Night Soil and Refuse and Night Soil disposal question, newspaper article 1939

IDJ has sent this interesting addition to our information about the collection and disposal of night soil and refuse/waste in Hong Kong.

Thanks to SCT for proof reading the retyped version below.

Night Soil And Refuse Disposal Question Headline HK Daily Press 15th September 1939 From IDJ

One of the most important problems which will confront  the Colony in the event of an emergency (including typhoon disturbance), is the question of the disposal of night-soil and refuse. It is recognised by the Medical authorities that, from the health point of view, this is a subject which will have to engage their most earnest consideration, and plans are already under discussion for such provision, should the necessity arise.

Under existing conditions, the bulk of the Colony’s night-soil is dependent for removal on the bucket system. This is collected by coolies at night, and taken away in steel-lined junks outside harbour limits.

When a representative of the “Hongkong Daily Press” made enquiries on this subject from the Director of Medical Services, yesterday, it was explained to him that an alternative scheme was under consideration which envisaged the disposal of night-soil by trenching, fly-proof disposal pits, septic tanks, activated sludge system, etc. Sites were being investigated for this purpose to meet any possible emergency including typhoons.

Asked whether disposal by incineration would enter into the scheme, the pressman was told that the chief difficulty in the disposal of night-soil by burning was the question of cost. Also, it involved a loss of potentially valuable material for agricultural purposes.

As regards the ultimate disposal of street and household refuse, there have been occasions during typhoons and other contingencies, when this has been interfered with; but here too, the authorities have plans in mind, which could be put into immediate execution, in case of necessity.


In connection with the collection and disposal of street refuse in the Colony, it is disclosed in the latest published report of the Medical Department, that 480 tons, (roughly a quarter of the daily collection) is gathered by coolie women in return for being allowed to use some of it as food for pigs etc.

The report states that this system possesses obvious disadvantages, especially in the summer, as the baskets thus cleared carry with them a stream of flies many of which are left behind in the trail of the carrier.

The greater part of the refuse, however, is collected in covered motor lorries, of which there are now fifteen in use in Hongkong and ten in Kowloon.

The refuse thus collected is carried in large barges and dumped and covered in Kun [sic] Tong. Some of the refuse has been dumped at Aberdeen. A considerable amount of land has been formed in this way, which may be valuable, after consolidation, for building purposes.

The deposited refuse at Kun Tong is dressed on top with one or more layers of earth or sand, and is then covered over with mud dredged from the harbour entrance.


Every effort is made by the authorities to prevent the breeding of flies, and although the dust boats which carry the refuse to the dumping ground are thoroughly sprayed with insecticide, before their return, it is impossible, especially in the summer months, to prevent a certain amount of flies from being brought back

There is only one public incinerator in the urban area at present. It is situated in Kennedy Town and is used for burning dirty dressings from the hospitals, condemned carcasses and waste matter from the slaughter houses.

There are no plans for increasing the number of incinerators in the Colony just now except in the rural areas, although it is admitted that the ideal aimed at, when financial considerations justify it, is to have incinerators at one or more points in Hongkong and in Kowloon  for the burning of refuse. In this case the ashes could be used for the reclamation of land and also for manure.


  1. Hong Kong Daily Press 15th September 1939

The image shown on the Home Page of this article is of a woman collecting night soil in 1871, Location, unknown.

This article was first posted on 31st October 2020.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Goddard, Massey and Warner of Nottingham – disposal of sewage and town refuse in HK 1880s?
  2. Waste collection, disposal and management in Hong Kong – initial notes
  3. Landfills in Hong Kong being filled with plastic shipped from the UK
  4. Swire BFI Waste Services Ltd – opening of third transfer station in Shatin
  5. Night soil collection in Hong Kong – updated – four current locations, July 2016
  6. Night soil collection in Hong Kong – honey buckets…information needed
  7. Q+A52 Stink Boats – used in the removal of nightsoil from Hong Kong island in the 1960s and 70s
  8. New nightsoil collection removal methods in Hongkong, newspaper article 1940


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