Time for Hong Kong to stop talking rubbish

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 May, 2013, 2:56am

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Yet another plan to solve Hong Kong's serious refuse problem has been unveiled. Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing conveyed the right level of urgency in launching the government's blueprint last week, calling the matter "grave". The mix of incineration, waste disposal charges and improved recycling he laid out are what is needed to ease the strain on landfills, but they are nothing new. They have been put forward by other administrations. There is a significant difference this time, though. The matter has become so pressing that there is now less room for talk than action.

We face a critical situation with our three landfills reaching capacity by the end of the decade. Wong's solution, which combines better waste management, landfill expansion and reducing the per capita amount being thrown away by 40 per cent by 2022, is a sensible approach. But its success hinges on every company and individual putting their all into the effort. That has so far not happened, with vested interests ensuring the problem has been edged up on rather than decisively resolved.

A patchwork of disposal and recycling schemes have been implemented over the years involving construction waste, electronic components and computers, plastics, paper and food. Beyond the construction industry and a plastic bag levy for supermarkets and large stores, they have been voluntary. Recycling levels have risen to 48 per cent, but that has not stopped Hong Kong from earning a reputation as being Asia's most wasteful city. On average, we each generate 1.36kg of trash daily compared to 1kg in Taipei, 0.95 in Seoul and 0.77 in Tokyo.

Soaring tourist numbers skew the figures, but that is no excuse for inaction. Our city is small in area and the landfill dilemma has been a matter of public discussion for decades. That should have prompted implementation of waste solutions widely used elsewhere, incineration, household recycling and levies foremost among them. The latter has been put on the table by Wong and details of charges will be released soon.

There is already resistance. Lawmakers, their constituents in mind, have rejected an expansion of the Tseung Kwan O landfill. Incineration has in the past been scorned for the same "not in my backyard" reason. Few will want to pay for what is presently free. Given how irresponsible we have been about waste, though, those are not excuses. A viable plan has been put forward and it has to be quickly turned into reality. We have to give it our full support. Our wasteful ways have to end.

 

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