The problem - Need for Firm Action
Options, Growing Costs
||In 1989, the Government made
the critical decision to abandon an out-dated system of urban
incinerators located at Kwai Chung, Kennedy Town and Lai Chi
Kok and 13 small, inadequate landfills. Our MSW management system
currently relies on three large, state-of-the-art strategic
landfills in remote parts of the New Territories together with
a network of refuse transfer stations (RTSs) and collection
services provided by both the Government and private sector.
The common perception is that landfills are merely dumps at
which solid waste is buried. In fact, they are scientifically
designed and highly engineered facilities for managing waste
|| Hong Kong's three strategic landfills are:
These three strategic landfills came on line in 1993, 1994,
and 1995 respectively as the retiring landfills and incinerators
were phased out by 1997.
|| The West New Territories
(WENT) Landfill at Nim Wan;
|| The South-East New Territories (SENT)
Landfill in Tseung Kwan O; and
||The North-East New Territories (NENT)
Landfill at Ta Kwu Ling.
Hong Kong's waste arisings have exceeded
the expected amount. At the time the three-landfill strategy
was implemented, it was forecast that the daily amount of
waste1 to be disposed of at landfills would rise
from 12,500 tonnes in 1989, to 14,000 tonnes in 1997 and 16,700
tonnes by 2001. But by 1997 the three strategic landfills
were already taking in 16,000 tonnes of waste every day. Should
this trend continue, the landfills will be full by 2015, instead
of lasting until 2020 as they were designed for.
comprised MSW, construction waste and some special waste (e.g.
take up in total 270 ha. of land, cost $6 billion to construct,
and their running costs in 2004 amounted to $432 million.
The annual costs of the Government's waste collection and transfer
service amount to another $435 million and $355 million respectively.
The simple truth is that if we do not reduce the growth in the
amount of waste that we produce, then, given the lead time to
develop a modern landfill, within the next few years we will
have to identify about 400 hectares of space for new landfills
to serve Hong Kong up to 2030. This is equivalent to slightly
less than one-third the area of Hong Kong International Airport,
or is enough land to absorb and house half of Hong Kong's population
growth for the next decade.
|| The full costs of
managing MSW are hidden from the community. While calculating
the annual costs of handling and disposing of Hong Kong's waste
is not an exact science, reliable data exist on which reasonable
estimates can be based. The figures obtained, however, are still
well below the true cost to the community for such services.
They do not, for instance, factor in the opportunity costs of
the restored landfills and their maintenance costs, and also
|| The costs
of removing MSW from individual housing units to refuse
collection points (RCPs);
||The removal costs incurred
by commercial and industrial concerns;
|| The capital costs and
land value of some 1,000 or so public and private RCPs;
||The land value of the
seven RTSs each occupying more than one hectare in the
urban area, Shatin, Yuen Long and North Lantau, as well
as several smaller RTSs on the outlying islands.
|| The greatest significance is that the costs
of dealing with MSW are mostly not borne by those who produce
the waste. This is because:
|| Private owners, tenants
and Home Ownership Scheme residents usually see the cost
of waste collection in their building management fees
(estimated at about $20 to $50 per household per month),
but this represents only the first step in handling MSW.
||Commercial and industrial entities
pay for the removal of their MSW. While a small number
of private waste collectors use the RTSs, they contribute
to only 2% of the recurrent costs of the RTSs. Most of
the subsequent handling and disposal costs are paid from
the public purse. Those who send their waste direct to
the landfills do not pay the landfill disposal costs at
|| Most of the costs of MSW disposal are being
paid for out of the public revenue and the costs appear insignificant
or even non-existent for most waste producers. There are virtually
no incentives for anyone to recycle or reuse waste that they
produce, or to reduce the volume of material, because they are
not being made to pay directly for what they are throwing away.
|| The free waste management service in Hong
Kong not only provides no incentives for the general public
to avoid waste, but also affects the growing costs for disposal.
That MSW producers do not have to pay to dispose of their waste
is not conducive to the development of the recycling industry.
At the same time, all the hidden costs paid for by taxes make
it hard for the general public to appreciate how cost-effectively
MSW collection and management services are being run.
|| The stark truth is
that we need to generate less waste. This will require
concerted efforts of the whole community, with the guidance
of firm policies. How we achieve this is the purpose of the
Our Waste Come From?
|| To better explain this strategy,
it is necessary to first describe MSW and where it comes from.
There are three sources of MSW:
- this includes households and institutional premises.
Waste collected from residential buildings, public litter
bins, streets, marine areas and country parks also comes
under this category.
