Glass Recycling in Hong Kong 6 May 2013

Response to the Consultation Document on A New Producer Responsibility Scheme on Glass Beverage Bottles

Submitted to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD)

Background

If Hong Kong is to tackle its waste problems we need to inspire change. Though some sectors of the community might take issue with bearing the cost of waste disposal, this is something that each one of us must do if we are to reverse the environmental decline caused by irresponsible waste generation and disposal.

Experience overseas shows an evolution in the provision of waste services and certainly changes in behaviour have occurred. Other places realize that the cost of environmental clean up far outweighs the cost of providing services and have made it easy for people to recycle.

Hong Kong’s waste problems are such that we do not have the luxury of time that would allow for evolutionary change to occur. We also have such lax environmental legislation that landowners are allowed to purposely dump mixed waste without fear of sanction and government has only just begun to bear the cost of cleaning up. Even the smallest of common sense changes prove impossible to achieve largely because of bureaucratic constraints and disfunctionality between departments when it comes to responsibility for waste.

We have heard the PRS termed the “Passing Responsibility Scheme.” Buck-passing has been has been one of the main frustrations in our efforts to clean up our environment. We are very encouraged that the new administration appears to understand the urgency for change and the need for the buck-passing to stop. We hope that the Environmental Protection Department will be given the support it needs to effectively tackle Hong Kong’s waste problems.

About Living Lamma

Living Lamma is a voluntary residents’ group that was formed with the dual aims of cleaning up the environment and improving the design of public projects on Lamma Island. Though bureaucratic inertia and vested interests have limited the success of our activities, we have carefully documented problems with littering, dumping and waste on Lamma Island, producing some 60 reports over the last 4 years.

These problems are common all over Hong Kong. We have found that the way in which waste is perceived and processed is a fundamental cause of our environmental decline. As well as report writing, we have also been engaged in clean ups and in glass collection – all of which have brought us into contact with attitudes and behaviours that we would seek to change in order to improve our environment. Our glass recycling experience has been included in Appendix 1 of this submission. We have also made a short video on our beach cleaning experience: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCUSZyZdZxY

Answers to Specific Questions for Consultation

Q1: Glass is infinitely recyclable. It is the duty of government to facilitate waste reduction and recycling. The starting point should be one of allowing those people who want to recycle glass to do so without unnecessary limitation. Many of Hong Kong’s residents have experience overseas and are already used to cleaning glass jars and bottles for recycling. They should be allowed to continue to do this here as an example for others to follow. When more jobs become dependent on recycling – cleaning and sorting materials – more users will get the message about what they must do. Incentives and sanctions, as well as meaningful public engagement campaigns would also help.

But who is going to pay for this is a tricky question? Who has being paying to deposit glass in landfill for all these years? Who pays when the landfills are full and we need emergency measures to tackle our waste disposal? Who will pay for Hong Kong’s lack of investment in waste recycling? Who will pay because we have not done enough to reduce waste?

Singling out the producers of wines, spirits and beers to pay for the recycling of bottles is one method. It makes sense because it should be relatively easy to hang the cost on the importer of the product (and therefore the waste). However, it does not make sense to narrow the scope of glass recycling to particular products. Focusing on just one element of the supply chain might also encourage people to have a “pass the buck” mentality when it comes to bearing responsibility for the cost of waste disposal.

Living Lamma has made a previous submission to EPD on Waste Charging (see: Appendix 2 – Sustainable Waste Management, Strengthening Waste Reduction: Is Waste Charging an Option? submitted to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) 9th April 2012). The comments included in that paper are relevant to the discussion on glass recycling. Glass is just one element of the overall waste picture. We need to connect government, people and businesses with the waste they produce and find the means – at a district level – to introduce a fair charging system that provides the right penalties and incentives to encourage change.

