Saturday 14 January 2012

Hong Kong planning rubbish disposal tax

Green groups support 'pay-as-you-throw' way to tackle waste problem
Published The Straits Times, 12 Jan 2012

HONG KONG: Environmentalists yesterday welcomed plans for the city to introduce a 'pay-as-you-throw' tax on rubbish disposal as it moves to tackle a growing waste problem.

Under the new system - also known as trash-metering and which has been implemented in places such as Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand - residents would be charged based on how much rubbish they throw out.

The city must 'tackle the imminent waste problem' and such a plan could 'prompt the public to change their daily living habits', Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau said in a statement.

Official data shows that the city generates about 19,000 tonnes of solid waste every day, with 9,100 tonnes dumped into landfills - two-thirds of it being domestic waste. Only 52 per cent of the total waste is recycled.

'We fully support the government's proposal to put a tax on the throwing of garbage,' said Ms Michelle Au, deputy environmental affairs manager of Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong).

'If Hong Kong implements this fee, it can greatly extend the life of rubbish dumps.'

But environmentalists are also calling for the government to have a clearer waste reduction target, something that is not spelt out in the proposal.

They also called on the government to give a figure for any proposed levy.

But Mr Yau said: 'We should reach a consensus on whether to impose a levy on waste disposal before discussing (what the amount would be).'

The city produces an average of 921kg of rubbish a person a year, more than twice the amount produced by Japan (410kg) and South Korea (380kg), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has reportedly said.

A study carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2010 found that Singapore produces 307kg of waste a person annually.

The Hong Kong government said each resident produced 2.69kg of solid waste a day last year - a rise of 11 per cent from 2.42kg a day in 2005, reported the South China Morning Post yesterday.

The city replaced its three waste incinerators in 1989 because of environmental concerns and became reliant on landfill sites.

'The local government is initiating a three-month public consultation period on (the new proposal),' a government spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

A new policy on waste disposal has long been overdue in Hong Kong, which has a population of about seven million.

Mr Man Chi Sum, chief executive of environmental group Green Power, said: 'The policy has dragged on for years. Now it will be (carried over to) the next administration.'

When the consultation ends in April, it will be just two months before the administration led by Chief Executive Donald Tsang steps down.

Most green groups and some lawmakers welcome a quantity-based system that requires households and commercial operators to buy standard prepaid rubbish bags for waste collection.

The less waste they generate, the less they need to spend on buying the bags.

The downside of such a system is that it requires close surveillance and policing against illegal dumping. Violators face heavy fines if convicted and the money collected is used to reward informers who report non-compliance.


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