Kwong’s efforts have proved to be constructive as he has reduced three full bins of rubbish by half each day. However, in the two years of his voluntary green service in the office, none of his colleagues have ever joined him. There are a few who have voluntarily reduced the amount of waste they produce and give him their recyclables but the majority still fail to understand his motives or even see his practices as unhygienic.
“Whether or not I am at work makes an obvious difference [in the office],” Kwong says.
Despite his frustration, Kwong struggles on as this work makes him feel better about himself. That is not to go so far as to say he enjoys it. He shakes his head when he says: “I wake up every morning realising it is another day for me to do this work again. In a utopian, ideal world, there would be no need for me to do such things.”
Kwong does not want to describe what he does as being a contribution to “environmental protection” because he rejects the term. He thinks it makes people view humankind and nature as opposing forces.
“Environmental awareness should refer to… knowing the existence of other species for the normal operation of the earth, and humans to live on equal terms with other species.”
Kwong warns that unless we change the way we live, he will not be surprised if each district of Hong Kong has its own landfill in the future.
He has reason to be pessimistic. In a survey of 543 people aged between 11 and 61 or above, Varsity asked people to rate their awareness and knowledge of environmental issues, as well as their daily habits. The results showed Hong Kong citizens did not have a common habit of recycling on a regular basis.
On a scale of 1 to10, the average rating for environmental awareness was 5.64. However, 60 per cent of respondents said they did not regularly use the three colour waste recycling bins. More than half of them said they always or often recycled waste materials only if there were easily accessible waste separation bins.
The survey also found just 34 per cent of respondents knew that food waste constitutes the largest proportion of the waste disposed in Hong Kong’s landfills, making up around 40 per cent of municipal solid waste in 2014, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Department. Household food waste alone amounts to 2,608 tonnes per day.
In 2012, the government launched the Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign to increase awareness of the food waste problem and encourage behavioural changes in the community at individual and household levels to combat it.
But while Varsity’s poll found that 90 per cent of the respondents knew about the Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign, more than 50 per cent of them gave the scheme a rating of less than 5 out of 10 in encouraging them not to order more food than they needed. In other words, it failed to motivate them to change their habits.
Vincent Law King-man, executive director of Greeners Action, says he believes the reason the campaign has been so ineffective in changing people’s behaviour is that there are no laws to motivate people to change. That is, they do not have to pay for their waste.
“I think it would work if we make use of legislation to raise their [citizens’] awareness,” he says. Law thinks that together with education, legislation could be what is needed to push people to turn their awareness into action.