Q2: We do agree that government should be looking at the products that come into Hong Kong and the waste that is produced as a result of this activity. If the waste cannot be reasonably processed in Hong Kong or exported as raw material, then perhaps government should insist on a ban of such materials (polystyrene, for example). However, for the reasons outlined above, we believe there are difficulties in singling out certain food importers and distributors, particularly if the overall system allows wasteful habits to continue. If it is a case that the system is so change adverse that the introduction of a recycling fee on registered food importers and distributors is one of the few measures that can be taken in the short term, then it is better to take this step than do nothing. However, the overall aim should be change habits and behaviour throughout society, so that Hong Kong can handle the waste it produces in a reasonable manner and effectively clean up its environment.

Q3: For years, government has told us that our landfills are filling up and that we have to reduce, reuse and recycle. However, government has provided few facilities to do this. Good communication is important, but it is not enough to tell people what they should be doing without providing the means to do so. Other places in the world provide many examples of how community recycling can work effectively. Hong Kong is only just starting to explore opportunities, but is often limited in what can be provided because of existing contracts or ways of doing things that do not allow even simple, common sense changes to happen easily. Two examples – changing the colour of the plastic bags for the recycling or having a designated day when the community can put out household items – have thus far proved impossible to achieve.

Lamma is a great place to showcase how things could be. As our experience with glass recycling showed, members of society regardless of age, race or social standing can work together, not for any financial incentive, but because we want to clean up our environment and improve our facilities. We also have an idea to create a world-class centre – Asia’s first Eden Project – to inspire transformational change in making sustainability meaningful to people’s lives. We believe people will change when they are given good examples to follow (not by being exposed to leaflets or banners extolling them to do things, particularly when the facilities to do so are limited). We would like the chance for Lamma to be a good example for Hong Kong by being allowed to pilot new ways of doing things.

Q4: All end-of-life products should be efficiently collected for environmentally sound recycling processes to produce reusable materials. This should be the aspiration for all products, regardless of whether they are “under a PRS.” There are a great many problems with littering and dumping (people being irresponsible with their waste) in Hong Kong because there is a lack of oversight or enforcement of current legislation. We would hope that glass recycling would be properly managed and in the fullness of time infringements of policy be properly dealt with.

Q5: It would be very good to encourage reuse and recycling. More should be done with regard to cross-border operations to allow companies with headquarters in Hong Kong and manufacturing over the border to manage their waste more effectively. With the proper controls, this could in fact benefit the Greater Pearl River Delta Region by improving cooperation between Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta on waste management issues.

Q6: There should be no reason why glass should end up in landfill. We have being trying to get support for the aspiration of “zero glass to landfill” from Lamma. So far, this has not been taken up officially, though there are definite signs of improvement with regard to the provision of facilities to enable people to recycle their glass. We now have glass bins and the promise that more bins will be provided soon.

Deposit systems are commonly used to keep items out of landfill elsewhere in the world. These also help to benefit those on low incomes. District competitions also help to alter behaviour – particularly if they are fun and engaging. Bin design is also important in altering behaviour – not only for glass, but also for other recyclable items

and general waste. Currently, this has been neglected as it falls outside a single department’s purview, though changing the habit of putting waste near a bin instead of in it would go a long way to cleaning up our neighbourhood and be a step forward in getting people to be responsible for their waste.

Living Lamma members would be very happy to share their observations and experience further with a view to taking action to clean up our neighbourhood and improve our waste facilities. Please contact us at livinglamma@yahoo.com or phone Jo Wilson (Chairperson) on 90423241 should you require more information.

Appendix 1:

Glass Recycling on Lamma – A Living Lamma Report

Background

Living Lamma was formed in May 2009 in response to dumping on agricultural land in the community – the incidences of which have increased since government introduced charging for the disposal of construction waste. Despite numerous meetings and submissions of reports to government and Legco, no action was taken. Living Lamma has continued to push for environmental improvement in other areas by highlighting the problems (see our reports: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/vw7vcnkpyuuz4gp/LalQ6-yGCe) and by voluntarily cleaning up areas as necessary. Unfortunately, as there is little support from government, even in terms of enforcing the law, we have seen scant result for our efforts – areas that we clean up soon become littered again as this 90 second video demonstrates: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCUSZyZdZxY

Pilot Recycling Scheme

1. The recycling booths began on March 2nd 2012. In Yung Shue Wan, they were held twice a week on Friday and Saturday afternoons from 1pm – 4pm.

