Thou shalt pay! For Garbage! Waste charging scheme finally comes to Hong Kong, almost

On Wednesday, the Hong Kong government tabled a bill to LegCo for a mandatory waste charging scheme – 14 years after the idea was first proposed as a partial solution to the city’s waste management. Starting from 2020, residents will need to pay for designated plastic bags for their trash.


The Waste Disposal (Charging for Municipal Solid Waste) (Amendment) Bill 2018 will be put forward at the LegCo on November 14. The lawmakers are expected to complete the first and second readings of the bill this month.

This means Hong Kong will finally follow the footstep of Seoul and Taipei, where waste disposal charge schemes have been in place since 1995 and 2000, respectively.

Environment chief Mr Wong Kam-sing says waste disposal dropped by some 30 percent in both cities as a result. In 2016, each Hong Kong resident produced 1.41 kg of solid waste on average every day, while the numbers in Taipei and Seoul were 1kg and 0.95kg in 2013.

“The waste in Hong Kong is increasing. Depending on voluntary work alone may not help reduce more waste. We need policy…. Now we have it to help us separate and reduce waste and we pay less. This is an incentive,” says Jonathan Wong, professor of Department of Biology at Hong Kong Baptist University.

He adds that waste reduction will help prolong the life of the landfills as there is no incinerator in Hong Kong.

What to do and how much?

Under the scheme, residents must place their trash in designated bags, which will come in nine types with sizes ranging from three litres to 100 litres in volume.

Residents will have to pay HK$0.11 per litre of trash, which means these bags will cost between HK$0.3 and HK$11 each.

If the trash is too big to fit the bags, residents will have to buy an oversized waste label which costs HK$11.

Once the scheme takes effect, a household of three is estimated to pay between HK$33 and HK$51 a month for using a 10-litre or 15-litre bag every day.

Those receiving government subsidies will be given a subsidy of HK$10 a month for the scheme.

Failure to dispose of waste with the designated bags will lead to fines up to HK$1,500. Serious offences could result in an imprisonment term of up to six months and a fine of up to HK$50,000.

“The rate can go higher to be more effective,” Ms Lee Sheung-man, a reporter who has four members in her family, tells Harbour Times.

“If it’s less than a hundred dollars per month, I think it’s acceptable for a family of four. I’m more concerned if it’s easy to get hold of these bags,” she says.

Addressing this concern among residents, the designated bags will be available at 4,000 sales points, including supermarkets, convenience stores, petrol-filling stations and post offices.

Reuse rather than reduction

However, some people think it is the businesses rather than the households who should bear the cost.

“I don’t think it’s fair that the consumers are penalised when it is the businesses who contribute to the waste,” Mr David Ho, a writer based in Hong Kong, tells Harbour Times.

“A lot of waste actually comes from unnecessary packaging that companies add on to their products. The government should work with corporations to reduce waste first,” he says, suggesting the government start with restaurants and merchants.

Mr Ho also notes that instead of reducing waste, there should be creative and useful ways to manage it, such as turning it into commodity or resources.

“For example, Hong Kong sells waste wood to South Korea which turn it into energy,” he says.

Uncertainties

Meanwhile, there are concerns about the scheme. As the scheme will not take effect until 2020, many wonder if the target set by the Environment Bureau to reduce waste by 40 percent can be met.

The bureau has also admitted that monitoring 22,000 waste collection points and 45,000 buildings in the city is an impossible task. However, it fails to provide any clear explanations on how to implement the law in every building and how to stop people from leaving trash somewhere illegally.

Regardless, environmental groups such as Greeners Action, Green Power and The Green Earth all applaud the move.

In a joint letter, they urge the lawmakers to pass the bill soon to catch up with the neighbouring cities in reducing waste.

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