As Europe wages war against plastic waste our top officials should be following its lesson

The 2017 solid waste monitoring report released by the Environmental Protection Department a few days before the year ended gives cause for concern. The city’s daily per capita municipal solid waste has continued to increase steadily since 2011, and it reached 1.45kg in 2017, the highest level since 1991.
Instead of moving towards the interim target of 1kg per person per day by 2017, as stated in the Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013–2022, we are getting further away from it. Also, the 40 per cent increase in the daily per capita commercial and industrial waste disposal amount between 2008 and 2017 should warrant serious attention.
Department data shows that daily plastic dining ware disposal increased from 154 tonnes to 166 tonnes, or by 7.7 per cent. This means that, in one year, an extra 4,380 tonnes of disposable plastic dining ware were used and dumped into our landfills. If these disposable plastic items had not been collected as garbage, they would probably have been resting forever in our seas or in the stomach of marine organisms.
Worldwide concern about plastic pollution reached its highest level last year. Our government and the business sector launched several initiatives to be seen to be tackling the problem. Large fast-food chains such as McDonald’s launched a “No Straw Monday” campaign last September in Hong Kong. This was upgraded to become “no straw every day” in December. But worthwhile though such an initiative is, these chains provide many other disposable plastic items, even for dine-in customers.
No-straw or no-cup-lid campaigns by the various fast-food chains address only a tiny part of the problem, rather than seeking to deal with it holistically. Our government and local businesses should be ashamed of doing so little here in Hong Kong.
By contrast, last month the European Union agreed on a ban covering single-use plastic, including straws, plates and cutlery, where alternatives are available and affordable. In adopting this ban, the EU recognises the seriousness of the plastic pollution and has taken a genuine step forward in trying to deal with it.
Senior Hong Kong officials often visit foreign countries at taxpayer expense to learn good policies and practices. How much longer must we wait for such good policies and practices to be established here?
Edwin Lau
Executive Director of The Green Earth
15 January 2019 SCMP