite the clearly increased awareness about decreasing waste and it's management, the waste per capita continues be high in Hong Kong. According to the HK government statistics from 2018, "Overall, the average daily quantity of solid waste disposed of at landfills was 16 096 tonnes in 2018...the daily Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) disposal rate would be 1.50 kilograms per capita in 2018....Looking at the figures by waste type, food waste was the largest component of MSW in 2018, accounting for 31 per cent, followed by waste paper (24 per cent) and waste plastics (21 per cent). "

One way to do our bit in decreasing our food waste is by composting our organic waste.

For those not familiar, Composting is a technique by which you rot waste and convert it into nutrient-rich fertilizer for planting.

It’s a widely adopted method of treating food waste in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and many European countries, where government policy led the need for households to treat their food waste. Treating one’s food waste to use for fertilizer means avoiding being penalized or charged for such waste.

The family-owned business Oklin are pioneers in industrial and residential composting units and are a driving force in creating awareness amidst Hong Kongers about organic waste food management. We met Rebecca Wong, the General Manager of Oklin to learn more about ways in which the community can get started on composting in our own backyards.

We discovered that working to make the planet a better place practically, runs in Rebecca’s bloodline. Back in 2006, her father launched a line of biodegradable and compostable packaging with the family business then. He soon realized that though the packaging business produced biodegradable food packaging, no one was recycling the packaging because it was soiled with food. He decided to fix that and went onto buy Oklin. Initially based in Busan Korea, scientists carried out painstaking research to identify bacteria that could quickly digest and compost food waste and they then designed machines that could use it to compost.

Inside a compost machine

Electric composting machines supplied by Oklin can turn food waste into compost within 24 hours versus the homemade method of the Bokashi system of composting which takes 2 weeks. The existing composting machines are more suitable for large users such as airports, schools, shopping malls or whole residential estates rather than households, the main constraint being their size. Currently, the smallest electric composting machine of 5kg/day for households is the size of a mini bar fridge costing upwards of HK$9,400, but Rebecca assured us that extensive efforts are being carried out at Oklin to meet the challenge of making a smaller machine feasible for the small apartments in Hong Kong.

Oklin System - composting at home

The good news is that in the absence of any formal governmental regulation various organizations in Hong Kong has started using such electric composting machines. They can be found in the Hong Kong airport, shopping malls, and schools. Oklin is determined to educate and encourage Hong Kongers to adapt composting as a way of life. Rebecca shared various initiatives and programs that they run across schools to create awareness amidst children so that they in turn can influence adults.

Rebecca shared a heartwarming example of how a community initiative can create change that aims to protect the environment. A group of pioneering women in the outlying islands in Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Outlying Islands Women’s Association, 4 years ago kick started a food waste recycling scheme in Mui Wo and other islands with a composting machine that they purchased with the the support of a funding scheme offered by the government. They distributed recycled sauce containers to families who joined the scheme to collect their food waste, which they then dropped-off in bins placed outside schools and common areas. The containers are collected regularly and the waste processed by an Oklin electric composting machine. The government provides funds for the maintenance and management of the scheme but it is the dedication and passion of the association that has encouraged people to participate in the initiative. That there are enough people willing to do their bit if the process is made accessible easily is proved in a 60% participation rate in the scheme.

Mui Wo Island

In fact, we have our own small initiative in our Localhood neighbourhood driven by the community. The home owners association in a Sheung Wan housing estate applied and successfully obtained funding to buy an electric composting machine placed in the garbage disposal room. Much like the above island scheme, participants in the housing estate need to sign up to obtain air-tight boxes which are labeled with the types of food waste which are acceptable for composting. Families simply drop off the food waste containers into bins placed next to the recycling boxes, which are then collected and food waste turned into compost by the composting machines. The food waste containers are washed and reused. It’s an easy and efficient way to compost, while avoiding the hassle of washing, cleaning, limiting odours of a homemade composting system.

Be an early pioneer to start composting by asking your housing estate’s home owners association to apply for a free electric composting machine funded by the government (for details on this scheme, see: http://hd-fwrs.hkpc.org/index_en.html )

Composting is not a passing fad, it is in fact critical for conserving the environment. Will Hong Kongers take to it because they value the city they live in and want to preserve it for future generations, or are forced to do so by changing governmental regulation, only time will tell.

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