A visit to T · PARK, the world’s most relaxing sludge treatment plant

While we all take part in creating it, almost none of us have ever given a second thought to our brown matter once we press the flush button and it rounds the U-bend. However, a state-of-the-art facility right here in Hong Kong seeks not only to confront us with the reality of sewage treatment, but somehow builds a fun, family-friendly experience around it. The idea, it turns out, is zany enough to be a success.

Opened in 2016 and located far from civilisation at Tsang Tsui in the northwest of the territory, the government-funded T · PARK is a self-described “waste-to-energy” sludge treatment facility that takes up to 2,000 tonnes of sludge per day – the main byproduct of processed sewage – from wastewater treatment plants all over Hong Kong and incinerates it to reduce its volume by up to 90 percent. Using a series of complex heat and gas capture processes, T · PARK is completely self-sufficient and emits a minimum of neutralised emissions.

While undoubtedly a technological marvel, T · PARK’s coup de grace is not in its next-generation incineration processes or its closed-loop system, but in combining the sludge treatment plant with an environmental education facility, a recreational park, a bird sanctuary, and most importantly, a bathhouse, to create a place where you could conceivably spend a Sunday kicking back and getting a little wiser. We recently made the trip up to T · PARK to experience this unorthodox lifestyle experiment.

We're greeted by a wall of green at T · PARK after a 20-minute bus ride from Tuen Mun MTR station, past various industrial facilities, power stations, and even a quaint seaside village.

The scale of the architecture is impressive. The basic form of T · PARK is comprised of a symmetrical waveform that mirrors the mountains behind it and contains the two wings of the sludge treatment plant. The administration tower juts out of the middle, while the Environmental Education Centre and landscape park sit in front of the main building.

Arguably the main attraction of the complex is T · SPA, a bathhouse that features three pools of differing temperatures. Made possible by capturing excess heat from the sludge incineration process, the hot water pool sits at a soothing 36ºC, conducive to extended submerged lounging. An ambient temperature pool at 27ºC is perfect for a quick cooldown, while the bravest of bathers can take a dip in the cold water pool at a chilly 19ºC. Views of Deep Bay can also be had along the entire length of T · SPA.

Feeling thoroughly refreshed, we head up one level to T · CAFE for lunch. Designed by renowned local interior design firm LAAB, the cafe features a sinuous and sizeable table-bench hybrid centerpiece, coffee tables, stools and "Ocean Cubes" that were all sculpted using reclaimed wood from the fenders of the old Star Ferry pier in Wan Chai, demolished in 2014.

The wood was categorised into three classes, with the most eroded pieces preserved using an azure resin to create "Ocean Cubes" in a nod to their maritime history. The final result is both a mesmerising design piece and an ingenious reaffirmation of T · PARK's creed of zero-waste.

The self-service cafe offers coffee, juices, deli foods and pasta, all made using organic, local ingredients. Pictured above is black soybean milk and smoked salmon pasta in truffle sauce. Also on sale are upcycled coffee mugs by Loveramics that proudly flaunt their blemishes as a mark of perfect imperfection. Side note: self-service is taken one step further at T · CAFE, where patrons must also wash their own tableware and cutlery with organic enzyme dishwashing soap.

After lunch, an extensive guided tour of the incinerator premises. The tour guide, knowledgeable to a T, takes us through a series of interactive demonstrations, immersive multimedia displays, equipment replicas, and strategically-placed windows that give us insights into the incinerator's inner processes and machinery.

The tour finally ends at T · SKY, located on the top floor of the administration building. Filled with upcycled furniture, arts and crafts stations and a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape, the observation deck makes for the perfect place to catch the setting sun.

Unparalleled views of Deep Bay and Shenzhen's Shekou district across the water.

A bar table made using upcycled wine bottles.

Stools on wheels made from upcycled car tyres sit alongside space-saving static stools upholstered in recycled denim that are designed to be slotted into the spokes of a wooden construction spindle.

Tucked to the side of the complex, the idyllic 2,200-square-meter T · HABITAT bird sanctuary was designed for the needs of local bird species such as the Little Grebe, utilising indigenous plant life and the optimum pond depth for nesting waterbirds. The West New Territories Landfill can be seen in the background.

On the way back to T · PARK.

On top of the visitor centre is the T · ROOF, which makes for another pleasant outdoor area to relax in.

A final dip in the 9,800-square-meter landscape garden's outdoor heated footbath makes for a satisfying denouement to an educational yet relaxing day.

While the entirety of T · PARK is free, visitors must book the guided tour and T · SPA separately and in advance online here.

Images: Gavin Yeung