Waste tax scheme would cost millions to run and not solve problem

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 February, 2014, 3:06am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 February, 2014, 3:06am

The consultation on municipal solid waste charging concluded on January 24. However, while well-intentioned, this line of thinking is extremely myopic and does not solve the fundamental problems of waste.

This scheme will not generate tax revenues as the cost of running and monitoring may cost more than the income generated from the people paying.

Of the proposed methods, volume charging will produce more wasted plastic bags because some waste can't "wait" before being disposed of and non-designated plastic bags can't be used as rubbish bags. Charging by weight is worse, as it wastes time. People have to line up to weigh their refuse every evening after dinner.

There are also many unintended consequences. For example, such a tax penalises families who opt for a healthier lifestyle by cooking at home, as they generate much more waste that cannot be recycled than those who eat out.

The government recently proudly announced that more tourists will be coming to Hong Kong. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that a tourist in the US generates 2kg of waste per day. A popular tourist destination in Asia estimates its tourists generate 3.5kg of waste per day.

In a very rough analysis, even if Hong Kong meets the per capita waste reduction targeted by the Council for Sustainable Development, the waste savings will be entirely cancelled out by tourists. If all targets are achieved, Hongkongers will save approximately one million tonnes of waste annually in 10 years.

Tourists in Hong Kong stay an average 3.5 days. In 10 years, with 100 million visitors, they will produce between 700,000 and one million tonnes of waste each year. Not only will there be an increase in waste, millions of dollars will be spent in administrating this refuse reduction scheme.

Everyone in Hong Kong, businesspeople or residents, has the responsibility to reduce waste. But a waste tax is not the way forward. Education is the best approach. Teach children at schools and they will teach their parents.

I strongly encourage Legco members and the government to consider a five-year time limit to evaluate the programme and its effectiveness.

If it works well, Legco can extend it. If not, the programme should be automatically scrapped so that we can find a better way forward.

James Wong, Sha Tin