Hong Kong flat owners already paying for waste through rates, lawmakers argue

All stick and no carrot will not motivate people to cut rubbish, minister told

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 7:08pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 10:48pm

Lawmakers have questioned whether a levy on waste disposal amounts to a “double charging” of households given that property owners already pay indirectly for such services through rates.

They also expressed concern about whether the scheme would give the public an incentive to willingly reduce waste if it was all stick but no carrot.

While most members of the Legislative Council’s environmental affairs panel on Monday “in principle” supported a municipal solid waste charging scheme, they warned environment secretary Wong Kam-sing and his officials of the “devil in the details”.

“The bureau should not underestimate the challenges of waste charging. The wider public can very easily mention 10 or 20 questions that do not have answers,” People Power’s Raymond Chan Chi-chuen said.

“Rates payable to the government already cover refuse collection, so not reducing the level of rates before waste charging [is implemented] seems a bit unfair to residents.”

This was echoed by catering sector lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who called the scheme “totally unfair” and said restaurants would “happily recycle food waste” given the right incentives, such as tax breaks.

“We would happily discharge our duty to corporate social responsibility. But what about our administrative costs? Don’t just use stick, you should use carrots too.”

Wong said there was no link between the issue of rates and the waste disposal scheme.

Whether or not waste is generated, rates will still have to be paid
Wong Kam-sing, environment minister

“If I’m a tenant and I’m renting a place, the rates are paid by the owner. Whether or not waste is generated, rates will still have to be paid,” he said. “The scheme is based on a polluter pays principle; rates are based on the property’s rateable value. There is no relation.”

Waste collection is a municipal service provided by the government. Costs are historically covered by rates and they go to the government’s general revenue.

Deputy director for environmental protection Donald Ng said the purpose of the charging scheme was not to increase government revenues, nor did charging levels even cover costs.

Of the Environmental Protection Department’s HK$2.85 billion in general account expenses in 2013, 43.8 per cent was contract payments for the treatment and disposal of municipal and chemical waste.

Members expressed concerns about enforceability and the lack of recycling measures, while others called for the government to give free rubbish bags to help the poor.

Under proposed arrangements unveiled last week, households will have to buy designated rubbish bags of various sizes to dispose of waste. The average household is expected to pay around HK$33 to HK$51 a month.

Commercial and industrial buildings using private collection services will pay a landfill “gate fee”, based on the weight of their rubbish.