Reduce, reuse, reform: Hong Kong experts’ environmental policy picks this year

Experts in Hong Kong share their thoughts on sustainability efforts the government should prioritise in 2020.

Photo: Matthias Süßen (matthias-suessen.de)
Licence: license CC BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

There are a myriad of environmental issues Hong Kong takes concern with, such as recycling, sustainable design, and waste reduction. Environmentalists in Hong Kong share their thoughts on which policies the government should prioritise in the coming year.

Reboot on recycling

Paul Zimmerman, CEO of Designing Hong Kong, emphasises the need for Hong Kong’s government to “regain the trust of the community in recovery and recycling.”

In 2018, a rate of only 0.2% of rPET recycling bottles were recycled in Hong Kong. These figures have triggered concern among environmentalists such as Zimmerman, who urgently recommend the government to seek ways of reforming the city’s recycling program.

“Some people say there is no choice in the market,” explains Vicki Wong, Senior Public Affairs Officer of Greeners Actions. She goes on to say that consumers do not have a plastic or waste-free option in supermarkets and bakeries, giving people no means of consuming in a way that doesn’t generate so much waste.

A Watsons Water initiative to boost plastic recycling saw the firm install reverse vending machines where people can dispose of their bottles for a cash incentive.

Tim Lo, co-founder and CEO of LEAF Sustainability, suggests that the city needs a “holistic implementation of the waste recycling program” by improving the functionality its facilities and “backend” procedures.

Mr Lo states that Hong Kong’s compact environment makes it difficult to have waste sorting stations in residential buildings. The government should focus more on an effective sorting facility, rather than pushing the general public to do their own sorting.

Waste charging scheme

With the amount of solid waste Hong Kongers are sending to landfill at an all-time high, Wong emphasises the need for the government to act faster on passing through legislation for the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) charging scheme.

The MSW charging scheme is an issue that Greeners Actions has followed for 14 years. The proposal aims to have residents reduce their waste output through charging them using designated garbage bags that will be the exclusive means of trash disposal.

The Waste Disposal (Charging for Municipal Solid Waste) (Amendment) Bill has been under LegCo review since it was gazetted in November 2018, but Ms Wong is disappointed that the government will not fulfill the target that was set for 2022. 

“They have the objective that the waste generated by every Hong Kong citizen will be just 0.8kg per day [by 2022].” At the rate Hong Kong is moving on its waste reduction initiatives, she does not believe this is a feasible goal.

The cost of plastic

Greeners Action has been working on raising the plastic bag levy, which is a scheme that forces retailers to charge HK$0.50 for bags dispensed at the point of sale. It was 13 years ago that the environmental group Greeners Actions proposed this charge, and recently the government has considered bringing this scheme under review to potentially increase the levy price.

“We will ask for higher than $1,” says Ms Wong. “Maybe $2, maybe $5. We’ll see the opinion of the public but we must say $1 is not enough.”

The government will also review items not included on the levy, such as grocery store plastic bags used for frozen foods and fresh produce. There should be “no exemptions” on any plastic bags offered in stores, Wong elaborates, in order to control customers who take more than they need.

Greener buildings, greener finance

According to Mr Lo, the government has a responsibility to push environmental initiatives, stating that government subsidies are key in order to promote “green measures” in building design and finance.

Sustainable building design guidelines such as (PNAP) APP-151 (Practice Notes for Authorised Persons) propose methods such as “building separation, building setback and site coverage of greenery” in order to “achieve better air ventilation, enhance the environmental quality of our living space, provide more greenery, particularly at pedestrian level; and mitigate the heat island effect.”

Regarding green finance, Mr Lo encourages the government to enact policies that would motivate businesses to invest in items such as green bonds.

“The government should subsidise the development of analytical tools for green finance to introduce more of these measures to businesses.”

Any structural deficit to the government’s budget would be “inevitable”, he surmised, but it is a worthwhile investment for the city in the long run.

Simon Mak, CEO of Friends of the Earth HK, advocates for the prioritisation of green finance in the governments’ plans this year, saying that a one-time issuance of green bonds was not enough. 

“To build up the green finance market in Hong Kong the government needs to issue a series of green bonds with different durations of different terms.” 

His recommendation is for the government to issue these bonds at frequent intervals to build up the capital market.

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the author

Jasmine Lee is writer, commentator, and journalist. She graduated from McGill University where she took numerous opportunities to study and work around the world. Her specific areas of interest include media studies and human rights.