Last month, a dead whale washed up in the Philippines with its stomach filled with 40 kilogrammes of plastic, comprised of plastic bags and a variety of other disposable products.
This shocking find made headline news around the world. It also served as a reminder that the planet desperately needs to cut down on the amount of waste it generates – particularly the sort of throwaway plastic items that are choking our seas and our marine life.
Across Asia, the picture is mixed when it comes to recycling rates and the prevalence of single-use plastic. Hong Kong does not acquit itself well in this regard. We are an advanced global city, but we remain embarrassingly far behind some of our competitors when it comes to waste.
On the subject of plastic shopping bags, a Government survey back in 2005 found that Hong Kong residents were throwing away an average of three plastic bags per person, per day – an astonishing 8 billion a year, or 22 million bags every day! The wastage is mindboggling. But we have made some improvement in this area, albeit not as fast as some would like. It was recently reported that there has actually been a slight rise in the number of plastic bags given by bakeries.
But, in general, the news is good, and the 50-cent charge for plastic shopping bags introduced by the Government is having some success in starting to change people’s behaviour. According to the Environmental Protection Department, by 2015 the number of plastic shopping bags going to landfill had dropped to 3.9 billion per year.
So the Chamber is glad to see the Government is taking another step along this path with its proposals to introduce a Municipal Waste Charging scheme. (You can read more details about the plans on the following pages.)
“Hong Kong can learn from other cities that have successfully reduced the amount of waste that is produced,” said Chamber Chairman Aron Harilela. “I often hear from Chamber members about the systems they have seen operating elsewhere. In Seoul, for example, all rubbish must be separated and disposed of properly in appropriate bags, including food waste.”
A similar system operates in Taiwan. Residents of Taipei are justly proud of their low rates of waste generation. The city’s highly efficient waste-collection system sees music-playing garbage trucks travel around the city, collecting rubbish and recyclables. Waste can only be dumped in government-issued bags, and violators are punished.
This system took some getting used to at first, but because the trucks circulate frequently, residents soon became used to the system. And complaints were quickly addressed – such as the need to add more provision for the disposal of food waste.
“Getting the Hong Kong public on-side for a significant change to the current practice may not be easy, but the examples of South Korea and Taiwan show it can certainly be done,” said Harilela. “There is no reason why Hong Kong cannot emulate these success stories and dramatically reduce the amount of waste we produce.”
These methods have delivered a business boost as well, with recycling companies in Taiwan multiplying, and coming up with innovative ways to reuse waste plastic, clothing and other materials.
Business of greening
In common with increasing numbers of companies, HKGCC has a “green pledge” to encourage staff members not to be wasteful. You may have noticed that we have phased out bottled drinks at our luncheon events, a move that has been generally welcomed by our members.
We are also looking at the areas where business and green interests overlap. For example, the Chamber recently organized some outdoor events, including a “green tourism” hike, where participants learned about the Leave No Trace campaign as well as Hong Kong’s UNESCO Geoparks.
“Getting out into the countryside really lets us appreciate the beauty of Hong Kong, and better understand why it is so important to protect the natural environment,” said Chamber CEO Shirley Yuen.
“We also know that tourists are increasingly interested in eco-friendly travel, so this is an area where we expect to see more opportunities for businesses in the coming years.”
In the “Sustainable Travel Report” released by Booking.com last year, 87% of respondents said that they wanted to travel sustainably. However, less than half this number reported they had actually been successful in doing so, suggesting there is a market for more eco-friendly travel offerings.
Green finance is another potential high-growth area. The Hong Kong Administration has signalled its support in this area with plans for a Government Green Bond Programme, set to launch this year. In fact, this is an area that has already seen rapid growth. Green bonds arranged and issued in Hong Kong in 2018 totalled US$11 billion, up from around US$3 billion the previous year. Most of these were issued by non-Hong Kong companies, with around US$7 billion by Mainland Chinese entities.
With Hong Kong already being a global hub for the finance industry, we can anticipate the city will play an equally vital role as growth in the green finance segment gathers pace.
“With ‘ecological conservation’ being one of the key aims of the Greater Bay Area, there will be a need for green financing in this major initiative,” Yuen said. “Hong Kong is in a prime position to grab these green opportunities, which are only going to grow in the future.”
