Businesses may be able to save on rubbish disposal fees from 2016 when the first of two food-waste treatment centres dedicated for their use opens as part of a nine-year war on food waste.
The plan of action will also target food waste at source and sets the "aggressive" goal of reducing the amount of food thrown away by 40 per cent - more than 1,440 tonnes per day - by 2022 compared with 2011, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing announced yesterday.
But the plan will not eliminate the need for bigger landfills or incinerators. "This infrastructure is necessary and is like our daily necessities, similar to other facilities such as power plants," he said.
Wong's 2014-22 food-waste plan sets out the urgency of tackling the city's shrinking landfills, where food waste accounts for more than a third of the rubbish.
Each Hongkonger dumps 130kg of food waste every year, double those of people in Seoul and Taipei, the plan says.
The goal will be partially met by a network of organic-waste treatment centres - Siu Ho Wan on northern Lantau, Sha Ling in North District and a third one in Shek Kong, scheduled to start operations in 2016, 2017 and 2021, respectively.
When that happens, businesses may achieve savings by separating their food waste from other rubbish, for which a collection and disposal fee is payable.
The three plants will offer a combined daily capacity of treating 800 tonnes of food waste, or about 22 per cent of the 3,600 tonnes dumped daily in 2011 - the base year used for official comparison.
On top of those facilities, rubbish disposal charges, tentatively to be introduced in 2016 across the board, are aimed at cutting food waste by 320 tonnes or so, while voluntary programmes to reduce waste at source will shave off another 360 tonnes.
Wong said he hoped to build two more treatment centres beyond 2022, possibly in urban areas. Suitable sites were being identified, he said.
The Siu Ho Wan and Sha Ling centres will cater to the business sector initially. Officials are undecided if the plants should charge any gate fees.
Celia Fung Sze-lai, from Friends of the Earth, said the arrangement favoured businesses at the expense of households, which would be exposed to the full impact of the looming rubbish disposal charge.
"I don't understand why domestic households, which produce the bulk of the food waste, will have no access to the centres after the rubbish disposal charge comes into force by 2016. The centres should cater for all."
Fung said incentives should be offered to support privately run treatment centres in order to help households or housing estates that were willing to separate food waste.
Initial consultation findings indicate businesses will probably face "weight-based" fees.
Wong said there was a principle to make polluters pay.
He urged people to change their lifestyles. "Many cities improve their waste infrastructure only after waste charging is introduced," he said.
Wong said they would run a study next year on how best to collect and transport food waste.
Elvis Au Wai-kwong, assistant director of environmental protection, said businesses tended to separate their rubbish better. The Shek Kong plant would cater for households when it came on stream in 2021, he said.
World Green Organisation's William Yu Yuen-ping suggested developing more district-based centres to minimise the need for long-distance rubbish transfer.