Don't Miss the Crucial Piece of the Puzzle in Waste Management

Passed in Legco by a 37-to-one vote in 2021, the twice-delayed municipal solid waste charging now faces uncertainty as a number of legislators—many of whom helped to pass the bill[1]—are showing reservation, asking for the scheme to be further postponed or even suspended. Some criticised the government for not doing enough to build up Hong Kong’s recycling system over the past 20 years; others claimed the scheme would create undue financial burden and harm the city’s economic competitiveness.

MSW charging will be implemented on 1 August 2024 (Image source: EPD)

It is true that the government has made missteps in tackling the city’s waste crisis and in preparing for waste charging—we have said so ourselves as well.[2],[3] Blaming waste charging for every problem under the sun however is unfair. While the government should have expanded the coverage of recycling collection spots for example, private housing estates also have had years to take the initiative and set up their own recycling systems.[4] If lessening financial impact on grassroots communities is the concern, legislators had plenty of opportunities to fight for more economic measures and address one of the widest wealth gaps in the world.[5],[6]

Recycling Spots around the territory to receive recyclables (Image source: EPD)

Certain valid concerns were raised though, such as the small scale in scope and late start of the waste charging trial, which makes it difficult to address teething issues effectively. Collection for food waste is rightly a major sticking point, as it really should be a low hanging fruit for the government to tackle. The government should expedite the expansion on food waste collection in domestic sector and set up intermediate collection points across the 18 districts to encourage food waste separation and collection. To ensure a smooth rollout of the scheme, it is critical to enhance coordination amongst the Environment and Ecology Bureau, other bureaux, and district council members.

Waste charging is but one part to the overall sustainable strategy, however it is an important piece that will encourage households and businesses to be more mindful of how much waste we make and how we can cut down on it. Burning our waste, as certain individuals have suggested, may address the "reduction” part of waste reduction, but is antithetical to the principle of a circular economy. Worse, we do not want to see a community that think it is appropriate for us to ship all of our waste for others to handle.

It is essential for the government to address the challenges surrounding the waste charging scheme and work towards a more comprehensive and effective waste management system in Hong Kong.

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