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Is Hong Kong Green?

15 Oct 2010

I begin all my Hong Kong posts with a reminder that I spent 30 years of my life in Canada's capital: Ottawa. Its important to point out, because it puts my comments into perspective of what I'm used to.

I arrived in Hong Kong in the dead of summer - it was a shock to my system. Ottawa has pretty hot summers (look up axial tilt if you think I'm joking), which are actually quite humid. But while you might have 5-10 really bad days all summer long (with breaks in between), Hong Kong in the summer is like the very worst day in Ottawa over a period of 2+ months.

What does that have to do with the environment? Air conditioning is everywhere - but that isn't any different than Ottawa. What is different is that insulation is no where. Its insane. How insane? 99% of stores don't have doors. Major office buildings (the HSBC headquarters, or Time Square, for example) are open to the outside. Think about it, 35C outside and 95% humidity, and tens of thousands of stores and buildings, blasting their A/C with no doors. It is shockingly absurd.

The other thing that you notice pretty quickly is that there's no recycling. Much larger companies will recycle, but there's absolutely no residential recycling. In ottawa we have a blue bin, black bin, green bin and garbage - and most (I'd guess 95%+ people participate).

Those are pretty big issues, but it isn't all bad. First, 90% of all travel is done via some form of mass-transit. Of the mass-transit that relies on fuel, LPG (a cleaner fuel) is exclusively used. Also, there's a lot more walking involved in getting around (a very good thing).

Hong Kong is obviously a densely populated place - which means more people live on considerably less land. The efficiency of living in most north american cities is disturbing - both in terms of destroyed land and commuting. On top of that, Hong Kong somehow manages to have a lot of greenspace - both directly in the city as well as outlying areas. According to wiki, 40% of the land is reserved for country parks and nature reserves.

Something that surprised me was that the toilets here use greywater. I thought it was a bit silly, but consider that before joining China, water shortages were a major problem. Also, and quite to my amazement, 30% of all household water is used for flushing!

Finally, while recycling hardly exists, there's much less food wastage. All parts of all foods are used. I wouldn't guess what the actual impact of that is (I never would have guessed greywater can save upwards of 30% of household water usage).

I think the most interesting thing that I've noticed is how differently the environment is treated between Ottawa and Hong Kong. In Ottawa, individuals take on many of the smaller inconveniences - like recycling, or turning off lights. In Hong Kong, individuals don't seem to have that same awareness, but they're lifestyle contributes in much more significant ways - like not owning a car, living in more efficient housing, hang drying their clothes, and having instant hot water tanks (for space, not efficiency). People in Hong Kong are becoming more aware though, while people in Ottawa will never give up their luxuries.

As for me, I'm sure I've shrank my footprint by a significant percentage. I don't have a car, my living space is more reasonable, I buy more local goods (local == china in this case, which is better than california) and I've reduced my consumerism.

So Is Hong Kong Green? Like most places, it has its highlights and shortcomings. That's the obvious conclusion.

(for those curious why hong kong?, I'll blog about it in the future, but the state of programming in Ottawa is horrendous, and a nice opportunity presented itself...hence the main reason for the move.)

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