Would you pay to have your rubbish dumped?
Are Hongkongers willing to pay to have their rubbish dumped and what system of charging would be acceptable?
These are two key questions in a public consultation exercise on waste disposal which got under way yesterday.
The Environment Bureau's three-month exercise comes five years after a rubbish fee should have been introduced had a waste management framework mapped out by the previous environment chief been followed through on.
Environmentalists say the consultation lacks crucial information - including the amount of a levy and a waste reduction target - and say that prevents the public from making informed decisions. 'The public needs useful information, such as an estimate of the levy, to make a decision,' said Edwin Lau Che-feng of Friends of the Earth.
But Secretary for Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said: 'We should reach a consensus on whether to impose a levy on waste disposal before discussing [what the levy would be]'
He admitted that Hong Kong lagged behind other international cities in reducing waste.
Taipei and Seoul have a quantity-based system that requires households and commercial operators to buy standard rubbish bags for waste collection. The less waste they generate, the less they need to spend on buying the bags.
Most green groups and some lawmakers welcome such a system, one of four charging systems listed in the consultation. The public can also consider a proxy system, a fixed charge or partial charging.
The quantity-based system requires close surveillance and policing against illegal dumping. In Taipei and Seoul, the governments reward informers who report non-compliance, with payments funded by the fines that violators face if convicted.
Each Hongkonger throws away an estimated 870 grams of domestic waste a day. Taipei and Seoul residents dispose of 410 grams and 350 grams respectively, the bureau says.
The data mirrors a 2009 survey that showed Hong Kong was the most wasteful among 30 economies.
The city produced more than twice as much rubbish per person per year (921kg) as the Japanese (410kg) and South Koreans (380kg), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found.
The proxy system links the waste charge to water bills, as it assumes a bigger household will use more water and generate more rubbish. But it is unfair to businesses.
For example, a laundry shop consumes large amounts of water but does not necessarily generate a lot of rubbish.
A fixed charge, imposed regardless of the amount of rubbish produced, does not provide any incentive to minimise waste, while a partial charging system that makes only some sectors pay the levy would again involve a question of fairness.
'It is meaningless to present an option that does not encourage waste reduction,' Lau said.
Last year 52 per cent of the waste generated was recycled, up from 43 per cent in 2005.
However, Lau said that total municipal waste also rose during the same period, from 2.42kg per person per day to 2.69kg.
He said it was disappointing that Yau had failed to execute a waste management framework mapped out by his predecessor, Sarah Liao Sau-tung.
Green Power chief executive Man Chi-sum said: 'The policy has dragged on for years. Now it will be [carried over to] the next administration.'
When the current consultation ends in April, it will be just two months before the current administration steps down.
Man estimated that the levy for each household could be as low as HK$30 per month if the government could further improve waste separation facilities that encourage recycling.
Gary Chan Hak-kan, chairman of the Legislative Council's environmental affairs panel, supported improving the recycling system. He also proposed giving households free rubbish bags in the initial stage of a waste disposal scheme to encourage behavioural change.