Culture | Slideshow: Hong Kong's mountain of Lunar New Year waste
  • Before. Narcissus flowers organized in a neat row at a Lunar New Year fair. Photo: Ya Leung
    Before. Narcissus flowers organized in a neat row at a Lunar New Year fair. Photo: Ya Leung
  • After. Narcissus flowers are dumped in the rubbish bin after midnight. Photo: Ya Leung
    After. Narcissus flowers are dumped in the rubbish bin after midnight. Photo: Ya Leung
  • What a waste. These new year flowers could have been reused instead of discarded. Photo: Ya Leung
    What a waste. These new year flowers could have been reused instead of discarded. Photo: Ya Leung
  • Overflowing. The blue bin is just for paper, but is filled with all sorts of waste. Photo: Ya Leung
    Overflowing. The blue bin is just for paper, but is filled with all sorts of waste. Photo: Ya Leung
  • Ugly mess. Excessive waste at the New Year fair can attract vermin. Photo: Ya Leung
    Ugly mess. Excessive waste at the New Year fair can attract vermin. Photo: Ya Leung
  • Oodles of reusables. Buckets, boxes and bags of things at a Yuen Long recycling station. Photo: Ya Leung
    Oodles of reusables. Buckets, boxes and bags of things at a Yuen Long recycling station. Photo: Ya Leung
  • Up for grabs. People can come and take anything they want for free. Photo: Ya Leung
    Up for grabs. People can come and take anything they want for free. Photo: Ya Leung
  • Green effort. A box for collecting used red packets at a shopping mall in Hong Kong. Photo: Ya Leung
    Green effort. A box for collecting used red packets at a shopping mall in Hong Kong. Photo: Ya Leung

Mountains of waste

Chinese celebrate the new year with “surplus” and “prosperity,” by buying flowers and goods, but photographer Ya Leung shows it also creates tonnes of rubbish

February 11, 2017 6:28 AM (UTC+8)

Today is the 15th day of the Year of the Rooster, and by tradition, marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebration, the single most important one in the Greater Chinese region.

Chinese often celebrate “surplus” and “prosperity,” by buying flowers and goods, but it can also mean creating loads of waste and the environment suffers.

In Hong Kong, the story starts with the Lunar New Year fair, or the flower market in colloquial Cantonese, an occasion that lasts for a week leading up to the early morning of the first day of the new year. This is when families go festive shopping.

Slideshow: Hong Kong’s generational divide

This year, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department collected more than 1,000 unsold pots of flowers and plants from vendors after the fair closed, and delivered them to 201 elderly and residential homes as well as eight public hospitals.

However, many more flowers could be seen in the rubbish bin.

Some flowers vendors start to pack up and leave the site at around 3am and they would throw out unsold goods, so people who wanted the flowers had to buy from stalls nearby.

It is also not economical for vendors to transport flowers back to their stores. The narcissus, for example, is only popular during the New Year and vendors may not have any other chance to sell them, except at the fair.

The 15 markets around Hong Kong produced around 365 tonnes of rubbish this year, according to the government. This rubbish can fill up around 20 medium-haul Airbus 320-200 aircraft. 

This is also 82 tonnes less than the total amount dumped last year.

Luckily, the government and people are increasingly aware of the problem. Community green stations were set up in three districts this year to recycle materials collected from fairs.

Residents near the recycling station can take and of the chairs, tables and even tents away for free.

Advocacy group Greeners Action is also launching a red packets recycling campaign, and has already collected more than 20 million red packets for the past seven years.

In 2013, Hong Kong people used 320 million red packets, killing 16,000 trees, up from 180 million in 2011, according to the group.

Read: WeChat users send 46b digital red packets over Lunar New Year

Red is the theme colour for Lunar New Year, perhaps we also need a bit more green.

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