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Hong Kong environmental issues

Six years and counting: why Hong Kong’s track record on waste management should have city down in the dumps

  • Consistent failure by the Environment Protection Department to meet its own waste management targets makes a mockery of its 2013-2022 blueprint
  • Without waste separation at source, the waste recovery rate cannot increase much
PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2019, 1:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2019, 9:25pm

Year after year, the Environmental Protection Department fails to meet its own waste management targets. Its latest report for 2017, issued last month, is no different.

Its two major targets have again moved in the wrong direction. From 2016 to 2017, daily waste disposal per person went up from 1.41kg to 1.45kg, while waste recovered went down, from 34 to 32 per cent. So far, the amount of municipal solid waste per person disposed of daily has increased six years in a row, while the waste recovery rate has decreased seven years in a row.

This makes a mockery of the Environment Bureau’s 2013 waste-management blueprint, where the target for daily waste disposal per person was set at 1kg by 2017. At this rate, how does the bureau intend to reach its target of 0.8kg by 2022?

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing talked up the blueprint when he took up his portfolio in 2012. Yet, waste management performance has deteriorated every year of his tenure. Reports by the Audit Commission and the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee in 2015 noted the department’s failure to achieve its main objectives in the previous decade.

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I have long argued that the blueprint’s waste disposal and recovery targets are unattainable. Wong and his department seem unable to grasp the simple equation governing waste management: waste disposed is equal to waste generated less waste recovered. Imposing a waste-charging scheme is not sufficient to decrease significantly the amount of waste disposed, unless there is a commensurate increase in the amount of waste recovered. And the waste recovery rate cannot increase much without waste separation at source.

Wong has cited the success of South Korea and Taipei in reducing waste disposed by imposing waste charging. But he ignores the other factor crucial to their success: waste separation at source is required by law. This means the current 32 per cent waste recovery rate cannot realistically increase to 55 per cent by 2022, which is the target in the bureau’s blueprint.

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Wong has the choice of revising the blueprint’s targets, replacing those responsible or burying his head in the sand and passing the problem to his successor. In the private sector, he himself would have been fired for six years of inability to meet targets in an important part of his portfolio.

Tom Yam, Mui Wo