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Hong Kong environmental issues

It is time to tackle waste once and for all

  • A proposal to try to cut the city’s waste through the imposition of a levy has been around since 2004
  • But there is still no guarantee it will become law with legislators risking voter backlash to pass the bill
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2018, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2018, 11:14pm

Delay seems to be the modus operandi of the Hong Kong government when it comes to implementing measures to protect the environment. The latest news is that the 2004 proposal to cut the city’s waste with a levy has not been discarded, although the enforcement schedule has been put back again by at least another year. But there is still no guarantee, as it depends on whether lawmakers would risk backlash at the ballot box to pass the bill.

The bill should have been passed by now had the government adhered to the previous target of rolling out the waste charge in the second half of 2019. But political resistance and indecisiveness means the proposal was nowhere near enforcement over the past 14 years. Meanwhile, the city’s waste volume continues to increase.

The bill, which will be tabled in the legislature this month, is long overdue. But even if it can be passed by summer as planned, the preparation for enforcement, such as the sale of designated waste disposal bags, may take another 12 to 18 months. With the district councils and Legislative Council polls due in the next two years, the prospect is anything but certain.

14 years on, waste charging scheme to be mandatory in Hong Kong

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing was just frank in saying that the actual implementation hinges on the progress of scrutiny by lawmakers. But the response does not instil confidence in the government’s determination to get the job done. The current administration has pledged that it will not shy away from tackling thorny issues. There must be ways to speed up enforcement. After all, years have been spent on preparation for the levy.

The delay will inevitably affect the government’s target of cutting waste by 40 per cent by 2022. Given a small household will only pay HK$33 to HK$51 a month, it remains to be seen whether the levy can instil behavioural change in waste disposal. It makes sense to give the public a revised reduction target that can be realistically achieved.

The scheme will become meaningless if it cannot reduce waste. Apart from taxing polluters with the right level of charge, there needs to be effective enforcement against non-compliance and more support for recycling. Officials should demonstrate stronger will to tackle the mounting waste problem once and for all.