Category: Solutions

Hannah’s journey to no-wasteland

Hannah Chung won’t leave home without her stainless steel lunch box.

It’s the indispensable tool in her quest to live a life that creates no consumer waste.

But is that even possible in a city where strawberries come individually wrapped?

“I’m not there yet,” she admits, eight months into her zero-waste challenge. Speaking at the Lantau Health & Wellness Expo on the weekend she says it’s been “pretty difficult.”

It began with an epiphany in a supermarket late one evening. Everything was wrapped in plastic. She went home and looked in her bathroom cabinet, full of product in plastic containers.

“Outside there were styrofoam boxes everywhere. All of this just added up, I felt I needed to make a change. Once you have it in your mind you can’t unsee it.”

She found some inspiration from advice from online resources, including Zero Waste Home by Californian-based Bea Johnson and Trash is for Tossers by New Yorker Lauren Singer.

“I wanted to see if it could be done in Hong Kong, where convenience is prized.”

It’s certainly taken her out of her comfort zone. She’s worked with groups like the Zero Waste Alliance of Restaurants, which works on cutting restaurant waste, and charity Impact HK, which makes sleeping mats for homeless Hong Kongers out of plastic bags.

She has met with a lot of Hong Kong’s recycling community and has learnt to deal with the different types of plastic.

PET bottles can’t be cleaned properly and shouldn’t be reused but can be recycled, she explains. Takeaway food tubs can be recycled but only if they’re clean. “If they’re contaminated with food and oil they may end up in landfill.”  Polystyrene – also known by its trade name styrofoam – can’t be recycled at all.

At home, she’s donated and swapped a lot of clothes, made stock from food scraps and soaked citrus peel in vinegar to create a cleaning agent. She’s made her own toothpaste from coconut and baking soda and bought locally-made toothbrushes. For feminine hygiene she’s discovered the lunette cup.

The hardest thing is the preparation.  It takes a lot of time. But the stainless steel box is a great aid – it means she can buy food even from McDonald’s and not generate waste.

It’s been a steep learning curve. “At the end of the year I will review it, and see what I will keep.”

Time to Uberize Lantau’s transport network

Golden Week holiday period has come and gone and once again Lantau’s traffic network was hopelessly choked.

Visitors waited two hours or more in the Tung Chung taxi queue for a ride to South Lantau, the Apple Daily reports.

Rather than idle under the hot sun, some took one of the half-dozen seven-seater people carriers charging $400-$500 per vehicle to Po Lin Temple.

This is the kind of entrepreneurialism for which Hong Kong, prior to the food truck fiasco, was renowned.  It is illegal, however, and the Transport Dept, instead of expressing concern about the tourists’ discomfort – not to mention the failure of its policies – has vowed to work with the police to hunt these criminals down.

The problem is the city’s taxi industry is dominated by the owners, who have paid up to HK$7 million for a red plate. David Webb estimates this fleet of creaky old Crown Comforts is worth HK$118 billion, and it is the government’s role to protect the financial well-being of this powerful interest group.

Hence the resistance to change. In ‘Asia’s world city,’ drivers are unable to receive payment in any form but cash and are untroubled by competition from ride sharing services.

Lantau’s problems are exacerbated by the limited road network and government’s determination to squeeze as many people as possible onto the island for leisure-making.

The choice is either limit the demand for transport or increase the supply.

We’re not going to cap the number of visitors, so let’s look at lifting transport capacity. In the medium term we might upgrade the Tung Chung-Tai O ferry service and add extra and bigger buses, but the obvious immediate fix would be to track down the owners of those seven-seaters and issue them holiday period permits.

For local residents, it’s not just Golden Week. The taxi and bus services are maxed out over most weekends, especially in the hotter months.  If you’re a South Lantau resident needing to catch a weekend flight you’re better off begging a lift from your neighbour.

We wouldn’t be in this fix if the government hadn’t banned Uber and Didi services. Smart technologies are designed to provide the kind of flexibility to solve precisely these kinds of problems. When Golden Week rolls around again in October, you can bet the only change will be the Transport Dept inspectors trying to catch those providing a desperately-needed service.

Eight reasons not to build East Lantau Metropolis

The deadline for the public consultation on Hong Kong 2030+ looms on April 30 – the last chance for Lantau people to register their views on the plan to run a freeway across the island to connect Mui Wo to Central via a new commercial centre built on reclaimed land.

