Letter to Hong Kong – Waste Management Needs Commitment and Leadership – Albert W. Y. Chan, April 30, 2016
My previous letters to Hong Kong were mainly focused on Hong Kong’s public governance and democratic development. One thing that I have mentioned quite frequently in LegCo but not in other public domains is environmental policy.
In the past twenty years, I have advocated compulsory separation of waste for Hong Kong. But unfortunately, all of these demands have fallen on deaf ears. As we all understand, political development and economic policies have to rely on the central government’s support, but for environmental policy, the Hong Kong SAR Government can determine by its own.
If you look back on the government’s environmental policies, there were very little changes in the past 18 years. The lack of initiatives in waste management indicates the government’s lack of will in governing our society and improving the livelihood of our people.
The Chief Executive, C.Y. Leung, in his election manifesto, pledged to re-examine our environmental protection policy from the perspective of sustainable development, and promised to take effective measures to provide a high quality living environment. He also indicated that he would build Hong Kong into a modern livable city. It seems that his manifesto is pure rhetoric and without much substance. If the government is sincere in improving and protecting our environment, one basic thing that they should do is to formulate a policy that will separate our waste at source.
Waste separation is an initial step in protecting the environment. If we look around the world, many cities already have established compulsory waste separation policies for decades. In most developed countries, many of them separate the waste at source. Many of them have an extremely high percentage on waste recycling, some even up to 80-90%. Hong Kong’s situation is totally undesirable. Hong Kong generated a total of 5.56 million tonnes of waste in 2012, in which only 2.16 tonnes were recyclable, and the other 3.4 million tonnes were disposed of at landfills. Our recycling rate is less than 40%.
For leadership and dedication in environment protection, we don’t have to look far for a good example. Taipei is a city, in terms of history, population, and economic development, is similar to Hong Kong, but they are far more ahead in their environmental policy.
The Taipei government started the waste separation experiment in the 90’s and formally implemented the Garbage Sorting, Recycling, and Reduction Action Plan in 2003.
The Action Plan required all residents to separate garbage into three categories: recyclable waste, kitchen waste and general household waste. After the implementation of the above policy, Taipei City’s per capita disposal rate of household garbage fell nearly 50% from 0.6 kg in 2003 to 0.39 kg in 2011. If compared to Hong Kong, Hong Kong’s per capita disposal rate of household garbage is 0.84 in 2011, which is double of Taipei.
If Taipei can be successful in solid waste management, I believe that Hong Kong people can do the same. The problem is our government.
As for the Hong Kong Government’s record, we should be ashamed of ourselves. One of the problem is the usage of plastic bags themselves. We do remember that the government encouraged people not to use plastic bags in shopping, and created a new tax for 50 cents for each plastic bag. However, the government uses plenty of plastic bags themselves. For example, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department “AFCD”, used more than 180,000 plastic bags last year, and additional 350,000 plastic bags consumed by AFCD’s contractors in the same year. The numbers add up to over 1,400 plastic bags per day.
It should be noted that this is only one department. I believe that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department should use much more plastic bags than AFCD. The Hong Kong SAR Government is definitely the world leader in using plastic bags.
At the time when the Hong Kong Government contaminates our environment with millions of plastic bags, the European Commissioner for Environment is advocating Zero Plastic Waste policy. Many developed cities have also established zero plastic bags policy. For example, plastic bags will be banned from all shops in Paris from 1st July 2016.
One recent development in environmental policy is “Zero Waste” policy. “Zero Waste” is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. If we can achieve “Zero Waste”, we don’t need any landfills and incinerators, because all the waste can be recycled and reused. By doing that, we have to change our way of life and the government have to design a system and mechanism that will collect and recycle all of our waste.
Although “Zero Waste” is a very difficult task, San Francisco has set a target for zero waste in 2020, and a target for 75% of recycling of solid waste in 2010. The difference between Hong Kong and San Francisco is leadership and commitment.
In the 2015 America Recycles Day, Obama, the President of United States said: “Communities across America must continue promoting activities that encourage people to recycle and to conserve, so we do not take for granted today the world our children will inherit tomorrow.”. He continued to say: “Let us work to fulfill our obligation to our next generation by safeguarding our resources and working with our friends, family, and neighbors to protect the world we share.” Perhaps our political leaders in Hong Kong should have the same belief and commitment, then we may have a better living environment, and a better future.