CHAPTER 2
The problem - Need for Firm Action
Schematic Diagram

  Shrinking Options, Growing Costs
14. 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 disposal.
15. Hong Kong's three strategic landfills are:
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.
These three strategic landfills came on line in 1993, 1994, and 1995 respectively as the retiring landfills and incinerators were phased out by 1997.
16.

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.

 
1This comprised MSW, construction waste and some special waste (e.g. sewage sludge).

Map of Out of sight, out landfill sites are filling up faster than anticipated.
Out of sight, our landfill sites are filling up faster than anticipated
Text Alternative for Map of Out of sight, out landfill sites are filling up faster than anticipated.

 

Photograph of Landfills are scientifically designed and highly engineered facilities.
Landfills are scientifically designed and highly engineered facilities
Title of the photograph : Landfills are scientifically designed and highly engineered facilities.

 

17. Our landfills 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.
18. 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 omit:
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; and
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.
19. 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 all.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. 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 Policy Framework.

 

 

 

Where Does Our Waste Come From?

23. To better explain this strategy, it is necessary to first describe MSW and where it comes from. There are three sources of MSW:
Domestic - 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.
Commercial - 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.
Industrial - 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.
24.

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:

Chart of MSW Composition 2004
Text Alternative of the chart for MSW Compostion 2004

25. 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.
26. 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.
27.

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.

 

Graph of waste growth from 1996 to 2004
  Our waste line as it grew from 1996 to 2004
  Text Alternative description for waste growth from 1996 to 2004

 

 

What Has Been Done So Far?

28.

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 development.

29. 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 reduction.
Waste 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;
Institutional 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
Waste 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.
30.

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.


Reaching out to the local community to encourage the public to participate in waste reduction
Reaching out to the local community to encourage the public to participate in waste reduction
Text Alternative of Title of the photograph for Reaching out to the local community to encourage the public to participate in waste reduction.

31. 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 events.
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 since 1998.
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 excessive packaging.
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.

Photo of enviromental activities among public

(a) environmental education through generations,
(b) recycling habits should start when young
(c) collection of rechargeable batteries for recycling, and
(d) old electrical equipment can be beneficially reused

Text Alternative for The photo of enviromental activities among public

 

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.

 

32. 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.

 

  The Government Acts : A Strategy for MSW Management
33. In the 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.
34. The Government has outlined clear and socially acceptable objectives for solid waste management:

  Strategic Objective 1
 
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 for disposal.
  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 on MSW

35. In order to move towards these strategic objectives, the Government has committed to achieving the following targets:

  Target 1
 
Reduce the amount of MSW generated in Hong Kong by 1% per annum up to the year 2014, based on the 2003 levels.
  Target 2
 
Increase the recovery rate of MSW to 45% by 2009 and 50% by 2014.
  Target 3
 
Reduce the total MSW disposed of in landfills to less than 25% by 2014.
Table 3. The 10-year targets for MSW management

  Summary
36. Achieving long-term sustainable development solutions in MSW management will require the entire community to work together to meet the many challenges facing Hong Kong.
37. 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.
38.

The Government 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.

 


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