Hong Kong must take a holistic approach towards reducing waste

Piecemeal legislation to tackle plastic bags, glass containers and construction waste are well and good; behavioural change, though, requires a levy on disposal of all garbage, whatever its nature

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 June, 2016, 11:57pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 June, 2016, 11:57pm

To say that Hong Kong is dragging its feet in tackling the mounting problem of municipal waste is not an overstatement. While legislation has been in place to reduce the use of plastic bags and construction waste, the proposed levy on garbage disposal is still nowhere near implementation. Meanwhile, we remain one of the most wasteful cities on the planet.

Thankfully, we are about to take a step forward on that front. Under an amendment bill passed earlier, a levy – possibly in the range of a dollar per container – is to be introduced by 2018 to encourage recycling of glass bottles. The money will be used to finance a recycling operator.

Hong Kong to charge glass recycling levy

Putting the legal framework in place is just one of the many steps needed to recycle glass bottles. The provision of collection facilities is another. As at March 2015, there were 1,700 collection points across the territory. While they theoretically cover a sizeable part of our population, whether people make use of them is another matter. That explains why the city throws away nearly 250 tonnes of glass containers every day.

Our recycling strategy will not be complete without adopting a more critical approach towards plastic bottles. According to new estimates by a green group, more than five million plastic bottles are discarded every day but only 14 per cent of them are recovered for recycling. The level is way below the international average of 37 per cent. This is compounded further by the fact that local manufacturers are taking advantage of the heavily subsidised water tariff to produce bottled water and other drinks. The claim that the government and taxpayers are effectively subsidising a polluting industry is not unjustified.

Law must make drinks firms pay for bottle waste, new Hong Kong green group says

The ultimate solution lies in an effective waste charge. The levy should have been in place by now had officials been more resolute in tackling the problem. Regrettably, political resistance and indecision mean a clear timetable has yet to be hammered out. Like the levies on plastic bags and glass bottles, officials should speed up the waste charge to instil behavioural change.