How to speed up the launch of waste charging in Hong Kong
- Legco’s approval of the waste charging bill comes with a request for a delay in implementation that makes little sense
- The success of the recycling schemes in Taipei and Seoul underline the role civil society can play in building trust and community buy-in
Perhaps legislators would defend themselves by saying that it is a burden on livelihoods already taxed by the Covid-19 pandemic. But, after the events of the past two years, why not try instead to give residents hope by putting in place a resilient waste management infrastructure worthy of one of the most advanced cities on the planet?
This is another failure of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s government as far as the people are concerned.
Lam’s committee was also meant to “provide an internal platform to align more effectively the work of government departments in waste management, including the management of organic waste”. At the time, the Environment Bureau’s target was to reduce the municipal solid waste disposal rate to landfills by 40 per cent on a per capita basis by 2022, using 2011 as the base. That is not even close to happening.
The implementation of a producer responsibility scheme for electronic equipment at Hong Kong’s WEEE Park shows what can be done when Hong Kong sets its mind to something. That scheme has more than doubled the tonnage of materials recycled since its first full year of implementation in 2018.
The expansion of O Park’s food waste-to-energy plant (O Park 2) and expansion of the food waste anaerobic co-digestion trial scheme to full-scale implementation are exciting possibilities, but they will remain just that unless we get a move on.
Hong Kong need only look to its neighbours to see that a golden combination – government, business and civil society – working together is behind the highly effective recycling and resource recovery programmes in Taiwan and South Korea.
Taiwan went from being called “Garbage Island” to an economy that is able to recover valuable resources from the waste stream, after a group of homemakers got tired of garbage piling up in the street and joined together to advocate for change.
Taiwan now enjoys high recycling rates, reportedly, of 55 per cent of trash from households and commerce and 77 per cent of industrial waste. Its system combines producer responsibility schemes, which charge producers to help fund the system, and consumer sorting at source. Garbage trucks paired with trucks to collect recyclables make daily rounds, and volunteers and municipal employees help people sort things properly.
In the past quarter of a century, Seoul has gone from recycling hardly any food waste to now recycling about 95 per cent of it. This is largely thanks to civil society groups that advocated for the system that now includes automated recycling bins for organic waste, and composting for urban farms that supply the city with organic produce. Residents buy designated biodegradable bags and are charged per kilogram of waste.
As an activist told New Yorker’s Rivka Galchen: “There needs to be an intermediary between the government and the people. Groups like us. That can explain back and forth. People don’t want to hear it straight from the government.”
Hong Kong has a plan, but it needs to implement it. Without public buy-in, education can feel like coercion.
Maybe a waste charge could help heal Hong Kong. The average household can afford to pay the estimated HK$33 to HK$55 each month to throw out trash so Hong Kong can solve the problem of overburdened landfills, which in turn will help it meet its decarbonisation goals. Legco and the Executive Council have got to deliver for the people.
Jill Baker is adjunct fellow at Asia Business Council