Tapping Taipei’s idea

Edwin Lau says the city should follow Taipei’s lead, to provide clean drinking water in public places and reduce plastic waste.

June 8 is World Oceans Day. To mark the occasion, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is taking a lead to tackle the serious plastic waste problem affecting our marine environment by no longer selling drinks in plastic bottles, while plastic straws and plastic bags will not be provided to members.

It is to be congratulated. It is rare in Hong Kong to find a private organisation committed to improving the environment at all, let alone with measures that risk displeasing customers.

Across the sea in Taipei, mayor Ko Wen-je has said that more water dispensers would be installed in train stations, parks and schools to provide clean drinking water as he believes this is a key element for a civilised city. Today, there are over 640 water dispensers in public locations in Taipei.

He also banned the use of disposable tableware and bottled water from Taipei City Hall this April. A similar ban takes effect in schools in August.

Ko is well aware of public concern over the quality of water from public dispensers, and the government has developed apps for people to obtain information on this. He believes these measures will reduce consumption of bottled water, and thus help reduce plastic waste, a serious problem affecting cities worldwide.

Many people do not have confidence in Hong Kong’s tap water, particularly after lead-contaminated water was found in public housing estates last year.

That may be why so many people prefer to pay a lot for bottled water instead of using tap water at home, even though it is usually boiled or filtered.

Our government seems to be doing little more than scratching the surface of the plastic waste problem. This is despite statistics showing that, each day, over 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste is dumped into our landfills, with plastic bottles accounting for 206 tonnes, and plastic bags, 665 tonnes.

When a private organisation takes voluntary steps to minimise plastic waste, we can surely expect our government to step up, too.

The provision of city-wide drinking water dispensers would help minimise plastic waste at source. The government should consider subsidising universities, schools, shopping malls, MTR stations, playgrounds, libraries, hospitals, public housing estates, exhibition venues and the like to install drinking water dispensers.

To further reduce plastic bottle waste, drink makers should commit a percentage of their profits to setting up a collection point for used bottles. This doesn’t have to be legislated; it just needs companies to show the corporate social responsibility that they are always keen to promote.

Edwin Lau Che-feng is executive director of The Green Earth.
7 June 2016 SCMP