Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year flower markets: don’t leave waste to the NGOs

Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year flower markets: don’t leave waste to the NGOs
Reducing waste at source is the most cost-effective way to ease pressure on Hong Kong’s landfills
The 83 tonnes of waste generated at this year’s Lunar New Year flower markets is a timely reminder of the need for action

Hong Kong hosted at least 15 Lunar New Year flower markets this year. Their celebratory intent notwithstanding, these markets generated 83 tonnes of waste in total, including bamboo sticks, unsold or wilted flowers, wooden pallets, and styrofoam. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said that most materials can be recycled. But before turning to recycling, what could have been done?

As a part of V’air Hong Kong, a youth organisation promoting local sustainable tourism and environmental education, I have seen my peers work tirelessly to reduce waste from the Sha Tin flower market. The team that worked at the flower markets included not only V’air members, but also ambassadors recruited from the public. 

The team promoted waste reduction messages to stall owners and the public when the markets were operating, and started to gather and sort the materials left over from the stalls on Lunar New Year’s Eve, as the markets drew to a close. 

What could be recycled was cleaned and sent off, and what could be donated was sent to the Sha Tin Community Green Station for residents to collect for free. 

The team worked from dusk till dawn during the Lunar New Year holidays, all because they care about the environment. Without these dedicated ambassadors, we could not have ensured that the materials from the flower markets could be recycled or repurposed. Still, despite their hard work, around 10 per cent of the materials had to be sent to the landfills.

Relying on NGOs to recycle materials did reduce waste, but reducing waste at source has to be the most cost-effective. There should be more coordinated efforts from the government to ensure that stall owners recycle and clean up their own area by providing training on waste reduction before the flower markets begin, or enact regulations or fines to deter stall owners from leaving behind their waste. 

The government could also set up a “thingery” (a lending library of things) for stall owners and NGOs to rent materials. Thingeries are popular in Western countries. In this context, a thingery can reduce the ecological footprint of flower markets, and strengthen social connections within the flower markets community. 

Rachel Chan, undergraduate, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia (Feb 27, 2021)

Read more in SCMP letter article