Here’s why it shouldn’t be built.

  1. The ELM won’t fix Hong Kong’s housing problem

Hong Kong has the world’s most expensive home prices – a wretched record it has held for the past seven years. That requires solutions now, not in the mid-2030s when the first ELM homes are ready.

  1. The ELM is the worst solution to the housing shortage

The ELM is the slowest, most expensive and environmentally harmful way to provide affordable housing. It proposes to house up to 700,000 people on a site from anywhere between 1000 and 2400 hectares, comprising the islands of Hei Ling Chau and Kau Yi Chau and extensive harbour reclamation. Some alternatives:

  1. The ELM will solve a problem that doesn’t exist

The ELM is based on a forecast population of 9 million. Yet the government’s own figures anticipate that the city’s population will peak at 8.22 million in 2043, after which it will decline. The government has suggested it is a ‘contingency’ – in other words it wants to commit public funds to the city’s biggest ever infrastructure project on the basis that it might be needed.

  1. The ELM has no economic case

The ELM is intended to be Hong Kong’s third CBD – a concentration of high-end office and retail, in addition to the abundant stock that exists in Central-Admiralty and East Kowloon (in the case of office space) and Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui (retail), not to mention the flood of new retail stores at the forthcoming HZM bridge landing zone. The government has not made the case for these other than claiming that direct links to both the Pearl River west bank and Central will create economic activity.

Property consultant Leo Cheung from Icon City says the government’s economic projections “belong to the unknown.” A new city centre of that scale will require up to a quarter of million jobs – there is no sign of where they will come from.

Prime real estate CBD material: Kau Yi Chau

  1. If we build the ELM they won’t come

Since 1997, Hong Kong has built one white elephant after another – Stonecutters Bridge (HK$2.76 billion), the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal (HK$6.6 billion), Central-Wanchai bypass (HK$36 billion), the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge (HK$140 billion and climbing) the high-speed rail link (HK$90 billion and also climbing) and, coming soon, the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator (HK$22 billion). Hong Kong bureaucrats love to pour concrete instead of trying to solve actual problems. Their bosses in Beijing love it, too. China is now exporting its excess construction capacity across Eurasia through its ‘One Belt One Road’ scheme. Heavy public works may have worked well for developing China in the past 30 years, but add little value to a city that already has advanced infrastructure.

  1. The ELM is environmentally destructive

Hong Kong leaders repeatedly stress they aim to balance conservation and development, yet invariably they find that the ‘balance’ comes down on the side of environmental degradation. This has been the case with Shek Kwu Chau, HZM bridge and the third runway. If an environmental assessment of ELM is made, it is guaranteed that the Environmental Protection Department will determine that it meets all the environmental criteria.

Special mention must be made of the repeated claim that this planned concentration of concrete and glass on reclaimed land and fed by freeways will be ‘low-carbon.’

  1. Hong Kong can no longer manage large projects

The ELM promises to be the greatest money pit of all. There is no costing yet, but according to a private estimate, based on previous projects, it will cost HK$400 billion.

This city once had a reputation for financial rectitude. The continued delays and cost overruns on the HZM bridge and the Guangzhou express rail link indicate a reckless approach to managing taxpayer assets and reinforce the view that sound economics are far less important than making a favourable impression in Beijing.

  1. The ELM has been shrouded in deception

From the outset it has been clear the government is determined to impose ELM on the city, regardless of its cost or public opinion. After introducing the ELM in his 2014 policy address CY Leung created a new advisory body stacked with developers and government supporters. After they predictably voted for ELM, the government held a ‘consultation’ that with equal predictability found that most Hong Kong people support the project, despite the thousands of written objections. The government has never showed any evidence for this claimed level of support. It also has never issued any of the consultancy studies that have examined the project. This disdain for public opinion was symbolised by the construction of a 3D model of ELM exclusively for visiting Beijing official Zhang Dejiang while the public consultation was still underway, containing details then unknown to the public.

A smarter lock to deter Lantau bike thieves?

Here’s a solution that might make a dent in bike theft: a smart bicycle lock.

It’s the idea of a Korean start-up called Bisecu (= ‘bike security’), who are promising to make security for your two wheels easier and stronger.

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