A fund without much currency - China Daily Article (November 10th, 2016)
Benita Chick, Regional Manager at Earthwatch Institute Hong Kong, suggested ways to tackle the growing volume of waste.
The government’s new HK$1 billion grant to encourage recycling might not make a significant difference to HK where only a few care to re-use stuff, writes Carmen Ho.
A fuzzy understanding of the nature and sources of the waste generated in Hong Kong is getting in the way of its removal. The city’s mountains of trash seem to grow in step with the pile of proposals for better waste management.
Alarmingly, for a city ill-equipped to manage its waste, Hong Kong produces more trash per capita than most other big cities of the world. It generates 1.27 kg of garbage per person everyday, which is 27 per cent higher than Taipei’s 1 kg per day and way above Tokyo’s 0.77 kg per day.
Due to the city’s growing population and economic development, the average daily quantity of solid waste dumped in landfills has increased 3.8 percent in 2014 compared to 2013. The city produces a whopping 6.4 million tons of waste each year – more than 18,000 tons a day.
Everybody, including the city’s Environment Bureau, talks about the “recycling solution”. The irony being that Hong Kong’s public does not seem to care much for recycled products. Neither is the government particularly supportive of the city’s recyclers who barely manage to keep their heads above the water.
The Environmental Protection Department started a five-year HK$1 billion fund in October, to help upgrade recycling in the city which sounds great in terms of theory although in reality there maybe few takers for the recycled items in Hong Kong.
Hurdles have stood in the way of government proposals to address the looming crisis. Its plan to build an incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau Island is opposed by environmentalists for the air pollution it is likely to cause. Of the three landfills in the New Territories used to dump waste, one will reach capacity this year, another in 2017 and the third by 2019. The government plan to expand the landfills and increase their active lifespan has infuriated people who live in proximity to these dumping grounds.
The city’s 16 landfills, spanning 226 hectares in total, roughly equivalent to 300 soccer pitches, are nearing capacity. If the volume of waste continues to increase, another 400 hectares of landfill will be needed by 2030, according to government estimates.
“It’s really a matter of those in the government being unable to make up their minds. There are some good theories and concepts but the details haven’t been worked out and there’s been no implementation. Getting things off the ground has always been a problem,” said Gerald Patchell, associate professor in the Division of Environment at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
However, now in view of the election for the chief executive’s post, due next year, political parties are trying to get mileage from talking about effective and responsible waste management. The proposal that consumers should be taxed depending on the volume of trash they generate – a bit of an old chestnut – is back on the table. It is being proposed that money earned from the scheme be used to cover waste disposal costs. Also taxation, it is being hoped, will help discourage wastefulness and promote environmentally friendly lifestyles.
Earlier, the government had set a goal to reduce waste disposal to an average of 0.8 kg per person per day by 2022. Then, says Patchell, “The government doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of where waste is generated. There could be a little bit more research to find out exactly who is producing all this waste… If you want people to pay for waste, you need at least to have an idea of who is producing it.”
However, the World Green Organization, a Hong Kong NGO, warned that even if a waste disposal charge were approved, the scheme would not come into effect until 2019 at the earliest, making it hard to meet the government’s 2013 target of a 40 percent reduction in per capita municipal solid waste by 2022. An interim target of a 20 per cent reduction by 2017 is already out of the question.
To cope with the increasing volume of e-waste, it is being suggested that a tax be slapped on consumers of electronic goods at the point of purchase to cover their eventual cost of disposal.
Indeed, the city’s electronic waste has reached humongous proportions. A recent two-year investigation by the Seattle-based environmental group Basel Action Network showed Hong Kong is a favorite destination of exporters of e-waste from the US.
In the past decade, most of the e-waste would end up on the Chinese mainland, but since then the mainland has slapped on a tougher import ban. Many illegal shipments of hazardous waste are reaching Hong Kong because of relatively lax controls on cross-border movement and insufficient import inspections.
No use for recycled goods
Recycling companies are struggling to make ends meet, given the high costs of sorting, cleaning and transporting recycled trash do not leave them with a reasonable profit margin.
And then, as Jimmy Chan, long-time volunteer at Green Sense, a Hong Kong organization promoting sustainable living, says, “The demand for recycled products in Hong Kong is low. Even if people sort their trash and use recycling bins, most of the rubbish will not end up being recycled.”
Unsurprisingly, in recent years the city has been recycling less of its rubbish than before. The amount recycled and reused dropped from 52 percent in 2010 to 37 percent in 2014. The collection of paper and plastic waste also declined by 87,000 and 144,000 tons, respectively, in 2014 compared to 2013.
The situation is expected to improve significantly when Alba Integrated Waste Solutions Hong Kong, a local subsidiary of Germany’s Alba Group, starts turning defunct electronic gadgets into recyclable raw material and take out the toxin, but the project won’t begin until at least two more years.
One way of tackling the growing volume of waste perhaps lies in cutting down on one’s consumer+ needs. “We need more emphasis on and attention to reducing consumption in the first place. When we’re looking at reusing and recycling, we’ve created waste already,” said Benita Chick, regional manager at Earthwatch Institute Hong Kong, an international environmental charity.
Another possible solution may be in redistribution. If Hong Kong does not have any use for its recycled goods, it could consider sending these off elsewhere.
“A particularly conflicting thing for Hong Kong is the simple fact that it’s a small place. There’s a sentiment that the problems have to be solved in Hong Kong itself. But cities are fairly unnatural concentrators of stuff so it’s not unreasonable that these should be returned or redistributed in some manner. So if Hong Kong does not have a demand for certain recycled products like fertilizers, these can be exported elsewhere,” said Patchell, adding, “I am very much in favor of redistribution and individual responsibility through some form of environmental tax.”
Experts feel Hong Kong could perhaps take a leaf out of the books of other Asian cities that have done a better job of waste management.
A number of leading Asian cities have achieved good results in waste reduction. Their experience tells us that Hong Kong can do much better if we take coordinated and simultaneous action on waste prevention – reuse, recycling, recovery, treatment and landfilling- as part of a comprehensive resources management chain, said Wong Kam-sing, Secretary for the Environment, in a recent press release.
While the political intent seems to be there, the government “could be more aggressive and systematic” about implementing an effective waste management program, remarked Patchell.
Chan feels “the government needs to take more responsibility rather than rely on the private sector”.