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Hong Kong environmental issues

Waste fee plan set for delay as Hong Kong Legislative Council must still review possible bill

Environment Bureau says scheme to tackle city’s rubbish generation could still launch by end of 2019, but green groups argue no further review is needed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 11:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 1:35pm

A fee scheme to tackle Hong Kong’s waste crisis looks set for a delay as officials have just weeks to introduce a bill for lawmakers to read before their summer recess.

Environmental authorities moved to manage public expectations on Tuesday, saying they still aimed to launch the scheme in late 2019 but a successful roll-out would hinge on how talks progressed in the Legislative Council over the rest of the year.

The summer recess begins in mid-July, and Legco does not convene again until late September.

The news came as more than 20 environmental groups delivered a petition to government headquarters on Tuesday to pressure Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and environment minister Wong Kam-sing to get the ball rolling on legislation – and quickly.

Under the plan, 80 per cent of rubbish generated by housing estates, residential buildings and shops using government refuse collection services would go into bags priced at an average of 11 cents (US$0.01) per litre.

“If the government fails to submit the draft bill soon, our concern is that the event horizon for implementation of the waste-charging scheme may seem indefinite, and public incentives to reduce waste will be severely impeded,” the coalition, including Greeners Action, Green Earth and Green Power, said in a joint statement.

Wong would also miss his own target of slashing the city’s solid waste generation by 40 per cent by 2022, causing the public to lose even more confidence in the city’s waste management policy, the groups claimed.

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In response, an Environment Bureau spokesman said officials were “considering the views of various parties” and planned to submit a bill to Legco “as soon as possible this year”.

“Depending on the progress of the Legislative Council’s deliberations, the government is expected to implement the municipal solid waste charge towards the end of 2019 at the earliest,” he added.

The bureau’s previous plan, as recently as March last year, was to table the bill in the “first half of 2017” and implement the scheme by the “second half of 2019”.

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Last October, when the bureau announced updates to the scheme, Wong said he aimed to introduce the bill “by the end of 2017” and aimed for implementation by the “the end of 2019”.

Officials expect a 12- to 18-month period after the legislation passes to be set aside to allow the public and stakeholders to prepare for implementation.

The lack of legislative work has rendered the term ‘reduction at source’ empty talk
Vicki Wong, Greeners Action

Environmental groups argue the time to act is now.

“The waste levy has been discussed and subjected to consultation for many years, and the community forged a consensus long ago,” Greeners Action’s Vicki Wong Pui-chi said.

“The lack of legislative work has rendered the term ‘reduction at source’ empty talk,” she added. “Landfills receive 10,300 tonnes of solid waste per day. The chief executive and the government must keep their promise and implement the waste charge by 2019.”

Tanya Chan, chair of Legco’s environmental affairs panel, urged officials to make use of the remaining time to iron out any outstanding concerns from the community.

She believed that as long as no major unexpected issues surfaced and the government managed to table the bill within this year, late 2019 was still an achievable time frame.

In 2016, the latest year for which statistics are available, 10,345 tonnes of municipal waste were sent to Hong Kong’s landfills every day. That total was 1.8 per cent more than for the year before and marked an increase for the sixth straight year.