The Situation At HKUST University Of Hong Kong With Regards To The Enormous Paper Waste & The Handling Of This Situation

Hong Kong, as a whole, has a huge paper waste problem. In the paper waste census of 2009, it was found that 20% of the commercial and industrial waste disposed at landfills are paper waste. Universities in Hong Kong, including HKUST are no exception to contributing to this growing paper waste problem. HKUST has a lot of sustainability initiatives, through their sustainability department, when it comes to water, greenhouse gasses, energy, general and food waste as well as printed paper waste. Even after this, the university saw minimal change in reduction of paper waste in the 2016-17 academic year as compared to the previous academic year. But looking further back to 2012-2013, HKUST consumed more than 42,000 realms of paper.

In 2016-1017 this number has gone down to 38,145 reams. This decrease has been both positive as well as negative. Even though the total printed paper consumed has gone down, the amount of recyclable paper has gone down as well from 16% to 14%. Just walking past the printers in the computer barn, halls, library and hallways, you see a pile of abandoned printed papers. A lot of students make errors while printing. This is because most of them don’t preview their documents before printing. They do not mind this as the university gives each student an ample free print budget every year.

Most students don’t even end up using their print budget completely. This is bad as it only encourages the behavior of not caring and being mindful about wasting paper. A lot of professors print out lecture notes, PowerPoint slides and readings to distribute it in class, even though they are all uploaded on canvas before or after the class. These notes are a waste as the professor presents these slides in class and most students carry their laptops and tablets to view the reading, notes and slides though canvas and end up making notes on their devices.

HKUST sustainability department has lot of current initiatives in place. The university has a long-term plan that started in 2013 called the HKUST 2020 Sustainability Challenge, that includes drastic reduction or elimination of paper waste by adopting the zero-waste philosophy, along with a lot of other forms of waste. There are only 2 years left to this challenge and the university is far off from reaching the goals it set out to achieve. One of the initiative to stem from this challenge was to have separate labeled and coloured bins for paper, plastic and other wastes all over campus and in halls. But a lot of people still do not segregate their waste as these bins are not strongly regulated or monitored.

The university has also introduced some courses related sustainability to further educate both the educators and students of the university, but those really wanting to study these are not able to do so because of the already large list of inflexible classes required for their majors. The halls have their own recycling initiative run by the hall societies, but these are not well advertised and promoted and get little to no attention. There are more efforts by the university when it comes to other waste as compared to paper waste. Looking at the latest HKUST Sustainability Report, there have been several big initiatives and improvement when it comes to air quality, food waste, water, energy, etc, but only statistics and no initiative about paper waste.

18 March 2020
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