Minister behind Hong Kong’s waste-charging scheme admits rules will be hard to enforce

Environment secretary says it is more important to educate people about their responsibilities than to tackle violations

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 2:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 8:49pm

The environment secretary on Tuesday admitted it would be hard to enforce his new plan to make Hongkongers buy and use government-designated bin bags.

But Wong Kam-sing insisted it would be more important to educate the public and reduce waste than to tackle violations.

Under the proposal announced on Monday, households will have to throw rubbish into designated plastic bags, for sale across the city and costing around 11 cents per litre. The plan, expected to come into full force in late 2019, is designed to change behaviour and reduce waste.

Private waste collectors which pick up from malls and commercial buildings will have their rubbish weighed at landfill sites. They will pay HK$365 or HK$395 per tonne, depending on the landfill’s location.

But questions remain over how the law can be effectively enforced in Hong Kong’s predominantly high-rise environment.

A property management committee member, surnamed Lee, told Wong during a radio phone-in on Tuesday morning: “It’s very difficult to manage waste disposal problems. From time to time we find residents dumping rubbish on floors they do not live on.”

Wong said society has formed bad habits, and so the scheme had to be introduced to instil a sense of civic responsibility.

He said one solution was to give government officers power to enter buildings for inspections.

But he insisted Hong Kong would not follow in the footsteps of South Korea, where officers comb through illegally dumped rubbish bags to hunt down rule-breakers.

Fixed penalties for non-compliance have been set at HK$1,500.

Another caller, who works as a waste collector, said: “This is just impossible. How do you guard every floor of the building 24 hours a day?”

Managers at 10 residential developments in Tseung Kwan O came together to echo these thoughts.

“While we support the charge… it would involve a large amount of administrative work and greatly increase our operational costs,” a statement from the alliance read.

“We urge the Environment Bureau to provide rebates to residential developments to install or improve waste and recycling facilities.”

Wong admitted it would be challenging to both enforce the law and collect evidence about violations, but he said he hoped the public would abide by the rules and observe their civic responsibilities.

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He also pointed out a financial incentive to play by the new rules.

“If you get caught that’s a HK$1,500 fine,” he said. “That’s roughly five years of designated rubbish bags you could buy. From a cost-effectiveness point of view, people should think if it’s worth it to break the law.”

Wong said the scheme is key to the government’s target of reducing waste by 40 per cent by 2022.

“Hong Kong’s population increased by 30 per cent over the past three decades, but the amount of rubbish surged by 80 per cent over the same period,” he said.