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HK cannot solve its serious waste problems with stopgap measures

SCMP – May 27, 2012

May 27, 2012

Some advocates of recycling have called for more recycling bins.

I believe that boosting the number of these bins will only partially solve the waste problem in Hong Kong.

Instead we must address the waste problem at its root cause. Every day Hong Kong generates more than 17,000 tonnes of solid waste, and although we are recovering 45 per cent of our waste through recycling, the three landfills that are in use are expected to be saturated in three to seven years.

Over the past five years, waste reduction adverts and recycling bins have appeared everywhere in Hong Kong; however, the government has yet to offer concrete policies to actualise the waste reduction.

It prefers addressing the waste issue through mere expenditure, such as buying and building new facilities (integrated waste management facilities) and purchasing new technology (incinerators).

Unfortunately, though these kinds of stopgap methods are relatively easier to implement, as Hong Kong is affluent, they can only address the symptoms, but not the root cause.

These methods are not cost-effective and are short-sighted. I believe that the administration needs to implement waste levy legislation and a producer responsibility ordinance to address the root problem of waste production in Hong Kong.

Under the producer responsibility scheme, by forcing producers to be involved in the disposing stage of their products, a circular economic framework is formed, returning the waste that is generated as a result of economic activities to the consumption loop.

In this case, recycling not only slows down the rate of the depletion of natural resources and reduces the pollution from manufacturing activities, but it also provides many opportunities for the development of the recycling industry and even creates employment for lots of people on low incomes.

A waste charge also employs the principle of polluter pays. The government has already got the plastic bag levy to curb the excessive use of plastic bags, and this has resulted in a 90 per cent drop in usage.

The government can use a similar policy for waste reduction through implementation of a flat-rate charge (through existing general taxes), thereby hurting the wallets of the end-users and inhibiting waste production.

Syed M. Sumayed, Sai Kung

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