If Hong Kong rubbish drive works, cars could be next

Experiment involving the removal of bins from parks goes beyond waste management and should be applied to increase in vehicles and roads

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 October, 2017, 3:38am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 October, 2017, 3:38am

We are in the midst of a fascinating social experiment, and I have no idea what the outcome will be.

Since 2015, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has been removing rubbish bins from select country parks.

In the final phase of the exercise, all bins will be taken out of country parks by the end of the year, thereby forcing park visitors to take their rubbish with them. Or at least that’s the hope.

How fewer rubbish bins can help reduce waste in Hong Kong

I think it’s a great and gutsy plan. But wouldn’t people just litter all over the place when there is nowhere to put their rubbish? It’s a counter-intuitive idea: the more bins you provide, the more rubbish you generate.

In the first phase of the plan, park officials removed bins from five locations, and they claim the amount of rubbish was reduced by more than 70 per cent. That would be an unmistakable success, albeit on a small scale.

It remains to be seen whether it will unmistakably work in all the country parks.

I am inclined to think that the plan is basically sound and I wish the department every success in the venture. But here’s a crucial technical point: people need to know how far they have to carry their own rubbish before they can legally dispose of it.

You don’t want them to make a mess of public transport stations. And they can’t be expected to carry rubbish all way back home.

If they have no idea where they can dispose of it, many will be tempted just to leave it at the park. In other words, you still need rubbish depots and clear signs showing how to get to them.

Time to hit the brakes on Hong Kong’s runaway car numbers

But this experiment goes beyond waste management, important though it is in and of itself. Over decades, we have found that cars and roads have a symbiotic relationship: the more of one, the more of the other.

There are now 755,000 motor vehicles of all types on the roads. In 1997, there were just 558 903. More cars, more roads, and vice versa: this phenomenon may be similar to the situation with rubbish and rubbish bins.

If this is really the case, transport officials should stop building more roads. Instead they should do the opposite: close more roads to cars, and restrict their use to pedestrians and shops.

That would be good for business, and would befit Asia’s world city.