This was to be the year Hong Kong made real progress in dealing with its waste problem. The fates conspired otherwise. Ultimately the solution lies in reducing waste at its source. First it needed legislators to pass a government bill for a mandatory waste disposal charge to be paid by households and industry, proposed more than a decade ago. According to officials it would have reduced solid waste by 40 per cent per capita by 2022. But lawmakers on the bills committee voted to shelve discussions for the rest of this legislative session, citing a lack of time to complete legislative work and effectively dumping the bill. The reason for the setback doesn’t matter, whether it be priority for the national security law, the anthem law or for infrastructure projects over social issues, or filibustering by pan-democrats. It was a missed opportunity that a city running out of landfill and dragging its feet on recycling cannot afford. Worse, plastic recycling has suffered a setback also, with up to 90 per cent of small to medium-sized operators closing their doors, according to industry sources. They cited several reasons. The government must take some blame for dragging its feet in setting up a citywide waste collection scheme. Long-delayed waste charging scheme dumped as time runs out Following a drop in the price of oil, which is refined into petrochemicals for making plastic, the cost of virgin plastic became cheaper than its recycled counterpart. Hong Kong’s recyclers, who rely on imported waste plastic to boost production, say the cost of importing it now exceeds the price they can get for their product on the mainland – their only market. They say they cannot even recover their processing costs. Small to medium-sized recyclers among a total of about 200 have long faced operational hurdles. A slowdown in manufacturing exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic has compounded them. But a weak city waste management system has made it more difficult. The Green Earth director Hahn Chu Hon-keung says that without a proper collection network, bigger firms would struggle to find enough plastic to recycle. Hong Kong does have a tentative trial plastic collection scheme for three districts – Eastern, where it began in January, and Sha Tin and Kwun Tong, where it is to begin in the third quarter. Chu and the Hong Kong Scrap Plastic Association are right to call for it to be expanded to all 18 districts. The government also needs to show a sense of urgency about a “producer responsibility” scheme that would hold manufacturers responsible for recycling plastic bottles. The waste disposal charge was to be the first step towards combating waste pollution. The Environmental Protection Department says a public consultation will be held in the second half of the year. Action is more important than seeking consensus in building a coherent recycling system. The waste disposal bill should be revived in the next legislative session.