Dumpster Diving HK Style (no diving required)


8 YEARS AGO we started Go Green Hong Kong with the fervent belief that individual behaviour could make a decisive difference in the war on waste and pollution. The glacial pace of change (though that may not be such an apt expression anymore as climate change is making glaciers move much faster these days) since then, and a deeper understanding of the scale and systemic nature of the issues has shaken that belief. Consumers and individual actions can only address the very tip of the iceberg. Waste begins from the moment a designer conceives of a product to end of its life and beyond. Many goods end up spending their “life” in the landfill completely unopened and untouched by human hands.

6 years ago, we moved our farm to a new location in Sheung Shui that happened to be near one of the thousands of wholesale distributors in HK. As is common practice among most distributors, pallets of dead stock are regularly carted to the nearest garbage collection point. When the products are still on pallets, there is no need to dive! They are simply there for the taking before the garbage collection truck comes. In the last year or so, we have seen pallets of

  • Tampons from Germany
  • Diapers from Germany
  • Organic baby food from the US
  •  Anna Sui mascara, nail polish and eye shadow from Japan
  • Hand cream from Germany
  • Organic body scrub from US
  • Body wash, moisturiser and mouthwash from Korea

all dumped, awaiting disposal to the landfill. To understand the scale of the problem, we have to recognise this is happening everyday throughout the city, for every conceivable type of product imaginable. Why are perfectly new goods being dumped at scale into the landfill instead of being sent to charities for distribution to the poor or even recycled?

Without municipal waste charging, it is the cheapest way of dealing with unsold inventory. Lets face it, if you paid good money for products you intended to sell but couldn’t, you wouldn’t be too keen on giving it away and letting others benefit from your misery, unless you are forced by regulations to donate it, as is the case in some EU countries.

In the face of government inaction, concerned citizens from various districts have organised themselves into informal, grassroots movements (some called Waste-no-Mall) that help to distribute unwanted goods and do recycling in the community. Everytime I encounter these goods, I will alert them. Some very dedicated volunteers will use their own time and resources to collect them and distribute it to the community free of charge.

These are the true eco-warriors. Like Special Forces, you won’t know their name or identity, and they won’t be featured in glamour magazines. They are boots on the ground, doing the essential work of environmentalism – organising and taking action. We will need a lot more good folks taking up the cause. This is what gives me hope… we will tell you their stories in future posts.

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