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Hong Kong environmental issues

Green groups say new waste charge law lacks clarity on exemptions like beach clean-up crews

  • Details of who is entitled to free plastic bags for clean-ups will not be written into the legislative bill for the law, to come into force in 2020
  • Environmental groups fear plastic bag charges could have a negative effect on clean-up efforts
PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2018, 9:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2018, 12:36pm

Volunteer beach clean-up crews could be exempted from having to buy their own rubbish bags when a municipal waste charging scheme comes into effect in late 2020 – but questions remain as to who or what groups are eligible.

Beach and coastal clean-ups, often mobilised spontaneously, are common in Hong Kong because of the large amounts of marine refuse that regularly washes up on the city’s shores, especially after storms.

Under a new waste charging scheme, most of the city’s rubbish must be disposed of in government-mandated plastic bags, with the smallest three litre bags priced at 30 cents, and the largest 100 litre ones priced at HK$11. Waste dumped in any other receptacle will be illegal.

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The government may supply designated bags for free to any person or organisation as necessary, having regard to the nature of the event
Environmental Protection Department spokesman

Concerns had been raised by some green groups as to whether volunteers would have to buy their own bags as would be required under new laws, which aims to promote a “polluter pays” ethos.

Responding to Post queries, the Environmental Protection Department said government departments already provided free rubbish bags to volunteers engaged in such activities at government venues such as gazetted beaches, and hinted this arrangement could continue.

“Under the [legislative amendment], the government may supply designated bags for free to any person or organisation as necessary, having regard to the nature of the event, the need to upkeep the ‘polluter pays’ principles, and other relevant factors,” a spokesman said.

But, the spokesman did not say whether the arrangements had been discussed with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department – which would have to buy them from the EPD and supply them for free – or where volunteers would deposit the waste for collection.

It is also not clear whether volunteers could get them for free for cleaning up non- gazetted beaches, and whether anyone could just knock on the department’s door requesting free bags.

The Post has been told the EPD will not write such details into the legislative bill, and will handle such matters using flexible administrative measures.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, director of environmental advocacy at The Green Earth, said that whatever the location in which volunteer clean-ups took place, it was only fair the government provide designated bags free of charge.

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I hope the EPD and FEHD will continue to support green groups and volunteers in keeping beaches clean and providing rubbish bags free of charge
Dana Winograd, Plastic Free Seas

While large groups and organised clean-ups were easy to monitor, Chu conceded it would be tricky when it came to individuals and less organised operations.

“After Typhoon Mangkhut we saw many individual residents head to shorelines themselves, unorganised, to clean up waste and debris,” he said. “How would this work for them? Will they be eligible for designated bags? It’s still a grey area.”

To prevent abuse, he suggested the government set up a system where volunteers be required to do a simple registration in exchange for bags at a local FEHD office, and report how many bags of rubbish they clean up.

Dana Winograd, director of operations at Plastic Free Seas, which regularly hosts and coordinates beach clean-ups, said: “I hope the EPD and FEHD will continue to support green groups and volunteers in keeping beaches clean and providing rubbish bags free of charge.

“We hope the arrangements will continue to be as convenient as possible.”