- this includes shops, restaurants, hotels, offices,
and markets in private housing estates. Most of this waste
is collected by private waste collectors. Sometimes, commercial
waste is mixed with domestic waste and is collected by
the Government as a public service.
- this covers all industries, except construction and
chemical activities. Industrial waste is usually collected
by private contractors. Some companies may deliver their
waste directly to landfills for disposal.
In 2004, Hong Kong produced 15,480 tonnes
of MSW per day. Expressed in another way, this equates to
each person generating 2.25 kg of MSW that must be recovered,
recycled or, if these two options are not carried out, be
disposed of every day. The following breakdown shows what
was in Hong Kong's MSW in 2004:
Text Alternative of the chart for MSW Compostion 2004
|| Paper and plastics make up significant proportions
of domestic waste, and this is a reflection of our particular
lifestyle choices that place a premium on convenience and attach
inappropriate and inadequate costs to the impacts of these materials.
||Another notable factor is that about a quarter
of MSW consisted of putrescibles, or primarily food waste. If
poorly handled, this biodegradable waste can pose serious public
health challenges. Furthermore, this kind of waste when landfilled
contributes significantly to emissions of methane gas, one of
the recognised causes of the greenhouse effect.
Adding greatly to these MSW problems and
intensifying the urgency is the fact that while our population
has grown an average of only 0.9% each year over the past
nine years, over the same period it has generated an annual
average of 3.0% more MSW. This means that each individual
is producing more waste each year and increasing the burden
on our scarce and precious land and our own pockets. This
worrying trend is shown below.
Has Been Done So Far?
There is a growing awareness that there
are many sound social, environmental and economic reasons
for creating less waste. By producing less waste, we ease
our reliance on landfills and the need to devote more valuable
and scarce land to waste. More importantly, reducing waste
eases the burden on public funds and allows resources to be
reallocated to ease the load on Hong Kong's other pressing
needs like health care and education. Reducing MSW furthermore
contributes significantly towards our broad vision for sustainable
|| Many of these key points were captured in
the WRFP. The development of the WRFP took stock of policy developments
and technological innovations and focused on three areas that
had become the cornerstone of the Government approach, namely,
waste prevention, institutional arrangements and waste bulk
prevention - this aims at reducing the amount of
waste generated at source and increasing the amount of
waste material that is reused, recovered or recycled.
It identifies the domestic waste stream as having the
greatest scope for improvement;
arrangements - this involves setting up the institutional
structures to oversee waste reduction and the legislative
measures to make participation in some waste reduction
measures mandatory; and
bulk reduction - this aims at reducing the bulk
of waste requiring final disposal and so maximises the
usable life of our three landfills and reduces the amount
of new land needed for waste disposal in the future.
We have made progress in several areas.
Recognising the need to champion these issues at the highest
level, a Waste Sub-Committee has since been formed under the
Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE), the highest standing
body on Hong Kong's environmental matters, to actively debate
MSW policy measures. In the Government, the merging of the
Environment Branch of the Environment, Transport and Works
Bureau with the Environmental Protection Department has further
strengthened the resolve to tackle MSW (as well as other environmental
issues) through combining the resources of the Bureau and
the Department to provide a more effective institutional arrangement
for overseeing waste reduction programmes.
|| Hong Kong already has a MSW
recycling rate of 40% but this can be further improved upon.
The Government and the community have begun to pursue various
initiatives at different levels:
|| The Government, together
with the Environmental Campaign Committee (ECC)2,
has run a good number of environmental programmes for
different sectors of society to change people's habits,
especially regarding MSW separation at source and recycling.
Outreach programmes started in the early 1990s, when environmental
awareness was low and there were no large-scale recycling
programmes. After a decade of venturing into the community,
the situation has been reversed; most sectors of society
are recycling and many are initiating their own environmental
|| The Government has been examining
waste recovery systems to identify the most cost-effective
and suitable mode. Some 28,000 three-coloured waste separation
bins are now placed at some 9,300 points throughout the
territory (including parks, sports venues, leisure and
cultural facilities, Government buildings, hospitals,
clinics, public/private housing estates, schools, RCPs
and by the roadside) and altogether 663,000 tonnes of
MSW have been collected for recycling through this scheme
|| A 12-month pilot programme on source
separation of domestic waste was launched in August 2004
in 13 housing estates in the Eastern District. The pilot
programme aimed at making it more convenient for residents
to separate domestic waste at source by encouraging and
assisting property management companies to provide waste
separation facilities on each floor of all buildings.
