Waste charging has long been recognised as an effective way to tackle the mounting rubbish crisis in Hong Kong. Regrettably, it has been all talk and little action over the years. Meanwhile, our waste has grown by 80 per cent over the past three decades, even though the population expanded by just one-third during that period. With 9,000 tonnes of refuse dumped every day, our landfills are fast filling up. Unless decisive action is taken, and soon, the situation is not sustainable.
Yet another public consultation has been released by the government. The focus, thankfully, is no longer on yes or no, but how. The political will shown is to be welcomed, as are the details for discussion. They will pave the way for sustainable living for our future generations. It is in everyone's long-term interest to study the proposals carefully and make the right choice today.
The suggestion of charging a family of three HK$30 to HK$74 per month does not seem unreasonable. Whatever the charge, it must be sufficient to bring about behavioural change yet be affordable to low-income earners. The idea of a waiver to reward the least wasteful households also is worth exploring.
The task goes beyond agreeing how much to charge. How to levy it is a bigger challenge. The options set out in the paper have their pros and cons. For instance, a household-based levy can provide a better incentive to reduce waste, though illegal dumping may be a problem. Charging on a per-building basis makes enforcement easier, but lessens the incentive to reduce waste. The community and the government will have to work together to make the right choice. The objective - encouraging less wasteful habits - must override administrative convenience, or the charge will merely be a levy to boost the public coffers.
No waste reduction strategy is complete without recycling. The consultation document acknowledges that separating recyclables is one of the ways to make a difference. The goal of reducing municipal solid waste by 40 per cent by 2022 hinges on recycling efforts starting now. It is essential that the government steps up efforts on this front.
No one likes to be charged for getting rid of what they don't need. But a wasteful society like Hong Kong has no way out but along this road. The quicker we move, the better.