Ways to win war on waste

Edwin Lau says charging for waste and efficient recycling are among must-have weapons as the city builds resilience against global warming, along with reverse vending machines and a ban on bottled water.


Ahead of the policy address next month, here are some waste reduction and energy conservation ideas to consider.


Food waste constitutes 33 per cent of our municipal solid waste, and slashing this must be a priority. Instead of relying on government-owned organic waste treatment facilities, the private sector should be allowed to build and operate similar facilities of smaller scale for more efficient recycling. This would enable logistics costs and carbon emissions for delivering food waste to be minimised.


Waste charging is a must. But there are many concerns and misunderstandings over the related legislative proposal. The government has to keep reaching out to communities to explain its plans and so earn the necessary support for the proposal to be passed in the Legislative Council.


Producer responsibility for waste management is another much-needed and effective policy, as it would shift the burden of handling waste generated from the sale of products back to producers. Legislation on this would have producers recover used plastic bottles and other drink cartons.


With a mainland ban on waste imports due by the year-end, Hong Kong must explore solutions with the recycling industry to tackle the waste crisis. The industry must be allowed to enhance technologies that will turn recyclables, especially low-value ones, into raw materials or products for sale in world markets. Reverse vending machines in public venues, such as sports grounds, parks, libraries, offices and MTR stations, can facilitate the recovery of plastic or glass bottles. Unlike the existing three-colour bins, reverse vending machines can offer incentives for the return of recyclables. In many cities, these offer cash rebates to encourage recycling, and are also a way for producers to recover their bottles, as required by legislation.


Banning sales of small bottles of water would curb plastic waste. Two local universities already have such bans in place; government premises could set an example for the business sector. Quality water dispensers at convenient public locations would also encourage people to carry their own bottle.


Lastly, energy monitors provide real-time data on consumption, be it a household or office, a mall or university. Such energy-use profiles enable managers to check wastage, reducing not only power bills but also greenhouse gas emissions, and so alleviating climate change. Subsidies to schools, universities and businesses to install energy monitors could be considered.


Extreme weather like stronger typhoons are warning of climate change. More efforts and resources should be devoted to addressing Hong Kong’s environmental issues and boosting its resilience.


Edwin Lau Che-feng is executive director of The Green Earth.


7 September 2017 SCMP