Twelve Young Post junior reporters and cadets found the answers at a full-day green tour organised by non-profit charitable organisation Yan Oi Tong.
The average person in Hong Kong throws out 400 grams of plastic rubbish every day. If we multiply that by 365 days and seven million people, we get enough to fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools to the brim, every year.
In 2010, the Yan Oi Tong EcoPark Plastic Resources Recycling Centre opened to help lighten the load on landfills. Our landfills are filling up fast because we produce too much plastic waste, which takes a long time to naturally decompose.
First, in the recycling process, the plastic is separated into different types and washed. It is placed under direct sunlight to kill any remaining bacteria. Then, it is shredded into little sweet-sized pieces for further processing.
The plastic is then melted into a type of fabric that is sent to companies such as Nike, who use the material to make basketball trousers. It takes 10 large juice bottles to make a pair of trousers. The plant processes only 5 per cent of Hong Kong's plastic; another 5 per cent goes to other recycling centres but the rest ends up in landfills.
All in all, we believe learning about this has changed our thinking. If we allow this to continue, the city will soon need more than three landfills to keep up with our consumption.
The exhibits and hi-tech interactive games at the EcoPark Visiting Centre are designed to stimulate young minds. A guided tour begins at a simulated landfill site; except for the smell, it's exactly like a real landfill with a mountain of rubbish. The guide told us about the different kinds of rubbish: how biodegradable they are, how badly they can affect the environment, and what we can do to stop the landfill problem from getting worse.
Some ideas included building parks over landfills that can no longer be used and covering the soil with synthetic fabrics that can block potentially damaging emissions. Energy-rich gas, a by-product of the waste, can also be extracted for use.
If we rethink our lifestyles and become environment-conscious people, Hong Kong should be able to become a role model for the world.
"This looks like olive oil, right?" Yan Oi Tong director Ronnie Yu Kwok-tung asked as he showed us a picture of a bottle of brownish oil. We were shocked when he told us it was, in fact, illegally recycled oil, containing toxic substances. Sadly such oil is used in many restaurants on the mainland. It's possible that the oil has also been imported to Hong Kong because of the rising prices of edible oil.
The Oil for Charity recycling scheme was inspiring. It transforms dirty "gutter oil" and "drainage oil" into bio-diesel, an alternative fuel for cars. The oil cannot be reused as cooking oil, but it is nice to see that it is not wasted.
To encourage more restaurants to join this scheme, Oil for Charity has worked hard to make the collection process more convenient. It has designed a collection device that doesn't leak and is given to restaurant chefs to be filled with used cooking oil.
In the afternoon, the group visited Yan Oi Tong Tin Ka Ping Green Garden to learn about making soaps and jams. These DIY projects make good use of organic materials that are less polluting and better for our health.
Co-organiser Green Women Co-operative showed us many environmentally friendly ways of cleaning. First, some of us experimented with cleaning chemicals; two produced a lot of bubbles after adding water and vinegar. The experiment showed that many companies add a foaming agent to detergents because of a mistaken belief that cleaning agents that produce more bubbles are better.
Instead, we can use more natural cleaning agents such as baking soda, which absorbs moisture and neutralises acids. With baking soda, bubbles are produced naturally.
Soap can be made by combining used cooking oil, sodium hydroxide, sugar, salt and glycerine. You may think it's strange to use dirty cooking oil for cleaning, but it has many advantages.
Left alone, used cooking oil not only contaminates water sources, it also clogs drains.
By using it to make soap, we are recycling the oil and stopping it from harming the environment.
This workshop reminded us that "one man's rubbish is another man's treasure".
At the end of the day, Green Garden staff taught us how to make mango jam. We split into boys' and girls' teams and quickly got to work dicing the mangoes. We then cooked the diced fruit in a saucepan and mashed it with a spatula until it thickened into a sauce, and added a dash of lemon juice, gelatine powder and brown sugar.
After a few more minutes of simmering, it was the moment we'd all been waiting for - tasting! The junior reporters all took a slice of bread and slathered on generous amounts of mango jam. It was surprisingly appetising and slightly warm from the pan. Home-made jam is healthier than bottled jam from supermarkets, and it can be kept for two weeks. The final verdict: both teams were winners!
Reports by YP cadets Iris Cheung, Alex Wong and Jacqueline Leung, and YP junior reporters Dillon Borjes, Ken Cheung, Leona Chen, Sanchez Lo, Gabriel Yiu, Olivia Yu, Jasmine Chiu, Gio Ambrocio and Alex Chan.
Compiled by Joyee Chan