Consumption has an important role in the social lives and identity of most people. This has been true in Hong Kong for many decades, and is increasingly the case throughout China as more people achieve a level of affluence that enables them to consume more than they require. In Hong Kong, people gather in shopping malls to spend time together purchasing clothes and products; the features of the latest models of cameras and mobile phones are common topics of conversation; many people, both young and not-so-young, update their wardrobes frequently to include the current fashion trends. This consumerist culture is pervasive, but it has major environmental consequences and raises questions about whether constant consumption of material things makes for a satisfying life. For example, when ordering beef in a restaurant, few people pause to think of the forest or scrubland that may have been cleared of native vegetation to allow its production. When purchasing a new mobile phone few people will consider the long and often toxic chain of resource extraction and manufacturing that produced it. When disposing of material possessions, few people take the time to ensure that they are recycled. The lead, mercury and other pollutants that come from the production of electronic goods often end up polluting soil, water and air. But understanding these and other environmental impacts of lifestyles in Hong Kong, least of all the rest of China, is difficult because we rarely see them.
Hong Kong produces ever-greater quantities of waste. According to a survey undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2009 Hong Kong’s per capita waste production was the highest of any place in the world, totalling 6.45 million metric tonnes, a figure that had more than doubled over the preceding two decades (cited in Cheung 2010a, 1).
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