The Approach - Throw Less, Pay Less
Market, Small Government" is what Hong Kong people
believe in and what the Government practises. It is only when
the market fails that the Government should intervene. The ever
increasing trend of MSW over the past decades is a case in point
where the free market has failed, and where the true cost of
our consumption-led lifestyle, particularly the significant
environmental cost, is not reflected to each individual. To
rectify the problem effectively, we must put the full cost back
to our consumption equation, so that each individual can have
the right economic incentive to choose a more sustainable way
of living that involves producing less waste and recycling more.
In this chapter, the Government lays out its approach to achieve
sustainability in MSW management by describing the waste hierarchy
and explaining how our proposed policy tools in the hierarchy
can provide the incentives to induce changes in our behaviour
and attitude towards waste.
|| The waste hierarchy
is our framework for actions. The waste hierarchy has
been the guiding principle for managing MSW worldwide since
first introduced in 19753. The Government's strategy
is to adopt a three-tiered approach in the waste hierarchy,
which involves, in descending order of priority:
||Reuse, recovery and recycling;
||Bulk reduction and disposal
3The EU's Waste Framework Directive
of 1975 introduced the term waste hierarchy as European waste
policy. In 1989, it was formalised into a hierarchy of management
options in the European Commission's Community Strategy for
Waste Management and further endorsed in the Commission's review
of this strategy in 1996.
|| The three-tiered
approach is adopted to achieve sustainable MSW management.
The first priority - avoidance and minimisation - is to address
the problem at source and to encourage people to reduce waste
generation as much as possible. If it is not feasible to avoid
generating waste in the first place, the waste generated should
be minimised as much as possible, through avenues such as appropriate
product design or minimal packaging.
|| The next priority is to maximise the reuse,
recovery and recycling of suitable recyclable materials. To
make recycling work efficiently, robust sorting, collection
and distribution systems must be in place. Equally important
are the market outlets for the recycled materials. In fact,
the recycling industry is a key element in a "circular
economy", whereby recyclable materials generated in economic
activities are returned to the consumption loop as a result
of reuse, recovery and recycling. Through the loop of a "circular
economy", we could achieve the most efficient use of resources
and materials, while producing as little waste as possible.
|| Once the possibilities of waste avoidance,
minimisation and recycling have been exhausted, we must properly
treat and reduce the volume of residual waste through appropriate
treatment technologies. It is a commonly accepted principle
that all waste should be properly treated prior to disposal
at landfills to prevent long-term liabilities. The direct disposal
of untreated MSW causes leachate and landfill gas (LFG) emission,
and would result in long-term environmental burden.
|| In economic terms, waste avoidance, reduction
and recovery generate high return with relatively less investment.
The Government has been working hard on these areas to achieve
the most with our limited resources, and will continue to do
|| Domestic waste commands
special attention. Based on 2004 figures, each of us
generates 1.35 kg of waste a day that requires disposal, out
of which about 1.0 kg, or 74%, arises from the domestic source.
Surveys show that only 14% of domestic waste is recovered, in
sharp contrast to the recovery rate of 60% to 70% for commercial
and industrial waste. This striking difference results from
commercial and industrial waste being generally less diverse
and less contaminated than domestic waste, thus more readily
separable for recycling programmes. Also, commercial and industrial
waste producers are required to pay for collecting and transporting
their waste to landfills, thus having the economic incentive
to reduce their waste.
|| Clearly, domestic waste has the greatest
potential for improvement in terms of recovery and recycling,
and this is exactly where we shall devote our attention and
enhance our efforts. With the very low recovery rate for domestic
waste, we must take ownership of the problem, and take actions
at a personal level.
Role of Policy Tools and Support Measures
|| Effective policy tools in the waste hierarchy
are those that induce appropriate actions and achieve outcomes
that further the overall objective of the Policy Framework.
In MSW management, the policy tools we propose are meant to
encourage waste avoidance and minimisation; waste separation
and sorting; reuse and recycling; and bulk reduction and treatment.
Each of our proposed policy tools works hand in hand, and aims
to generate a knock-on effect that is more than the simple sum
of all tools. The proposed policy tools, if implemented, will
be supported by both legislation and sustained education programmes
to ensure public buy-in and general compliance.
The proposed MSW management
charging - provides a significant effect on
changing behaviour and puts in place the "polluter-pays"
- put the onus on the producers and users of products (i.e.
the community) to share the responsibility for all the economic,
social and environmental impacts of a product throughout its
disposal bans - divert MSW away from premium
and expensive landfill space
education and Partnership - soft measures to
raise awareness, increase understanding, and foster partnerships
with the community and businesses
- necessary to ensure compliance and penalise those who engage
in environmentally harmful behaviour and practices.
|Table 4. Proposed Policy tools and support
|| MSW management is not free. There are several
sound reasons for why waste charging is vital to putting in
place an integrated approach to waste management. Hong Kong
citizens do not pay directly for the costs of collecting, handling
and disposing of the waste they generate. The annual cost of
MSW management, nearly $1.2 billion, comes out of the public
purse. Therefore, there are no economic incentives for anyone
to reduce the volume of waste, or to reuse or recycle waste.
|| To establish a clear linkage between consumption
and the environmental costs entailed, we propose to impose a
direct and explicit charge on each individual for the amount
of waste one discards. In other words, the full cost of managing
MSW would be placed squarely on those people who generate MSW
in the first place. This is fully consistent with the "polluter-pays"
principle, which the public generally support. International
experience has shown that where waste charges are in operation,
the waste volume decreases and the rate of avoidance, as well
as recycling, goes up.
|| Waste charging is
a direct tool to change behaviour. A consumption-led
lifestyle where out-of-fashion products, whether new or used,
are casually thrown away, imposes a huge burden on the waste
management infrastructure and is clearly unsustainable. By imposing
a direct charge on MSW, people are compelled to rethink their
consumption and disposal behaviour and become more conscious
about the adverse environmental consequences. They are not only
in control of how much they pay for disposing of their waste
by exercising a choice on purchasing, but more importantly,
to play a part in reducing waste and protecting the environmental
well being of Hong Kong.
|| We can pay less by throwing less. Separation
of waste at source is pivotal in the Government's strategy to
reduce the amount of waste requiring treatment and disposal.
By imposing a direct charge on MSW, households are given an
economic incentive to separate those recyclable materials from
the waste stream, thus lowering the MSW charge they need to
pay. Less waste being produced translates into lower long-term
waste management costs and less need for landfills and other
waste management facilities. The potential of environmental
returns is likely to be multi-fold, and the benefits go to both
the Government and the community.
|| A shared responsibility
shall be imposed amongst manufacturers, handlers and end-users.
Each product has economic, social and environmental impacts
at different stages of its lifecycle. We must hold the producers
and the users of products responsible for the products they
produce and consume. The Government proposes to establish a
framework for introducing PRSs for specific products, with priority
given to those that have significant impacts on waste disposal,
in either how they are produced, packaged, consumed or after
the end of their lifespan.
|| PRSs place the obligation for managing certain
products on the producers, distributors or sellers of the products.
A well-designed PRS spurs producers to design products that
generate less waste, or that can be reused or recycled. Extended
PRSs extend the concept further to a shared responsibility for
all the economic, social and environmental impacts of a product
throughout its lifecycle among consumers, the industries and
the distributors that are involved in that product. We want
not only the commercial and the industrial sectors to rethink
the way they approach a product from design to disposal, but
also consumers to make wise decisions on purchasing, reuse and
disposal of products.
|| PRSs play a key role
in sustaining a dynamic local recycling industry. In
a "circular economy", waste generated as a result
of economic activities is returned to the consumption loop.
Recycling not only slows down the rate of depletion of natural
resources, but also reduces the pollution from manufacturing
activities. Over the years, we have made significant headway
in recycling. As much as 2.3 million tonnes of MSW are recovered
as recyclable materials annually. Yet, 90% of these materials
are exported for recycling, working against the proximity principle
and subjecting ourselves to volatile global demand. By establishing
a long-term, stable and local source stream of recyclable products
and materials through PRSs, the Government hopes to develop
and sustain the local recycling industry that puts the concept
of a "circular economy" in practice.
bans protect our precious landfills. Biodegradable
wastes like kitchen and restaurant waste are known to create
LFG and leachate. LFG is malodorous and potentially suffocating,
flammable and explosive. Leachate is highly polluting and,
if not properly controlled, may seriously contaminate water
bodies through infiltration or direct discharge of leachate.
The decomposition of biodegradable waste is a slow and non-homogenous
process. This results in differential settlement of the landfill
surface that may lead to slope instability problems for many
years. In fact, the total cost of maintaining some 300 ha
of closed landfill sites to address their environmental problems
amounts to $62 million per year. We must save our precious
landfill capacity and reserve it for inert or unavoidable
waste. A ban on biodegradable waste, proposed to be introduced
in the longer term, allows landfills to last longer and makes
them less of a long-term environmental burden. Such ban is
also in line with overseas practices such as the EU Landfill
Directive, which lays down progressively lower limits on the
biodegradable content of landfilled waste.
Landfill disposal bans have sound economic
reasons. They not only ease the pressure on landfill space,
but also ensure a stable and long-term source of recyclable
materials for the recycling industry or the second-hand goods
market. They will focus on products that can easily be separated
from the main waste stream and have a recycling value or proper
treatment outlets. Other than the recovery of valuable materials,
the landfill disposal bans tie in with the Government's overall
MSW management strategy that emphasizes waste avoidance, reduction,
reuse and recycling. They complement MSW charging and PRSs
to ensure that certain waste types are recovered.
Education and Partnership
|| Public education
and partnership form the foundation of our policy tools.
To implement the proposed policy tools successfully, the community's
full support is crucial. People must understand the need to
change old practices and appreciate the advantages of our policy
tools. Appeals and advertising campaigns help to raise awareness,
but the greatest impacts have come through a more direct approach
- by reaching out. A sustained, community-wide education and
partnership programme will play a significant and long-term
role in reinforcing the importance of MSW avoidance, reduction,
reuse and recycling.
||We must target the young by starting at schools.
A key agent of change is the education sector, where our future
generations are nurtured. The development of responsible behaviour
and environmentally friendly habits will hinge upon inculcating
in students civic awareness and social responsibility to care
about our environment through waste reduction. School curriculum
plays an important role in developing responsible behaviour,
which can be promoted through moral and civic education, environmental
education as well as subjects such as General Studies at the
primary level, Social Studies, Liberal Studies, Integrated Humanities
and Science subjects etc. at the secondary level.
Partnerships with the business community
are critical. Businesses are important partners in MSW management.
The well-celebrated WasteWi$e initiative has encouraged and
recognised thousands of businesses that proactively reduce
their waste. Through the participation of the business community,
we can demonstrate to the wider public how our policy tools
can really work, and instil the concept of sustainable MSW
management in our 3.3 million strong labour force.
|| Legislative backing
for the policy tools is needed. The Government must be
firm and fair, and legislative backing for our proposed policy
tools is indispensable. Once legislation is enacted, regulatory
measures will be put in place to ensure that MSW charging, PRSs
and landfill disposal bans are complied with. Monitoring and
enforcement will deter and penalize those environmentally harmful
practices such as "fly-tipping" and ensure that products
and materials are properly recovered for reuse or recycling.