Can you imagine the temperature at the North Pole being the same as in your own city {1}? We urgently need to take action to save our planet. As such, in Hong Kong, we are seeing more and more social innovation ideas to tackle climate change issues. There are at least some things we can do to slow down the decline. What is the circular economy? According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation {2}, it is a model of the economy based on three principles:

  • Designing out waste and pollution
  • Keeping products and materials in use
  • Regenerating natural systems.

Hong Kong is one of the most populous cities in the world and it generates more than 6 million tonnes of waste per year. In Hong Kong, circular economy is still a new term. As Hong Kong is focused on the service industry, most factories had moved to China. While the recycling business plays an important role, it relies on China’s market to receive the waste, which is also declining. The 3R concept – reducing, reusing and recycling – is familiar to people as public education. However, it is not common to treat it as a targeted business model; indeed, Hong Kong still has a linear economy. The good news is that we are seeing more new ideas focusing on the circular economy.

In this article, I will introduce 8 social innovation ideas on the circular economy, straight from Hong Kong. 


Upcyco – Leather Upcycling & Women’s Empowerment

‘We can no longer tolerate factories and shops throwing away usable textiles to landfill.’ Leather products are one of the famous lifestyle products in people’s daily lives. However, you may not know that every year many thousands of tonnes of materials are discarded to landfill. It’s because, for example, when producing a leather bag, leather has to be cut into a good thickness; whatever is left, gets thrown away. Also, many of the samples and scattered leather pieces are useless. Therefore, from the end of 2018, Upcyco began rescuing scraps of leather waste by upcycling them. Upcyco’s signature upcycling product is its stitchless wallet. Without using extra materials, they created a wallet just by using a locking system. Since the materials are collected from industry, each wallet is unique. Also, they provide job opportunities to those who are in need, especially mothers who want to work while also being able to take care of their children. Flexible work can help disadvantaged women earn extra income to support their daily life.

DOSHA – Wood Upcycling

Their story began with an upcycling project after Typhoon Mangkhut. DOSHA members tried to collect and produce new products from discarded wood. The experience proved that wood disposal can provide raw material for production. Unfortunately, Hong Kong has a wood recycling rate of less than 1%. Therefore, DOSHA upcycles discarded wood into eco-friendly and affordable wood furniture. They also create lovely wood homeware to promote wood upcycling to everyone. All wood has its own life and own experience, and everyone can prevent its disposal to landfill. From a broader perspective, DOSHA aims to save trees and increase the wood recycling rate in Hong Kong. At the same time, they hope their products will lead users to share the story behind the furniture and let our lives influence thinking and save trees.

Work,Sheet. Studio – Material Innovation

‘I have been searching for the fundamental driving force for architecture. In the 19th century, stone and wood were the dominant materials. In the 20th century, it was concrete. What will be the material for the 21st century? I believe that it could be a new material, or old materials used in an innovative way.’ — Losing Architecture, Kengo Kuma. Work,Sheet. Studio are contributing to the circular economy through the development of innovative materials. Founded in 2015, Work,Sheet. Studio focus on material reengineering and developing their FiberMaterial from food waste. From design service to end-product production, one of their latest projects is using FiberMaterial to create an exhibition decoration and presentation. They went from 2D FiberPaper to 3D FiberBrick. In fact, after the reengineering progress, the new materials are strong enough for implementation in different products.

Livin Farm – Food Transforming

Other than making new material, food waste can also be transformed into fertiliser and proteins. Livin Farm’s story began when the founder, Katharina, left her small home village to venture into the world as an industrial designer. She ended up in Hong Kong, where she realised that most of the food there was imported and virtually no one knew where it came from. So she started investigating the current food system and looked into alternatives. However, she discovered the potential of insects as a protein of the future, which would be perfect as a solution for people to grow their food independently at home. After much prototyping and testing, Livin Farm’s first product is the world’s first desktop Hive™ for growing edible insects. Hive Explorer is a portable smart insect farm and micro-ecosystem for mealworms, and also has educational value.

MilMill – Paper Recycling

Hong Kong’s recycling rate is declining because it relies on exporting waste to China. However, in recent years, China has been importing much less in the way of foreign garbage.{3} Therefore, it is really impressive that Mil Mill is the first pulp mill and education centre to recycle beverage cartons in Hong Kong. They are able to process 10 tonnes of beverage cartons daily and convert them into paper pulp. Nowadays, their toilet paper is sold on a mainstream e-commerce platform and has become a famous product in the market. This demonstrates the potential of a local recycling eco-system that does not need to rely on the external market to sustain it. They also try to recycle different kinds of paper, including packaging from Apple products.

V Cycle – Recycling & Empowering Elderly

V Cycle has two missions: one is to solve the plastic waste problem, while the other is to empower underprivileged people. They believe that environmental consciousness and human compassion are intrinsically linked. Hong Kong’s waste problem is unique in many ways, one of which is the crucial role of the elderly in the recycling industry. They collect the waste on a daily basis, which is helping the environment; however, the amount they are paid does not reflect their importance. It is the elderly that are shouldering the burden of recycling the city’s vast quantities of waste. Therefore, V Cycle aims to stop plastic from polluting the environment by educating companies, schools and the public on waste reduction. Plastic stays within the loop by recycling it into raw materials or contemporary products that everyone can use, businesses and individuals alike. Also, they aim to create jobs in Hong Kong and provide care for the underprivileged living in poverty through waste collection and recycling.

Carbon Coins – Reward Recycling

Other than recycling plastic bottles, what else can we do? Motivating people to recycle is a big challenge. Carbon Coins helps you transform your waste bottles into money. Carbon Coins is an incentive-based platform that turns recycled bottles, aluminium cans, glass bottles and paper into rewards and benefits so as to encourage people to participate in recycling programmes on a sustainable basis. Through their reverse vending machine in the shopping mall, each type of recycled item can be converted into carbon coins, which can be redeemed or traded like a digital currency for merchandise or goods within their network of affiliated merchants. This model brings benefits to different stakeholders, especially for those who pay for the machine. Corporations can demonstrate CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) by being an eco-friendly organisation and provide details in the annual report that public listed companies are required to produce.

Greenprice supermarket – Food still in us

Over 3,200 tonnes of food waste are produced in Hong Kong each day.  Food has passed its ‘best before’ date, but which would still be perfectly good to eat, is thrown away. In reality, ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ are totally different concepts. However, misunderstanding of food labels is generating large volumes of food waste. Founded in 2016, GreenPrice specialises in surplus and short-dated stock, and also helps customers achieve huge savings. Their vision was to create more than a place where people could discover an ever-changing selection of quality merchandise at a significant discount; they also wanted to create a community hub where people could learn and discuss how to live a sustainable life.

So, these are just a few of the social innovation ideas in Hong Kong and I hope that we will see more and more innovative ideas to create social impact together. Check out the Social Innovation Academy – the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation. Subscribe to our newsletter, join our private LinkedIn group, become one of our friends or follow us on social media (LinkedInTwitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here.


About the Author – Cyron Chan (Co-founder of ImpactX)

Cyron Chan is the Co-founder of ImpactX, a social enterprise dedicated to fostering social innovation through lean design thinking tools and creating shared value between corporate and NGOs / social enterprises. Experienced in design thinking and start-up coaching, he conducts workshops and training for the public and private sectors to incubate and grow new ideas. As the founding member and community manager of Earthpreneurs HK, a community for young social entrepreneurs, he is passionate about social innovation ideas in HK and other countries. Also, he founded CEO Class to provide education support for the young people who are being affected by COVID-19 outbreak. He studied Impact Investing at Singapore’s IIX Impact Institute.


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