If implementing a waste disposal charge in Hong Kong was as easy as tossing away the garbage, it would have long been in place by now. Having spent 16 years to hammer out the details, the government has finally enacted the relevant legislation. Alas, exactly when it will be enforced is still unclear at this stage. Meanwhile, the waste output continues to mount. The Environmental Protection Department has been given at least 18 months to prepare for the levy, after which lawmakers will review the progress and assess the prevailing economic situation before giving the final go-ahead. The implementation timetable for the long overdue scheme in anything but certain.
Given the Covid-19 pandemic and the current state of the economy, a grace period is perhaps not unreasonable. But the repeated delays have raised doubts over the city’s commitment in cutting waste. Indeed, there have been concerns whether the levy will be enough to change business practice and people’s lifestyle. The logistics have been openly discussed for so long that few can say they are still unaware or unprepared.
At an extra cost of about HK$51 a month to an average household, the policy that mandates the disposal of garbage in prepaid plastic bags should not be too much of a burden to many households and businesses. Indeed, premises serviced by management companies should have few problems in complying with the rules, as the charge is likely to be incorporated into management fees. But the authorities should watch out for illegal dumping, especially from buildings and outlets without management services.
The scheme was proposed in 2005 to help tackle the mounting crisis of municipal waste. But the implementation target was repeatedly put back amid resistance from some quarters. Meanwhile, the annual waste output continued to rise, from 3.4 million tonnes in 2005 to 4.17 million tonnes in 2018 before dropping to 4.04 million tonnes the following year. The amount of waste recovered during the period also declined. Concerns are growing that the use of disposal masks and other products during the Covid-19 pandemic may push up the waste output again. It is in the city’s interest to implement the levy as soon as practicable.