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Waste Charging: How Could Anyone Say No?!

Original text published on Sing Tao Daily “Green Forum” (14 January, 2019)
Author: Green Power

The time to curb our waste has come. After a 13-year-long discussion, the Legislative Council eventually tabled the motion on Charging for Municipal Solid Waste (the Bill) at the end of 2018. In Taipei and South Korea, 65% and 40% decreases in waste disposal were recorded, respectively, after the scheme was established. Waste disposal in Hong Kong has just hit record high of 1.45kg per citizen, reported by the Environmental Protection Department in the latest “Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong”. It is high time for the city to advance towards wiser waste management; indeed it is already too late.

Recycling is Not A Remission of Misuse

Nonetheless, inadequacy of local recycling facilities is frequently pointed to by accusing fingers: without recycling, waste produced cannot be recycled and people will have no choice but to pay. Do not be misled; the implementation of waste charging is not an introduction of a tax. The goal is rather straightforward - waste reduction at source. Therefore, waste disposed of will be charged for, in order to deter misuse. The less we consume, the less waste to be dealt with. Recycling would be better off as a form of waste treatment.

Turning refuse to resources, “Waste-No-Malls” are community-based stations collecting reusable household solid waste in communities. The allies observed a common misconception in legitimising waste behaviour when there are places to recycle. So much so that some event organisers largely distributed carton drinks and sent the used ones to the stations afterwards. As long as there is recycling as a way out, people can keep on buying plastic bottles, using take-away Styrofoam containers and plastic bags.…

Recycling is no indulgence, it is the last resort in minimising the environmental impact of our waste, which from the outset could be avoided. Both production and recycling of goods are resource and energy intensive. Shopping recklessly with confidence in recycling is putting the cart before the horse. Therefore, the bill is definitely an incentive for sustainable consumption in society.

Waste charging and recycling are complementary measures. They are interdependent with other waste treatments and disposal policies, such as on development of recycling industry, promotion of producer responsibility scheme and civic education. The bill is an engine driving the society towards eco-friendliness. It is anticipated that more attention on recycling support could result from the fee scheme, as well as the regulation of municipal solid waste. Just as being deterred by the charge, citizens are more likely put more effort into recycling their own waste, hence elevating the recycling rate and demand for recycling facilities in Hong Kong. For example, the net profit of the recycling industry in South Korea rocketed from HKD$1.7 billion in 2001, to HKD$7 billion in 2009. In a nutshell, waste charging serves as a turning point for accelerating the recycling industry.

Taking the “Producer Responsibility Scheme” as an example, goods with excessive packaging would become less attractive to consumers due to the extra disposal charges, thus the use of simpler packaging with recyclable materials by the producers could be foreseen. By the same token, no one is eager to pay for refuse disposal. After implementation, the government and producers would be urged to shoulder more responsibilities in treating waste items, particularly those with little-known recycling methods, such as drink cartons.

Be Responsible to Make Waste Reduction Possible

Waste management is no easy task. No policy was perfectly made. Yet, the recycling industry in Hong Kong would be handcuffed if government implements only “flawless” policies. Don't let "solutions" rely on landfill expansions and incinerator proposals. We could not overcome the dilemma by waste charging alone, but it shifts us to a faster way out.

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