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Waste Management Needs Commitment and Leadership

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.

Still looking at artificial islands plan

I refer to the article by Dr Martin Williams (“Extreme folly of reclamation amid rising sea levels”, February 4). I would like to provide relevant information for reference to your readers.

Hong Kong is committed to working together with the international community to combat the challenge of climate change. Among the measures, the Civil Engineering and Development Department is updating the existing design guidelines for coastal structures including reclamation works, making reference to the latest assessment -reports published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to take into account the predicted sea level rise.

Reclamation is a recognised major source of land formation for coastal cities worldwide. In 2013, the government conducted a public engagement exercise on the enhanced land supply strategy and identified the central waters between Lantau and Hong Kong Island as having good potential for development of artificial islands for accommodating populations and as a new core business district.

Against this background, the government has proposed to carry out technical studies to determine the feasibility and suitability of the reclamation.

While no position has been taken on the proposal at this stage, the works departments reckon that purely on the technical ground of coastal defence against severe weather conditions, there is no reason to regard the construction of artificial islands as “folly”.

The design standards and technology for reclamation works and coastal defence structures will take into consideration the probable severe weather conditions, including storm surges.

Paul C. K. Chu, senior engineer/public relations, Civil Engineering and Development Department
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Lack of accountability stinks

Letters to the editor, January 11, 2016

As if the report by the [1] Audit Commission [2] on the Environmental Protection Department is not embarrassing enough (“Hong Kong’s waste problem: a stinking trail of missed targets, data errors and misdirected efforts [3]”, December 1), the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee’s two hearings last month on food waste reduction and recycling will enshrine the department in perpetuity in the Hall of Shame in Mismanagement.

We learned that the department handled the growing problem of food waste, which accounts for 38 per cent of municipal solid waste in Hong Kong, in a piecemeal, disjointed manner. We learned that the department has no idea on how each programme quantitatively contributes to the reduction of food waste, which has increased by 13 per cent from 3,227 tonnes per day in 2004 to 3,648 tonnes in 2013. We learned that targets are either non-existent or not met if they’d been posted. We learned that officials are not accountable for their mistake, and the same consultant who partnered with the department in the mistake continues to advise the department on a bigger project.

After spending HK$150 million and HK$50 million to reduce food waste in schools and private housing estates respectively, the department cannot explain how much food waste was reduced as a result of those programmes. The same goes for the HK$18.7 million spent during 2013 and 2015 in advertising, marketing, and education programmes to promote the department’s signature Food Wise campaign.

Only 26 out of 1,027 business entities provided data on their efforts to reduce food waste on a voluntary basis. No data was provided by the 294 schools who signed onto the Green Lunch Charter on the result of their effort.

Phase one of the Organic Waste Treatment Facilities that was priced at HK$489 million in 2010, with the help of a consultant company which earned HK$8.8 million for its advice, turned out to cost HK$1.53 billion. The Audit Commission pointed out that essential components were underestimated in the initial estimate.

Despite clear evidence in the commission’s report showing mistake in professional judgment, Mr Elvis Au, assistant director of the department, insisted that rising cost and lack of reference price of the facilities were the causes of the cost overrun. Mr Au and the same consulting company have since moved on to manage one of the most expensive project in the department’s history – building an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau.

Is there accountability in Hong Kong?

Tom Yam, Lantau

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