Waste charge will be coupled with more recycling

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:31am

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Bob Carson questions the wisdom of charging for household waste in Hong Kong ("People will be charged for waste created by manufacturers", September 30). Let me explain more the reasoning for waste charging while also addressing his particular concerns.

I agree with him that charging for household waste can act only as an "incentive" for waste reduction to the extent that households have some discretion in the amount of goods they bring home and later need to dispose of. Many of us may feel that we have little such discretion. Our household consumables often come pre-packed.

Food is cheaper in bulk and may prove difficult to fully consume before it goes bad. Free magazines and advertising flyers quickly pile up, and glass or plastic containers are widely used for food and household products. To most of us our daily waste seems a necessary consequence of modern living. Thus, charging us for what cannot be avoided is, as Carson notes, "punitive".

The key reason why high volumes of household waste may seem "unavoidable" is we are not directly responsible for its disposal, and thus we have no incentive to shop more carefully, and manufacturers and retailers have little incentive to reduce packaging. At present, there is no incentive for us to avoid purchasing items that come overly-packed, accepting free printed items, buying perishables in quantities we cannot consume while still fresh.

We are not arguing that by so doing a household can reduce its waste to a small fraction of what it is today, but it certainly can do better. In Hong Kong's current situation of high disposal rate and lack of waste treatment facilities and landfill space, waste charging sends an important price signal.

Even more important is when a charging system is coupled with an expanded source separation of household waste for recycling, this encourages households to divert far more of this waste into "resource recovery systems" thus reducing the disposal charge.

The expansion of the separated-out raw materials for recycling will also help overcome the lack of residential block recycling that Carson notes. Cleaning before recycling should also be part of the recycle culture as it raises the value of recyclables.

Your correspondent may wish to note our producer responsibility schemes for plastics bags, and we will be introducing one on electronic waste, with glass bottles on the way. We will also be putting forward new policies on food waste and recycling.

Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment