Recently, Hong Kong has been disputing over the landfill extension problem. Until this day, we still have no choice but to use landfill to dispose waste. That is because Hong Kong’s waste management policy is like the many other policies – it has not improved since the Handover, and now the society is suffering from the consequences. We always say that we have to learn from Taiwan. In fact, Taiwan’s waste management methods were once so behind that they had to come to Hong Kong to seek our advice. Later, Taiwan decided to make changes and introduced its Producer Responsibility Scheme. In 2000, it also implemented a quantity-based waste charging system. In eleven years, the amount of waste has decreased by 65%. Ironically Taiwan has now become Hong Kong’s role model.
We have seen Hong Kong being forced to extend the landfill. Alas, that seems to be the only solution to the problem. This lesson warns us that we must introduce a new waste management policy, so that the amount of landfill waste can soon be reduced. Recently, the Environment Bureau unveiled the “Hong Kong: Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022” to map out a waste management strategy with the theme “use less, waste less”. They suggest decreasing the daily per capita municipal solid waste disposal rate from 1.27kg to 0.8kg by 2022, while adopting modern incineration technologies and extending the scale of waste recycling to handle waste.
The government aims to reduce waste by 40% in 10 years. Outsiders worry that this goal may be too ambitious, but Taiwan and South Korea have successfully done so within 10 years. If they can do it, with determination, we can do it too. Now having said that, if Hong Kong only focuses on strife and ignores social and economical reforms, our society will not go anywhere. Hong Kong would inevitably become a stinking harbour sooner or later!
The Secretary for the Environment recently told us that the government would soon set up the Sustainable Development Steering Committee. This committee is responsible for researching and promoting the long-term development of the recycling industry. They might consider using the current Environment and Conservation Fund to subsidize the development plans for the recycling industry. In the long run, they might set up a recycling fund to provide regular subsidy. I am very delighted about this decision from the government. In the past, the government left the recycling industry to fend for itself. Recyclers have continuously been facing difficulties to sustain their business. The main reason is the high costs, including high rent and a big demand for manpower. The materials that have been collected can only be exported overseas on a low price. Under these circumstances, it is very difficult for this industry to grow.
The government is finally waking up to the problems. It stopped insisting on its “big market, small government” notion and gave up on its traditional practice of not using public funds to subsidize private sectors. To be honest, for industries with low competitiveness, such as the recycling trade, to grow and serve our society, the government must subsidize them. Otherwise, it is impossible for them to achieve very far. Moreover, the government subsidy is not only sponsoring the recycling industry, but the entire environmental protection of Hong Kong. The recycling industry has a vital social function – it is indeed promoting waste recycling, as well as providing a large number of elementary occupation jobs. Therefore, the government must invest in this industry even if it requires hundreds of millions of dollars worth of resources every year. I hope the steering committee can be set up soon and that they can soon decide on the scope and conditions of subsidies, so that the recycling industry can begin their work as soon as possible. Then, the government’s Blueprint can be accomplished.
Furthermore, I would like to talk about the kitchen waste issue. According to the statistics from the Environmental Protection Department, up to 40% of municipal solid waste is kitchen waste. This figure is alarming. It shows shocking food waste levels of Hong Kong people. The terrible smell in waste comes mostly from kitchen waste. It is a nuisance to the society and causes hygiene problems. Therefore, to reduce waste, the most effective method is to encourage people to stop wasting food. The government has already launched the “Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign” to inspire Hong Kong people to reduce their food waste. A promotional film has been aired on television recently. The video was done quite well, and leaves lasting impression on people. But other publicity campaigns seem to only have average responses.
In my opinion, we should elevate the level of this campaign to achieve the best results. We should invite senior government officials to be part of the steering council, and lead the “Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign” promotion. The Chief Executive and bureau secretaries can set themselves as role models, and draw up food conservation principles when officials invite guests for meals. At the same time, they can lead the society to discuss the issues behind food waste, including squander, garbage and hygiene etc. In fact, the government should include the messages of “Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign” and waste reduction culture as part of liberal studies in schools to teach students directly on the values of appreciating food and reducing waste. Campaign promotion can only have a short-term effect. Only education can build up correct values in the next generation in the long run, so as to pass on the food wise message.
Lastly, I would like to talk about the landfill issues. The landfill dispute has highlighted the conflicts between the whole city and different districts in Hong Kong. Everyone understands the practical needs of landfill extension. But each district hopes that it will not be built in their area. There are similar issues around the world. The government of other countries would usually provide compensation for the areas affected to soothe people’s resentment. We can also consider building new swimming pools or libraries for the affected districts, or even reduce the residents’ electricity fees and government rates. I hope the government can communicate with the residents with sincerity. They should do their best on compensation, and devise a way to minimize the effects of landfills, in order to soothe the displeasure of people in the affected districts.