The growl of a chainsaw fills the air as a dead longan tree is felled under the watchful eye of Ricci Wong, founder of a Hong Kong non-profit to turn tree waste into furniture and other household products. Farmers and arborists working with private enterprises or government departments call the group to collect the wood whenever they spot fallen or dying trees that need to be removed.
Wong established HK Timberbank after Typhoon Mangkhut in September 2018, an intense storm that uprooted tens of thousands of trees in the territory, when he saw what was being sent to the landfill was usable.
“Fresh, clean and healthy wood is also thrown away due to construction or after windstorms. Most of the wood was way more usable than we imagined,” he said.
HK Timberbank collected more than 300 tonnes of trees in Hong Kong for recycling last year, most of which would have otherwise been dumped in landfills because of rot or insect infestation.
Wong and his partners store the wood at an industrial site in the city’s New Territories, where they have an inventory of over 80 tree species to use as raw material for furniture, cutting boards, clocks, coasters and art.
Each piece of furniture takes three to four months to manufacture, Wong said, from drying the wood, to designing and making the items with professional woodworking tools.
During a recent showcase, a customer said she was delighted with her new coffee table.
“It is not too complicated or crafted sophisticatedly,” said Sharon Ho. “They create mainstream furniture in the simplest way.”
HK Timberbank hopes to expand their operation in coming years, eventually reducing the city’s reliance on imported wood.
Hong Kong sends more than 380 tonnes of wood and rattan to municipal landfills every day, according to government figures.
“We believe we are doing something meaningful, so we have to continue, and we won’t stop until we see results,” Wong said.