Waste management problems are getting worse in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 4:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 9:49pm

Rarely has an organisation performed as miserably, every year, as the Environmental Protection Department in its waste management programme.

Its failure was highlighted in reports by the Audit Commission and the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee last year. Predictably, the department’s latest waste management report, for 2015, is no different.

Its two major targets have moved in the wrong direction five years in a row – the amount of waste per person disposed daily increased, while the waste recovery rate decreased. From 2014 to 2015, waste disposed went up (from 1.35 to 1.39kg), while waste recovered went down (from 36.5 to 35.4 per cent). That’s the worst performance in a decade.

In the Environment Bureau’s waste-management blueprint issued in 2013, the objective for the amount of waste per person disposed daily was set at 1kg by 2017 and 0.8kg by 2022. The recovery rate was to be 55 per cent by 2022.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing has talked up the blueprint for the past two years. But at a January 17 press conference, he was mum about waste management performance, except for an 8 per cent decrease in food waste, which is just 30 per cent of total domestic waste.

I have long argued that the blueprint’s waste disposal and recovery targets are unattainable.

Wong and his department seem incapable of grasping the simple equation governing waste management: waste disposed is equal to waste generated less waste recovered. Imposing a waste-charging scheme cannot lower significantly the amount of waste disposed, unless there’s a commensurate increase in the amount of waste recovered. And the waste recovery rate cannot increase much without waste separation at source.

Wong cited the success of South Korea and Taipei in reducing waste disposed by imposing waste charging. He omitted the crucial factor in their success: waste separation at source is required by law.

Waste-recovery companies in Hong Kong have to sell paper, plastic and metal to the mainland at market prices, which cannot be controlled by the Environment Bureau.

This means the current 36 per cent waste recovery rate cannot realistically increase to 55 per cent, which is the rate achieved by countries that successfully manage their waste.

At its 36 per cent waste recovery rate, Hong Kong needs to reduce waste generation by 40 per cent from the current level to achieve the 0.8kg average amount of waste per person disposed daily by 2022. In their dreams.

Tom Yam, Lantau