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Hong Kong environmental issues

Hong Kong’s pollution and waste problems are just as important as housing

Edwin Lau says air quality, the need for renewable energy and to reduce our waste are all issues that directly affect Hongkongers’ well-being, and the city cannot afford to delay remedial action

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 7:18pm

Though Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is right to focus on housing issues in her first policy address, I would like to remind her that environmental issues are equally important to Hongkongers’ well-being. Here are several that we must not neglect.

First, regulations are urgently needed to improve the city’s air quality. The Environmental Protection Department claims that over 90 per cent of roadside air pollution is due to commercial diesel vehicles. The government must move quickly to roll out electronic road pricing to improve traffic flow, which in turn would improve air quality.

And, why, despite requiring vessels to use low sulphur fuel in Hong Kong waters, has the government yet to act on reducing emissions from diesel vehicles?

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Second, we need cleaner electricity supplies. This requires an efficient system, and a fuel mix with a much lower carbon content. This means a push for more renewable energy. I’m pleased to see that a feed-in tariff scheme has been introduced in the new scheme of control agreements the government signed with the two power companies. This will allow privately run renewable energy power generation installations to sell their electricity to the two suppliers. Let’s hope an attractive selling price can be negotiated so that businesses and households will be encouraged to invest in renewable energy installations.

How China has embraced renewable energy and Hong Kong hasn’t, and what’s behind city’s green power inertia

Third, we need to rapidly reduce our waste. This problem must be tackled on several fronts.

I welcome the new measures announced in the policy address, such as forming outreach teams to promote clean recycling, and better government support for the collection of waste plastic bottles, which recyclers generally ignore due to their low value.

Watch: Can Hong Kong’s consumers say ‘no’ to plastic?

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But we also need urgent efforts to deal with the plastic waste that will overwhelm our landfills come January 1, when mainland China implements its stricter waste import requirements. The government has earmarked HK$20 million for the purchase of processing equipment to help the recycling industry meet these new standards. But, given the time lag between submitting funding applications to actually setting up the infrastructure, the government must have a Plan B ready for this potential waste disaster.

Food waste, which makes up the largest share of the municipal solid waste at 33 per cent, must be dramatically cut. We could follow South Korea’s lead in making food waste recycling mandatory. Our government expects the waste charging legislation to take effect by the second half of 2019. The public also expects convenient recycling facilities to be installed by then, so households can easily separate food waste from other garbage.

Edwin Lau Che-feng is executive director of The Green Earth. [email protected]