“The Wasted”: saving Hong Kong trees from the landfill

Author : Kelvin Lai
Translation : Trinity Chan
When working on a project with wood, most craftsmen usually work with imported processed wood. But have you ever thought why this wood you buy can be so neat? Well, it’s because the uneven parts of the logs are cropped, and then thrown away. To reduce this kind of waste, founder of “The Wasted”, Dickson Yan chose to upcycle Hong Kong wasted logs and make furniture and art pieces. He cuts and dries the logs himself and then creates pieces in such a way that you can still see the original look of the tree. He does his best to make sure no wood is wasted in the process.

Originally Dickson was not a carpenter, he founded “The wasted” after Hong Kong was hit by the most intense typhoon Mangkhut in 2018. Over 55000 trees were wrecked and planned to be sent to landfill. Even he did not know anything about woodworking at that time, he still took this opportunity to start his company, not only to pursue his dream of woodworking, but also to reduce wood waste.  So he set up his own studio and started to learn woodwork by watching videos online. Through continuous experimentation and practice, he grew his woodwork skills and went on to produce exquisite pieces. 

Changing people's mind about upcycling wood

However, taking woodwork from being a fun hobby to a career is not easy. He had to find a way to support the costs of the studio, so he started selling the furniture he made. He also decided to host workshops to teach the skills and share about the potential of upcycling. “What you buy from me is not just a product, but also my way of promoting upcycling.” said Dickson. He noticed that people will compare the price from different shops before they buy a product. However, the cost of upcycling local waste wood to make a product is higher than using imported wood, which means that the price of the final product will be higher too. So the question he’s often facing is, how to attract people to buy his product rather than a cheaper, lesser quality one? Just having a better looking product sometimes isn’t enough.  But allowing “customers” to make their own products, is a great way for them to become more aware of all the work and skill required in the process. Dickson hopes that by working with their own hands, people will better appreciate the meaning and value of upcycling waste wood.

Dickson thinks that, if he puts a price tag on his pieces, it will just be a product. “What I make is not art, but if I teach you the skills and you make it yourself, it will be an art piece.” He believes that, if people make their own pieces, they will treasure them more. If they spend several hours on making their own furniture, they will know that it’s difficult and probably won’t throw it away when move to a new place.

Increasing the value of wasted wood through Creation

Dickson has faced quite a few difficulties when developing his career as a woodworker. The cost and time are certainly big concerns, as upcycling local wasted logs and processing them to a usable piece of timber takes much effort. There’s also the issue coming from using waste wood: as most of Hong Kong trees are ornamental trees, their trunk is thinner than the trees usually used in woodwork, such as walnut and oak, so it may not be possible to use them for large pieces of work. But this does not stop Dickson from persisting. Through his work, he really helps to increase the value of wrecked trees, showing people that these logs can be so much more than waste.

To further enhance public knowledge about local trees and timber, Dickson has also collaborated with some Hong Kong carpenters. The’ve created an event called “ Local tree x Local carpenter”(本地樹木x本地木工). He feels that people have the misconception that the quality of imported furniture is better than the furniture made by Hong Kong carpenters. With this event, he hopes to change this impression, by giving more opportunity for the public to get in touch with Hong Kong carpenters, and the pieces they make. He hopes that it can inspire people to use more local timber and support Hong Kong carpenters.

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Ms. Angie Zhou

Education Specialist

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Angie Zhou is an Education Specialist at MIT App Inventor. She was the founder and CEO of Dreams Come True in Shenzhen, where she developed online coding courses for kids. She also has previous curriculum development, teaching and staff training experience at First Code Academy in Hong Kong.