Up to 10,000 households from seven estates will take part voluntarily in a six-month trial aimed at helping officials design a waste-charging scheme for introduction in 2016.
Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing said yesterday that the pilot scheme would allow the Council for Sustainable Development to collect firm data and "test out the logistics" in charging for disposal of municipal solid waste.
However, he said, the exercise would not determine the ultimate method.
"The pilot scheme will allow us to accumulate practical experience for the various charging options and identify the difficulties and challenges for reference when we draw up the final way forward," Wong said yesterday.
Environment officials admitted there was no way of ensuring all households took part.
The seven participating estates - both public and private - are Amoy Gardens in Kowloon Bay; Chai Wan Estate in Eastern District; Chun Seen Mei Chuen in Kowloon City; Island Resort in Siu Sai Wan; Kwong Tin Estate and Tak Tin Estate in Lam Tin; and The Orchards in Quarry Bay.
Three charging methods - weight by building, volume by building and volume by household - will be tested without any money actually changing hands.
Under the first, a "mock" charge of HK$500 a tonne will be introduced based on the weight of waste discarded by the entire building.
Management companies will be given the flexibility to adjust the level and decide how to recover charges from residents.
Under the second method, the management company pays a charge on the number of 660-litre rubbish bins that are filled by the building. The HK$66 per-bin charge is then shared among the residents.
The volume-by-household method will use pre-paid rubbish bags of five, 10 and 15 litres charged at 10 HK cents a litre.
The mock charges are based on payment methods used in Taipei.
The government will allocate HK$5 million to provide the rubbish bags and hire service contractors to monitor compliance.
Friends of the Earth senior environmental affairs manager Frances Yeung Hoi-shan welcomed the trial.
"Since some are still sceptical about waste charging, these tests can offer field experiences to improve the charging mechanism," she said.
But she said the government should still adopt the fairest model of waste charging - designated rubbish bags - despite all three models being tested.
Yeung also wanted tests to be done on single-block buildings and village houses, which are not included in the current trial.
Wong said he held an "open mind" on expanding the trial scheme but would test the response of participants in the current one first.
A similar scheme aimed at paving the way for domestic waste charging was tried in 2007 at 20 housing estates.
It was criticised, however, for providing bags that were too small.
The government has pledged to introduce an official waste charge by 2016 and to slash the amount of rubbish produced by 40 per cent by 2020.
Additional reporting by Cheung Chi-fai