Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

Waste not want not

In 2009, Hong Kong generated 6.45 million tonnes of rubbish, more than doubling 1990 levels. This equates to an annual per capita solid waste generation of 921kg, giving Hong Kong the gold medal for the most wasteful place in the world – a solid 91kg per capita, higher than Norway, which topped a list of 30 economies surveyed by the OECD in 2009.

Comparing to Hong Kong, Japan had an annual per capita figure of 410kg, and South Korea generated 380kg. Singapore produced roughly 2.63 million tonnes of waste in 2009, equating to an annual per capita of 527kg.

Developing countries in Asia offer a mixed bag of waste levels. India (2002) had a low annual per capita amount of 183kg, with Thailand (226kg, 2002), Philippines (256kg, 2000), China (274kg, 2003), and Vietnam (292kg) also producing similar amounts. A large rural population is one reason why manufacturing waste along with paper and plastic has been minimal. This is fast changing. Other Asian countries with a higher per capita waste output included Turkey (365kg, 2001) and Malaysia (526kg, 2002).

Cities like Penang (358kg) Taipei (347kg) and Bangkok (321kg) have high annual per capita waste production rates, whereas cities like Manila (241kg), Hanoi (230kg), and New Delhi (172kg) have a lower number.

With landfills scarcer by the year and the detrimental environmental impact evident, recycling has come into focus. In 2009, Singapore recycled 3.49 million tonnes of total waste output, and Hong Kong recycled 3.18 million tonnes of municipal solid waste of which, interestingly, 1% was recycled locally, with the remaining 99% exported for recycling. – KV