The programme also aimed at expanding the types of recyclables
to be collected to include all types of plastics, metals,
paper, clothing and electrical products. In view of the
positive results recorded under the pilot programme, a
territory-wide campaign was rolled out in January 2005
to promote separation of domestic waste at source.
|| The Government has been promoting
the use of reusable bags to reduce the consumption of
disposable plastic shopping bags. Schemes have been run
by major retail chains to encourage the public to use
reusable bags instead of plastic bags. The territory-wide
separation of domestic waste at source scheme has also
encouraged the source separation of plastic bags for recycling.
|| Businesses have been partnering with
green groups and the Government to recover and recycle
rechargeable batteries - a first for Hong Kong in encouraging
producer responsibility. With businesses providing the
recovery and recycling components, the public has access
to more than 1,000 collection points in shops, housing
estates, public buildings, schools and other public places
at which to leave their rechargeable batteries that have
reached the end of their useful lives.
|| Campaigns such as the "Eco-friendly
packaged mooncakes" have marked success in raising
the awareness of the community on the importance of avoiding
|| Trial schemes have been conducted
to collect scrap tyres and waste electrical and electronic
equipment (WEEE) including computers.
|| To help the recycling industry, 29
short term tenancy (STT) sites exclusively for the recycling
trade have been leased to provide affordable land resources
to support recycling companies.
||Most public and some private housing
buildings built after 1995 have refuse rooms on each floor
which can be used to house recycling bins. Since 2000,
the planning requirements have included the mandatory
provision of adequate space at the ground floor for refuse
storage and material recovery chambers for waste separation.
However, the provision of a refuse storage or a material
chamber on each floor is not yet a mandatory requirement,
although an incentive is provided by way of exemption
from gross floor area calculation.
|| The introduction of the construction
waste charges in 2005 marks a key milestone in gaining
the community's acceptance of the need for the "polluter-
pays" principle to reduce waste generation.
|| Expressions of interest have been
invited from the local and the international waste management
industries for the development of large-scale waste management
facilities in Hong Kong.
2 The Environmental Campaign
Committee (ECC) has been running since 1990 to promote public
awareness of environmental issues and encourage the public to
contribute actively towards a better environment. Since its
establishment, the ECC has planned and organised many environmental
events and activities for different sectors of the community.
|| However, it has become clear that there
is a need to move towards a more integrated approach. We have
achieved a 40% recovery rate based on these initiatives and
to realise future targets, we now need a more integrated approach
to our MSW problems. As a community we must adopt a collective
approach to manage our waste in a sustainable manner. We must
invest now in the future.
Government Acts : A Strategy for MSW Management
light of the seriousness and urgency of the issues, the Government
recognises its responsibility for leading the community in finding
the solutions. In May 2005, the Government published
A First Sustainable Development Strategy for Hong Kong (May
2005) in swift and direct response to the concerns articulated
in the SDC's report on the engagement process. The speed of
its response reflected its recognition of the urgency that the
community at large placed on the pilot areas.
|| The Government has outlined clear and socially
acceptable objectives for solid waste management:
|| As a community, to
make every effort to avoid generating waste and to reduce
the amount of solid waste that needs final disposal,
by adopting measures to facilitate the separation of
discarded material, the recovery and reuse of material
and the recycling of non-reusable material.
||Strategic Objective 2
|| To apply the "user-pays
principle" as a means of reducing volumes of waste
||Strategic Objective 3
|| To adopt advanced technologies
and practices to treat waste requiring final disposal
and to create new economic opportunities.
|Table 2. The Government's strategic objectives
||In order to move towards these
strategic objectives, the Government has committed to achieving
the following targets:
|| Reduce the amount of
MSW generated in Hong Kong by 1% per annum up to the
year 2014, based on the 2003 levels.
|| Increase the recovery
rate of MSW to 45% by 2009 and 50% by 2014.
|| Reduce the total MSW
disposed of in landfills to less than 25% by 2014.
|Table 3. The 10-year targets for MSW management
|| Achieving long-term sustainable
development solutions in MSW management will require the entire
community to work together to meet the many challenges facing
|| One of the most pressing challenges is
the likely exhaustion of existing landfill space within the
next 6 to 10 years. With no firmly established precedent for
making waste producers pay, Hong Kong sees its landfills and
waste collection and transfer services as free. This has led
to the next pressing challenge: we need to change our consumption-led
lifestyle of casually disposing of old or surplus items, and
to think of how we can avoid creating "unnecessary"
waste. Hence, we each must recognise our responsibility for
avoiding or reducing MSW, in reusing and recycling materials,
and we must contribute to effective waste treatment. While
the Government recognises its responsibility in these areas,
it is essential that the wider community also plays its part.
can only serve the community when it has its support in
first acknowledging the presence of a problem and then accepting
the solution. In MSW management, it requires the
community to clearly see the real price for waste management
services and to embrace the "polluter-pays" principle.