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Opportunities for the waste industry in China and Hong Kong

07 Jan 2015

To sell not today’s technology but the technology of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. TNO’s Art de Boo visited Hong Kong several times last year with that aim in mind. Both the teeming city itself and the hinterland present opportunities for Dutch industry and TNO in the area of chemical technology to convert waste into valuable basic chemicals and other products.

The waste problem in Hong Kong is big

‘Take, make and waste – we take raw materials from the ground and the atmosphere, stick them in products and chuck them away at the end of their life cycle’, explains De Boo. ‘But resources are running out as a result of the constantly growing world population and our way of life, so people are thinking about transforming our linear economy into a circular economy – a waste-free economy based on an infinite circle in which materials are re-used again and again.’

What took TNO to Hong Kong?

‘In May 2013 a trade delegation headed by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, visited Hong Kong, where she signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Secretary for the Environment, Wong Kam-sing. It soon became clear that Dutch industry had a lot to contribute there: companies with expertise in the areas of separation technology, waste incineration, sensor systems and so on. TNO has been asked to link up with partners in business, but to sell the technology of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and manage the transition. After all, what is true of Europe is equally true of Hong Kong. There too government and industry need to be convinced that it makes sense not to rely entirely on waste incineration plants but to invest in higher-value technologies and employ transition experts for this purpose.’

What can TNO contribute?

‘Seven million people live cheek by jowl in Hong Kong. They have no idea what to do with the mountain of waste that they produce. So they are looking for alternative technologies and infrastructures to extract value from it, i.e. technology to convert waste into valuable basic chemicals and other products. TNO has innovative chemical technology in house that enables waste to be transformed into valuable raw materials instead of poor-quality plastics or briquettes for open fires. Transitioning from a linear to a circular economy involves a lot more than this, however: it requires an appropriate tax regime, government policies, enterprise, environmental awareness and innovative design. In Europe we’re used to taking all the stakeholders into account and doing business with them.’

Can companies still come on board?

‘We warmly invite both major and minor players in the waste industry with knowledge of existing and future technologies to come on board with us. The more the merrier. Hong Kong is a stepping stone to mainland China. Take Shenzhen, for instance, a city of 13 million people: with its industrial conglomerates it faces tremendous challenges in terms of waste management and the environment. Moreover, all those industries are looking for new raw materials. Any organizations willing to accept the challenge of doing business there can get in touch with me. We at TNO will be happy to guide them towards consulates, partners in business and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. China is eager to tackle the major social issues. With our knowledge and experience we can map out a route together. The prospect really excites me.’

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