Speech on Report of the Delegation of the Panel on Environmental Affairs on its duty visit to the Republic of Korea to study its experience on waste management

I travelled with the LegCo delegation to Republic of Korea to study waste management. It was an eye-opening trip. Korea is not only advanced in waste management system but also in development of recycle industry. Koreans also get used to environmental protection. All these are impressive. Our apathetic development is in contrast to their achievements. Why do we lag behind?

Rome is not built in one day. Korea has travelled a long way and overcome much resistance to attain such impressive results. It all began in 1995 with four-prong measures, including waste reduction, re-utilization recycle and re-generation. Total waste disposals had been reduced by 46% within a few years. Actually, these policies are similar to our proposals on waste reduction recently. Their experiences are lessons for us to learn. However, what are most inspiring are ways in which Koreans have overcome social resistance in the course of implementation to attain their goals and have developed the waste recycle industry to rank among top cities in the recycle rate.

Hong Kong is meeting strong oppositions against incinerators and landfills. Actually, Korea did face the same resistance at the outset. People were against local incinerators. Even Metropolitan Authorities were against extending local landfills. These resistances were finally resolved with unfailing efforts of local consultation and lobbying.

Let me illustrate with incinerators. At the planning stage, Korean Government already started dialogues with local residents. Community leaders were invited to visit advanced facilities overseas. Experts were engaged to make presentations. Seeing believes. On the other hand, modern façade and open design were adopted to help remove negative impressions on facilities. Lastly, financial incentives are offered, including payment of management fee and heating fee. Moreover, money is set aside from operating surplus as community assistance fund for improvement of living environment.

Apparently, all we need is determination of the Government to talk to people, find ways to address their concerns, minimize impacts and offer reasonable compensation to convince the local community. Cheung Chau residents are opposing the incinerator under planning at Shek Kwu Chau. Although the Government has talked to Island District Council, better lobbying is obviously needed. As longer term planning, the Government should send officers overseas to study local lobbying in places like Korea. Moreover, we are planning to introduce garbage charges. There are technical and practical complexities but we lack field experiences. Officers should also be sent to Korea and Taiwan on field studies.

Incidentally, advanced incinerator facilities installed in Korea are proven to have insignificant environmental impacts. They are capable of completely treating exhaust for safe discharge. If similar or even more advanced facilities are introduced in Hong Kong, the community would be more receptive. On the other hand, incineration is regarded as turning waste into energy in Korea. It is positive thinking. When waste is turned into energy, local residents would also benefit. In my view, these experiences deserve borrowing.

Another lesson to learn is the recycle industry. Currently, Korea ranks top in the world league of recycle rate. In Seoul, 63 percent of metropolitan wastes are recycled, 25 percent are burnt and only 12 percent are sent to landfills. These statistics reflects a booming recycle industry in Korea under advocate of the Government. Apart from long term low interest loans to small companies and assistance in technological development and facilities, professional consultancy is also offered to newcomers. Lately, Korea has decided to further reduce landfills through acceleration of recycling. Local NGO are expecting the recycle rate to go up to 80 percent.

Back in Hong Kong, waste recycle rate has increased to 48 percent but the other 52 percent are still sent to landfills. Currently, the SAR Government is also promoting the recycle industry with policy measures like Eco Park, short term land lease to operators, and waste separation at source. Yet, the Government is not impressive in attitude and measures are not effective in results. If it is the goal of the Government to lift recycle rate to 55 percent by 2022, the Korean experiences are worth borrowing. More active and positive means of supporting the recycle industry, including resource and technical assistances, should be considered.

Admittedly, Hong Kong might borrow a lot from Korea but there are also advantages that we would only envy, like unity and patriotism of the people. Koreans are willing to give to their country. Even though waste reduction is tedious, people are still willing to follow and the Government has an easier job to convince the public. In the contrary, Hong Kong lacks consensus in recent years and the Government has to spend twice as much efforts to push ahead new policies. It is my wish that the community would stand side by side to work for a better environment.

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