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Environment

Who Hong Kong Blames for Its Trash-Covered Beaches

The once-pristine beaches of Hong Kong are now basically an open landfill. In the last few weeks, piles of garbage have filled the coastline of the semi-autonomous region of China. And the city’s top official knows who to blame.

“We’ve seen an unusual phenomenon in recent weeks that lots of domestic garbage from the mainland [China] has washed up in Hong Kong,” said Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

Tensions between residents of semi-autonomous Hong Kong and “mainlanders” is not new. Hong Kong residents often label visiting mainlanders “locusts” because they devour public services and then return home without contributing. The possibility of mainland contributing garbage adding friction to the relationship.

Leung estimates the influx of trash “could be related to heavy rainfall and flooding” in the mainland. He has promised “talks” with Chinese mainland officials.

The Chinese mainland is in the midst of a historic and devastating flood. Nearly 200 people have died and about 32 million people in more than half of China’s provinces have been impacted.

Hong Kong’s location at the mouth of the Pearl River puts it in the path of the water and garbage streaming out of flood stricken Guangdong province.

The Hong Kong chapter of environmental and maritime activist organization Sea Shepherd has been monitoring the rising swells of garbage.

The sometimes controversial organization took to Facebook to say the blame may not be totally on the Chinese mainland. In addition to trash that was clearly identifiable as coming from the mainland (through brands names on the trash that are not used in Hong Kong), the group found local sources as well.  On their tour around the island they witnessed garbage from Hong Kong restaurants and businesses being dumped directly into the bay.

Beyond the trash from the floods and the standard day to day poor trash control from Hong Kong, Sea Shepherd identified “another potential source.”

“An island just south of Chung Chau known as Wei Ling Ding. Here on the south side of the island day sailors and fishermen from HK have reported seeing a huge trash dump down the side of the cliffs.” The group determined that trash was from this dump “certainly entering the sea.”

Whether from the Chinese mainland or from Hong Kong’s own activities (most likely both), the trash piling up is getting noticed.

On Sunday, the city’s top politician decided to take some personal responsibility for the stinky crisis.

Leung’s garbage picking team picked up 3,000 pounds of trash, according to the NY Times. Overall, more than 85 tons has been bagged up by rubbish collectors – paid and volunteer.

Of course no political action would be complete without some criticism. For instance, local democracy advocate Paul Zimmerman pointed out Leung failed to correctly sort his trash before putting it in the garbage bags. But, as a even long-time critic of Leung, Zimmerman noted that the chief executive’s actions would help raise awareness of the waste problems in Hong Kong.

Waste is a huge issue in dense Hong Kong. The small island’s residents produce the most trash per person in the world, totaling more than 6.4 million tons of waste a year coming from the small city. Despite large campaigns to reduce waste and increase recycling, the region’s landfills are almost at capacity even as recycling is starting to decline.

The city’s three main landfills are predicted to be completely full by 2019. This has led to the rise of short-term landfills. These temporary landfills do not have the same safeguards or structures making them vulnerable to flooding or other natural changes. This is a factor Sea Shepherd highlights in its complaints about maritime pollution from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

Everyone must, on and off the mainland,take responsibility for the trash problem. In the meantime, Hong Kong’s beaches will continue to look more like this:

Than this: