Environmental Bureau HK ‘not a suitable location’ for waste tax trial

The Hong Kong Environment and Ecology Bureau is not taking part in a trial of the city’s waste charging system, saying the way waste was collected at the central government buildings site made it “not a suitable location”.

Waste being thrown away in designated waste bags at Lin Tsui Estate in Chai Wan on April 8, 2024Waste being thrown away in designated waste bags at Lin Tsui Estate in Chai Wan on April 8, 2024
Waste is thrown away in special waste bags at Lin Tsui Estate in Chai Wan on April 8, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The waste charging scheme was first proposed by the government in 2005 before becoming law in 2021, but was postponed from its April 1 launch date to August in January. Environment chief Tse Chin-wan cited public misunderstanding of the policy as the reason. At the time, Tse added that the plan would be tried by government agencies from April, saying “then we will have real surgical cases for people to observe.”

However, when the pilot project started on April 1, only one of the fourteen buildings participating in the trial was a government building: the West Kowloon Government Offices. Other places participating in the practice run are public and private residential areas, restaurants and nursing homes. Despite overseeing policy implementation, the Environment and Ecology Bureau, based in the Admiralty’s central government offices, is not involved.

According to a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), the government complex in West Kowloon – home to seven departments including the Social Welfare Department, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Transport Department – ​​was an “ideal location for carrying out of the Demonstration Schedule.”

Central government officesCentral government offices
Hong Kong’s central government offices in the Admiralty. File photo: GovHK.

“The West Kowloon Government Offices (WKGO) was selected for the demonstration program because the WKGO uses normal garbage trucks… with rear-mounted compactors for waste collection, and therefore waste disposal is charged through designated bags,” the spokesperson told HKFP . email last Wednesday, adding that this is “a common practice for government offices.”

However, this is not the case at central government offices, where waste is collected by vehicles without rear compactors and is therefore charged on a weight basis. “It is therefore not a suitable location for the demonstration program and therefore the EEB was not involved,” the spokesperson said.

HKFP also inquired about recycling and waste recovery rates at government offices, but has not yet received a response from the EPD.

Government approved garbage bags

The pay-as-you-throw levy aims to reduce the amount of waste sent to the city’s landfills by taxing Hong Kongers based on the amount of waste they generate. According to the EPD, Hong Kong’s municipal solid waste disposal rate in 2022 was 1.51 kilograms per person per day.

Approved waste bags will be available for purchase from January 26, 2024.  Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.Approved waste bags will be available for purchase from January 26, 2024.  Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
The designated bags under Hong Kong’s waste tax scheme. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

For most residents, this means buying government-approved garbage bags, which come in nine sizes from three to 100 liters, with each liter costing HK$0.11. Under the scheme, a household that throws away one 10-litre bag per day would pay approximately HK$33 per month to dispose of household waste.

On the other hand, waste collected by private contractors using garbage trucks without rear-mounted compactors is charged by weight, meaning such residents do not have to use the designated bags. Opponents of the system say this collection method does not comply with the ‘polluter pays’ principle because it does not encourage individuals to reduce the amount they throw away.

Landfill in Northeast New TerritoriesLandfill in Northeast New Territories
The North East New Territories landfill in Ta Kwu Ling, Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

The waste charging trial has sparked debate since its launch three weeks ago, with some stakeholders calling for more support for recycling and Tse acknowledging that uptake was low, saying less than half of households participated in the test, used the designated method. bags to throw waste in. Pro-Beijing heavyweight Lo Man Tuen also joined in, urging the government to further delay the implementation of the policy, calling it a “mission impossible.”

The EPD spokesperson said an interdepartmental committee headed by the Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration would report the findings of the pilot program to the Legislative Council in May to June. “It is believed that the experience and outcome of the demonstration program will help the government identify areas of work and schemes that require further strengthening and improvement in the implementation of (waste) charges,” she added.

In addition, Hong Kong’s ban on single-use plastics began on Monday, coinciding with Earth Day. Under the ban, which has a six-month grace period during which businesses that don’t comply will receive warnings, expanded polystyrene tableware, as well as plastic straws, stirrers, forks, knives, spoons and plates, are banned.

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