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Worms recruited to whittle away waste
September 10, 2007 / 4:37 PM / 10 years ago

Worms recruited to whittle away waste

HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Earthworms are known as nature’s recycling wizards and now the small island of Hong Kong has recruited 80 million of them to help manage its waste.

<p>South African worm farmer Shaun Gibbons shows some of his livestock in the worm farm at the city's Mount Nelson hotel in Cape Town, South Africa July 31, 2006. Earthworms are known as nature's recycling wizards and now the small island of Hong Kong has recruited 80 million of them to help manage its waste. REUTERS/Howard Burditt</p>

Recycling is a hot issue and the numbers speak for themselves: Hong Kong’s population of almost seven million produces 15,000 tones of waste a day and landfill space is rapidly running out, with officials predicting existing sites to be saturated within three years.

Last year saw 5.49 million tones of waste, most of which was destined for the landfills, which is why the government hopes its vermiculture recycling initiative will work.

“In nature worms have been consuming waste and recycling for millions of years,” said David Ellery, managing director of the Australian firm that introduced the technology to Hong Kong.

“What we have done is taken that natural process and engineered it into 21st century size and efficiency to deal with a much larger problem in a more concentrated manner.”

The recycling scheme allows the worms to consume and convert organic materials into odorless natural fertilizers.

Fast food giant McDonald’s is one of a handful of organizations to sign up to the initiative. Some of its restaurants will now separate organic waste such as food and paper bags before sending it on to the plant.

McDonald’s estimates the program will help to reduce waste originally headed for landfills by 80 percent.

Sally Chen, assistant director of Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department, is keen to encourage recycling. “At the moment we rely on people’s good will to separate their waste and recycle. There is no disincentive if they don‘t,” she said.

Environmental groups have also voiced their concerns, pushing the government to introduce legislation to curb waste and better recycling systems.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated cities and environmental pollution -- from industrial waste being poured into the harbor to poor air quality due to vehicles and factory emissions -- is a serious concern.

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