16-year delay! Hong Kong should not drag its feet on waste charging
Hong Kong’s waste crisis is well-known. Despite the government pouring resources into the popular Big Waster and the overarching Food Wise campaign, the city’s waste generation is still on a steady rising trend.
Neighbouring cities like Seoul and Taipei have long demonstrated that the best way to cut waste is to put a cost on it1. And yet, Hong Kong’s own waste charging bill continues to languish in the legislative hellhole for 16 years now and counting2. Running out of time and landfill space, should Hong Kong drag its feet to defuse its waste crisis?
No thanks to pressure from the members of the bills committee, the waste charging scheme—if and when passed—will have at least an additional 18-month preparatory period for people to adapt, 3despite already having almost a decade to prepare for it4. Worse, the preparatory period may last even longer depending on the state of current pandemic.
Why are policymakers dragging our heels when most of us don’t benefit from the delay? We are shouldering the collective cost of waste management through our taxes by subsidising big wasters instead of letting them pay their fair share. Further, the longer we delay this, the sooner our landfills will fill up. What Hong Kong need is an urgent paradigm shift away from the throw-away culture of our society. Upstream and downstream fiscal instruments are urgently needed to defuse Hong Kong’s waste crisis.
Various opinion surveys and consultations done over the years have showed that Hong Kong citizens are ready for a waste charging scheme.5,6 Pilot schemes carried out by various organisations also showed that it is effective in driving waste reduction efforts locally. Schools participating in our Environment and Conservation Fund-sponsored ‘Municipal Solid Waste Audit and Waste Reduction at School’ scheme, for example, managed to cut waste by an average of 13% in just three months’ time.7
Hong Kong deserves an integrated and holistic waste management system that includes efficient waste collection, separation and recycling. The waste charging bill is not the only thing moving at a snail pace. Support for the local recycling industry is still insufficient. Waste separation bins still suffer from poor access, poor maintenance, and low trust. Producer responsibility schemes are still missing for many common household wastes like plastics and other packaging materials. All of these could aid in waste reduction efforts.
The Secretary for the Environment should make it clear to the bills committee:
•What is the "environmental cost” of delaying the waste charging bill?
•What is the "financial cost” of continuing to landfill at the current pace?
•What "opportunities cost” are we missing by not pursuing a circular economy?
•What "political cost” are we losing the trust in the government policy?
COVID-19 should not be an excuse to delay waste charging. Hong Kong Government should demonstrate green leadership and willpower to drive a green recovery and transition Hong Kong towards a more sustainable circular economy.