A Throwaway Society That’s Full to Overflowing
A Throwaway Society That’s Full to Overflowing

Hong Kong generates mountains of rubbish every day and its landfills are almost full to overflowing. What can we do to help stop the rot and change the way we dispose of our trash?

Hong Kong is still a throwaway society, despite a growing environment awareness in recent years. Every day – shockingly – the city generates enough municipal solid waste to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools.


Waste management is an increasing hot topic as Hong Kong’s three landfill sites stay on course to reach their capacity within a few years. As a result of insufficient waste infrastructure, landfill remains the major method of waste disposal.


According to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), Hong Kong generated about 11,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day in 2019, the highest per-capita rate of any major Asian city.


The mounting trash problem not only makes Hong Kong’s land scarcity more acute but is also a significant obstacle to protecting the environment in the longer term.

Disposal of total waste at landfills in Hong Kong from 2015 to 2019
Source: The Environmental Protection Department

A burning issue

One way to address the problem is to turn waste into energy. Municipal solid waste contains organic combustible materials which offer rich energy content for electricity generation.


Using waste for electricity generation can replenish part of the conventional fossil fuel and contribute to decarbonisation. It can help ease the pressure on landfills and provide sustainable renewable resources for electricity generation.

The West New Territories Landfill Gas Power Station
The West New Territories Landfill Gas Power Station utilises the landfill gas produced at the site for power generation.

To help address the waste crisis, the Hong Kong government initiated the development of some waste-to-energy facilities, such as the sludge treatment facility T-Park, which burns sewage sludge to turn it into electricity, and the organic resources recycling centre O-Park, which converts food waste into biogas for electricity generation. As well as generating electricity, T-Park also offers recreational and educational features to educate the public about the waste-to-energy concept.


In addition, CLP has developed the West New Territories Landfill Gas Power Generation project, which converts energy-rich methane gas from landfill into electricity. It is estimated the station, which went into operation in 2020, will generate 68 million kWh of electricity a year, enough to cover the annual power consumption of 17,000 four-person households.

Currently, T Park, O Park and West New Territories Landfill Gas Power Station have the potential to generate a total of 580 million kWh of electricity a year. However, this is far from enough to resolve the solid waste problem in Hong Kong as, between them, these facilities only handle a tiny fraction of the solid waste we produce on a daily basis.

Hong Kong needs to significantly accelerate its waste-to-energy efforts to deal with the alarming upward trend of municipal solid waste, relieve the pressure on landfill sites, and unleash the potential of sustainably-generated energy from waste.

Lessons from overseas

For Hong Kong to achieve its goals and become a sustainable rather than a throwaway society, part of the answer may lie in developing an Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF).


While many countries, including Japan and South Korea, have adopted comprehensive solid waste management strategies incorporating waste-to-energy initiatives, Singapore appears to offer the best example to follow.


While similar to Hong Kong in terms of population density, land availability, economic maturity, and availability of natural resources, Singapore is decades ahead of Hong Kong in waste-to-energy development.


Singapore opened its first IWMF to turn solid waste into energy resources by mass-burn incineration in the 1980s, a prescient step which has become the key to resolving the solid waste issues in the city-state. 


Today, four mass-burn IWMFs handle 37% of Singapore’s incinerable resources. With 60% of waste recycled, only 3% of non-incinerable waste is disposed of at landfills, and the IWMFs generate 936 million kWh of electricity a year.

Singapore’s waste management system

Singapore’s waste management system
Source: Integrated Waste Management Facility, National Environment Agency, Singapore

The success of IWMFs in Singapore shows the way forward for Hong Kong, which is building its first IWMF now. Located on the outlying island of Shek Ku Chau, the facility is due to go into operation in 2024 and will handle 3,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste every day, around 27% of the current daily total.


Its launch will signal a big step but it is only one of the measures Hong Kong must take to solve its waste headache. 


The city still needs more waste-to-energy and recycling facilities – and Hong Kong people must play their part too, by producing less waste and helping to make the city greener and more sustainable.