Better Options For Our Trash

Better Options For Our Trash

May 11, 2015 | Features

One of the open garbage areas in northern Hong Kong.

Hong Kong produces 9,000 tons of waste a day according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The government has responded by expanding current landfill sites in Tseung Kwan O and Ta Kwu Ling for HK$7 billion and approving the building of a HK$18 billion incinerator near Shek Kwu Chau on Lantau Island.  Hong Kong has a waste problem and so far the only solutions are burning it or burring it.

There needs to be better alternatives to change the way Hong Kongers approach their waste instead of just throwing it into bags and having the government take care of it for free. The best solution would be to get citizens and companies to pay for the waste they produce. If they know the real costs involved they would find ways to reduce their waste so they can save money.

South Korea, Japan, China and other countries around the world have adopted a pay-as-you-throw waste policy. Citizens and businesses purchase different coloured garbage bags or bins or tags from their local store. One colour is for unrecyclable items for landfills and is the most expensive. One is for recyclables and is significantly cheaper. The last one is for food waste and is either free or the lowest costs as the waste is processed and then sold as fertilizer.

In 2013 the Hong Kong government announced it would look into it and had hoped to implement it by 2016. Last year it ran a few pilot projects in different public housing estates in Kowloon Bay and in North Point to find how the program would best work. The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Agency said It’s results were mixed and they found challenges in implementing this kind of system such as a fair cost for those on low and fixed incomes. It also found many buildings do not have a property manager on site meaning people may ignore the system completely and continue to dump garbage wherever they may. The government continues to study the possibility of project but the more they study the more the garbage problem continues to pile up.

All of the countries implementing a pay-as-you-throw policy have made enforcement an important part to make their programs work. Hong Kong would need to find ways to police and fine those who try to avoid the system. Korea uses an information phone line where citizens can call and report on those who are trying to avoid the system. The callers would receive a reward if the tip leads to a fine. In Canada, the sanitation department goes through the garbage to check to make sure if it is properly sorted into the properly marked bags. Overall, it will take time to implement such a system and the results from other countries should motivate Hong Kong to make the change.

It took Taiwan over 10 years to fully implement the policy across the country. The pay-as-you-throw system began in Taipei who faced a similar problem with the amount of garbage being produce increasing while finding places to put it decreasing. It implemented its garbage policy in 1998 when each person was producing 2,970 metric tones of waste per household a year. Today the rate is down to 980 metric tones meaning a reduction of 66.9 percent according to the Taipei Environmental Protection Agency. The recycling rate for the city went from 2.6% to almost all recyclables being removed from landfills.

The results from Taiwan show how effective this can be for Hong Kong but there is still a question of when this type of program could be implemented. Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Agency predicts the expanded landfill sites will be filled by 2020 and the incinerator has just begun construction this month. There needs to be something done to solve our garbage crisis. A pay-as-you-throw system could be the best hope for Hong Kong.