Plans to cut by 40 per cent the amount of rubbish each person in Hong Kong dumps in landfills by 2022 were unveiled yesterday as part of a blueprint for tackling the city's "grave problem" with waste.
But officials are likely to face uphill battles in implementing the plans, with an incinerator and a waste charge - both bound to meet objections from residents and politicians - as two key components.
"We have a grave problem about waste in Hong Kong," Secretary for Environment Wong Kam-sing said.
"Our daily per capita waste load is higher than that of other developed cities in Asia, and our infrastructure to deal with it is incomplete. We need to urgently fill in the gaps."
Under the "blueprint for sustainable use of resources", the government aims to reduce the amount of waste dumped in landfills from 1.27kg for each person in 2011 to 1kg in 2017 and to 0.8kg by 2022.
Currently, 48 per cent of the city's waste is recycled and the rest goes to three landfills, which will all be full by 2020.
The blueprint says that by 2022, the recycling rate will reach 55 per cent and expanded landfills will take 22 per cent, leaving the remaining 23 per cent to be burnt. The structure is similar to that in Seoul.
Of the range of measures he outlined at a press conference, Wong said incineration was the most crucial, while acknowledging uncertainty about it.
Lawmakers rejected a funding request by the previous government for an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau, near Cheung Chau. The proposal has also been challenged in court and a verdict is pending.
Details of waste charging, which had been "the most effective means" for Taipei and South Korea to cut waste, would be released in the middle of this year, Wong said. To seek support for landfill expansion, needed before the incinerator was ready, he said a proposal would be put forward for odorous waste, such as that from sewage treatment and household garbage, to be dumped well away from residential areas.
The minister called on the community to participate to help cut waste at source, such as in kitchens.
But officials stopped short of explaining how food waste, the biggest component of landfill refuse - accounting for 40 per cent of it - would be reduced. They are seeking sites for two more recycling plants in addition to two that are planned, but it is unclear how much food waste these can process.
Angus Wong, policy advocacy manager of the World Green Organisation, said the blueprint hinged heavily upon incineration and waste charging.
"Given the political climate, both options are not necessarily well supported," he said.
Friends of the Earth environmental affairs officer Celia Fung said the 40 per cent reduction target was aggressive but she did not see adequate infrastructure being proposed, especially for food waste. She also called for more support for the recycling industry.
Cyd Ho Sau-lan, chairwoman of the Legislative Council's environmental panel, said the new targets were "not aggressive at all", noting that the target recycling rate of 55 per cent in 2022 was still lower than the rate of 61 per cent in South Korea.
On average, Hong Kong people generate 1.36kg of waste each a day, compared to 0.77kg in metropolitan Tokyo, 0.95kg in Seoul, and 1kg in Taipei.