Space-starved Hong Kong can free up more land by reducing waste. Why is the government stalling?

The findings of the recently released Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong report for 2018 are cause for concern, mainly because Hong Kong lacks much-needed policies, such as a waste-charging scheme. Ineffective existing policies and China’s waste import ban also contribute to the increasing amount of waste in Hong Kong’s landfills.
The amount of solid waste disposed of per capita is a good indicator of how effective the environmental policies and public education that drive waste reduction are. Regrettably, this figure has climbed every year from 2011 (1.27kg) to 2018 (1.53kg). It is now at its highest since government data was first released in 1991.
Many types of waste, such as paper, plastic and glass, have increased at different levels compared to 2017 – 6.7 per cent, 10.3 per cent and 3 per cent respectively. Worryingly, the export recycling rate for PET bottles has plummeted from 6.8 per cent in 2017 to 0.2 per cent in 2018.
There are plastic recycling bins placed in both public spaces and private premises to allow government contractors and private recyclers to process this waste before it is sent abroad. But does the existing recycling system work?
Environment Minister Wong Kam-sing announced in 2018, as part of a commitment in the policy address, that within three years, the government would install 500 water dispensers to promote the “bring your own bottle” concept. A year later, the public is still waiting to see the first new dispenser installed.
Fortunately, the three leading local beverage producers have moved much quicker than the government, despite having to go through red tape. They have so far installed over 90 dispensers.
Turning to glass, the government has disappointingly suspended the glass bottle recycling scheme for the entire city since mid-November. Although used glass bottles did not constitute a large portion of the city’s waste, no waste reduction opportunities should be lost.
Today, Hong Kong has a relatively small industrial sector. Nevertheless, industrial waste has increased by 19.9 per cent and 24.4 per cent in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
This abnormal increase coincides with mainland China tightening its waste import regulations since 2017. The government should therefore improve controls on the import of recyclables to prevent the city from becoming an alternative dumping ground for foreign trash.
Less waste disposal would mean more land available for housing and other social needs. This is an urgent task confronting the Environment Bureau and indeed the whole administration.
Edwin Lau
Executive Director of The Green Earth
16 December 2019 SCMP