Charging Ahead for a Cleaner City
‘Pay as you throw’ plans for waste disposal will nudge Hong Kong people towards more eco-friendly behaviour
Charging for plastic shopping bags was introduced in Hong Kong in 2009. Even though the cost is just 50 cents per bag, this policy has been successful in changing many people’s habit of seeking one-time plastic bags provided by supermarkets.
Will we see the same impact if people are asked to pay for the waste they throw away according to the amount? Will it lead to a change behavior and a reduction in waste generation?
“Pay as you throw” programmes are not new. They have been adopted in many overseas cities for many years, and have proven to be an effective tool in driving waste separation and recycling, and also in encouraging waste minimization.
In Hong Kong, the need to reduce waste has never been more acute. The amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) disposal at landfills has been on the rise since 2011 and reached 1.45 kg per capita per day in 2017. This is much higher than many major overseas cities.
Against this background, the Government introduced the Waste Disposal (Charging for Municipal Solid Waste) (Amendment) Bill 2018 to the Legislative Council on 14 November last year. The Bill will provide financial incentives to drive behavioural change in the community to practise waste reduction at source and clean recycling. As can be observed in other cities, it will also nurture the development of a circular economy in the longer term.
Charging mechanism and costs
There are two modes of charging under the proposed system. The first is charging through designated bags or labels. For MSW collected by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) through waste collection vehicles, refuse collection points and bin sites – as well as MSW collected by private waste collectors using vehicles with rear compactors – charging will be imposed through requiring the use of pre-paid designated bags.
MSW will have to be properly wrapped in designated bags before disposal. For oversized waste that does not fin in a bag, a designated label must be affixed before disposal.
The second mode is for other MSW collected by private waste collectors using vehicles without compactors. A gate fee will be charged based on the weight of the waste.
In implementing the charging arrangement, the Government will work with the property management sector and cleansing service providers to help them publicise the changes.
The charge for designated bags is proposed to be set at 11 cents per litre. There will be nine different sizes of bag available – from 3-litre up to 100-litre – and the price will range from 30 cents to $11 each. For the designated label, a uniform rate of $11 will be charged. At landfills or refuse transfer stations, the gate fee charge will be $365 or $395 per tonne, depending on the waste disposal facilities used. These charging levels will remain unchanged in the first three years of implementation.
As we have been emphasizing all along, MSW charging is not being introduced to raise the Government’s revenue or recover the cost of providing waste collection and disposal services. To achieve the effect of “dedicated fund for dedicated use,” the Chief Executive announced in her 2018 Policy Address that the Government will provide additional recurrent resources to support various stakeholders and members of the public to practise waste reduction and recycling.
The amount of funding will be commensurate with the estimated gross revenue to be generated from MSW charging. To show the Government’s commitment, around $300-$400 million will be provided for the financial year 2019-20, ahead of the implementation of MSW charging, and the amount will be increased to no less than $800 million to $1 billion when charging is implemented.
Publicity and public education
As evident in the experiences of other cities, public education and publicity hold the key to the successful implementation of MSW charging. The Government has begun stepping up publicity to encourage the public to practise waste reduction and recycling. Our campaign efforts will include an extensive public education campaign targeted at the general public and specific groups such as students and other young people using the theme of “Dump Less, Save More.”
We will also let the community gain first-hand experience of how MSW charging is implemented through community engagement projects and collaboration with various stakeholder groups.
Apart from education and publicity, the provision of support is equally important to help change people’s habits. New outreach teams will be set up under the Environmental Protection Department to provide on-site assistance to the community, particularly in single-block or old buildings without management offices and in village areas.
Pilot schemes will also be implemented to provide free collection of waste plastics from non-commercial and non-industrial sources, and food waste from commercial and industrial sources. The plan is to extend these services to the entire territory in tandem with the development of downstream recycling and treatment facilities. We are also planning to launch a pilot scheme on reverse vending machines to assess their effectiveness in collecting waste plastic bottles for recycling.
Implementation time frame
The Government and the community must now prepare for the implementation of MSW charging. Time is needed to set up the distribution network for designated bags and labels. Staff working in estate management offices and cleansing companies will need to be educated. Frontline workers will need to be trained and coached. And the public will need to understand what they should do.
For all these and more, there will be a preparatory period of 12 to18 months after the passage of the Bill and before the actual implementation of MSW charging.
We hope that the Bill will be approved by the Legislative Council quickly. Many cities have already implemented waste charging and successfully reduced their waste disposal.
Hong Kong cannot continue to lag behind.
For more information please check out the MSW charging website