Hong Kong's refuse problem can't be swept under the rug

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 4:26am

Hong Kong risks running into a refuse disposal crisis after plans to expand a near-saturated landfill in Tseung Kwan O were put on hold again. In a dramatic turnaround on Wednesday, environment chief Wong Kam-sing withdrew a requiest to a Legislative Council subcommittee to approve funding for the expansion after the government-friendly Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong refused to back the project. For residents and their elected representatives, it may be a victory worthy of celebration. But for the city, it is a major setback.

It remains unclear whether plans to expand two other landfills, in Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling, can go ahead. But those living near the two sites are understandably upset at the prospect of more rubbish trucks heading their way. If vocal opposition can spare their Tseung Kwan O neighbours the nuisance of an expanding landfill, they too will be encouraged to follow suit. The political tussle is intensifying as plans for the two other landfills will be put to a vote on Tuesday.

The reality is that, unless they are extended, the three sites will be full within two to six years. Even with expansion, they can only last for another 15 years. Tempting as it is to sweep the problem under the carpet for the time being, no carpet is big enough to hide the thousands of tonnes of rubbish generated every day. Procrastination only worsens the situation.

The expansion is a key part of the city's waste management strategy, along with proposals for a waste disposal levy and an eco-friendly incinerator. With the latter two still nowhere near implementation, there appears to be no choice but to explore more mitigation measures to make landfill expansion more acceptable. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before refuse trucks will have nowhere to go and swarm the city.

No one likes to live with the obnoxious smell of refuse. But a small city like ours clearly cannot afford the luxury of putting our landfill and incinerators in a faraway land that disturbs no one. Waste disposal has to be a shared responsibility. Residents and lawmakers have to look beyond their own interests.

Meanwhile, the government should push ahead with a waste disposal levy and improved recycling. When everyone is seen to be doing their bit to reduce waste, there may be less opposition from those who feel they are being forced to shoulder more of the burden. The city risks being besieged by rubbish unless everyone is ready to share responsibility.