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Hong Kong environmental issues

‘Polluter pays’ waste scheme expanded with 80 per cent of Hong Kong’s rubbish going into prepaid bags

Environmental group welcomes move that will make more households and businesses pay for volume of rubbish they throw out

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 October, 2017, 8:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 2:56pm

More people and businesses will have to dispose of their waste in prepaid plastic bags under an expanded “polluter pays” scheme for Hong Kong that will be put before lawmakers for approval within the next two months.

Under the new arrangement, 80 per cent of the rubbish generated by housing estates, residential buildings and shops using government refuse collection services will go into one of nine types of bags, varying in size and priced at an average of 11 cents per litre.

The original proposal, announced in March, was 50 per cent, with the rest levied through a contentious landfill “gate fee” that waste contractors would have to recover from customers.

The government also announced on Thursday that it would scrap an earlier plan to allow a three-year transitional period for residential estates or buildings to impose a simpler version of the scheme, based on the number of bins they send off to the tips.

“The [private waste collection] trade expressed keen concerns that it is undesirable for the government to put an unnecessary burden on them to pay the gate fee upfront and to apportion the charges among their clients,” according to an Environment Bureau paper submitted to the Legislative Council.

Commercial and industrial buildings as well as residential premises using private collection services would previously pay via the gate fee. Under the modified scheme, per bag charging will be expanded to include waste producers that use a private collection service, as long as their trucks are equipped with rear compactors to compress the waste.

But collection of bulky waste, such as furniture, that cannot be placed in bags or compacted, will still be charged via the gate fee arrangement.

Bag prices will remain unchanged – 30 cents for the smallest, three-litre bag and HK$11 for the biggest 100-litre bag.

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Environment minister Wong Kam-sing said the changes to “enhance the operations of the charging scheme” were based on feedback from dozens of meetings and public engagement sessions.

“We estimate that about 80 per cent of waste collected daily would be charged for through the purchase of prepaid designated garbage bags,” Wong said.

Environmental group Greeners Action welcomed the move as it would make households and businesses pay for the volume of rubbish they threw out, which was the crux of the “polluter pays” principle.

“We’ve always said that charging by bag was the fairest method, many trials have indicated that it works so I don’t see why they were so afraid in the first place,” executive director Angus Ho Hon-wai said. “Charging by block would have made it impossible to identify who threw out what and when.”

A six-month trial scheme of 440 households conducted by the group at Ming Nga Court – a Home Ownership Scheme estate in Tai Po – found the pre-paid bags reduced monthly rubbish disposal by about 24 per cent and increased recycling of 11 different materials by 86 per cent.

The estate, which uses a private collection service, would have had to adopt the gate fee arrangement under the earlier scheme.

“Of course a charge per household would be better. You pay for what you throw,” said long-time resident Kwok Yin-lin. “We weren’t used to it at first, but at the end of the day, you start to accept it, and this is good for the Earth.”

The government also announced that it would provide low-income households on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance with a HK$10 monthly subsidy to help pay for the designated bags.

Ho said HK$10 was acceptable but ideally, all residents should pay their fair share for the waste they generated. He urged the government to phase out the subsidy over time.

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The Environmental Protection Department also proposed setting up a new office responsible for preparing, implementing, promoting, enforcing and reviewing the charging scheme.

“It remains our target to introduce the amendment bill into the Legislative Council by the end of 2017,” said Wong. “Assuming that scrutiny of the bill would take one year, [the] charging could be implemented towards the end of 2019 at the earliest.”