Hong Kong needs to act now on waste-charging policy and address the crisis in plastics

(13 June 2018) On June 5, World Environment Day, over 20 environmental groups and representatives of the waste-recycling industry launched a joint petition to urge the Environment Bureau to put forward a legislative proposal for municipal solid waste charging, before the Legislative Council breaks for the summer in mid-July.
As early as 1994, the Environmental Protection Department commissioned a waste reduction study, and identified a basket of measures – including waste disposal charges – to this end. Since then, repeated public consultations on waste management strategies have been launched, but the responses seem to have had little effect.
Former environment chief Sarah Liao Sau-tung formulated a 10-year waste management policy framework for the 2005 to 2014 period. This recommended that the waste charging bill be introduced by 2007. However, it is 2018, and Legco has still not received draft legislation.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing stated in March last year that the bureau would try to submit the legislative proposal by the first half of 2017. But the first half of 2018 is now almost over. Environmental groups are concerned that if the bureau doesn’t act within the remaining four weeks before the Legco summer recess, the waste charging law is unlikely to take effect by 2019.
Mainland China’s restrictions on accepting foreign waste and the critical plastic pollution problems worldwide made plastics the focus of both Earth Day and World Environment Day this year.
With Hong Kong’s freedom of the press and the screening of the documentary film Plastic China , which disappeared from internet searches on the mainland within a few days of going viral, Hongkongers are becoming more aware of plastic pollution and the overall waste crisis.
In the last few months, I have been invited by many corporations, non-profit entities and universities, to brief them on the waste crisis confronting Hong Kong, with an emphasis on plastic pollution.
Participants expressed deep concern that Hong Kong has no mandatory controls over municipal solid waste disposal. They also voiced doubts about the effectiveness of the public and private three-colour recycling bins, after realising that the mainland, for decades the main recipient of our recyclables, has now stopped accepting our plastic scraps and mixed waste paper.
I encourage them to embrace the three “must-haves” that are crucial to resolving our waste crisis: policy, financial incentives and education.
Edwin Lau
Executive Director of The Green Earth
13 June 2018 SCMP