2. The pilot scheme was a great success, taking 50 tonnes of glass out of landfill in the last 8 months.

3. In the first 6 weeks, Living Lamma provided feedback to EPD to improve the uptake of the scheme. The limited operational hours made it difficult for people to participate. Bar and restaurant owners stated that a pick up on Monday or Tuesday, would be preferable to Friday and Saturday, as storing 6 days of glass was problematic in some cases.

There was no apparent plan to maximize community uptake through a meaningful communications strategy (it took 3 weeks and a tremendous amount of badgering for EPD to put up a single poster to inform people about the booth). There was a launch ceremony, but residents and green groups, including Living Lamma, were not invited to attend. Booth staff appeared untrained in promotion/community engagement and nearby businesses remained unaware of glass recycling even a month after the start of the programme.

4. On 27th April, Living Lamma became “ambassadors” to the scheme. In the first 8 weeks, the booths on Lamma had collected 108.8 kgs or an average of13.6 kgs per week. In the 9th week, (the first week of Living Lamma’s involvement), the booth collected 90.28 kgs. On the Wednesday of the following week, one of the bars phoned and asked if we could pick up its glass – 160 kgs of it. We bought a trolley and moved the glass to the booth on Friday. Another resident brought down 180 kgs that he had been storing in his garden because “it is wrong to throw glass into landfill,” and a few more residents brought their glass giving a total of 488.72 kgs. Thereafter, all the bars and restaurants started to separate their waste and in the third week we collected 882 kgs, then 1.23 tonnes in the fourth week, and 1.3 tonnes in the 5th week of our involvement. (We still couldn’t get EPD to put a simple notice on the bins to tell people not to throw glass into landfill.)

Here is the chart for the first 13 weeks of glass recycling, with data for Cheung Chau, where a similar booth was in operation:

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5. The Lamma glass recycling experience should have been a success story of government and the community working together to reduce Hong Kong’s landfill and support local recycling businesses. Living Lamma members spearheaded the effort, bringing in other volunteers as needed. Lamma kids wrote school reports on glass recycling and the four main bin areas serving Lamma Main Street were much improved, since we reduced the waste that they needed to handle. We also made a connection between the waste produced and the user, since the glass from each bar/restaurant was weighed (otherwise waste charging is very difficult to implement in a rural context, as all waste is currently deposited anonymously). However,……..

6. The glass recycler told us that they had to wait until September to receive any glass for recycling from Lamma. This was because government wanted to fill a 20 ft container before distributing glass to the recyclers. Thanks to the efforts of Living Lamma and the community, the recyclers starting getting glass after 6 months of the booth operations. Had the Lamma booth continued to collect glass as it was in the first 8 weeks, we estimate that it would have taken 3 years and 10 months for the recyclers to receive their first glass.

7. The booth operations ended as of 29th December 2012. EPD lost their STT for the booths, though the contract with SITA to operate the booths continued to the end of February 2013. We objected to the alternative location suggested by EPD (outside the Post Office) because though it was feasible from a bureaucratic standpoint, it was too small, difficult to access, and therefore potentially dangerous.

 

8. We suggested providing bins to participating businesses and a pick up service according to need (this is currently been done for food waste). Government cannot provide this because of bureaucratic constraints.

8. EPD suggested that people bring the glass to the Waste Transfer Station. This is as practical as suggesting to residents of Mongkok and Shatin that they bring their glass to Central or Wanchai – see Parks & Walkways on: https://www.wastereduction.gov.hk/en/community/community_public_loc.htm#islands.

9. An interim solution was found with the help of FEHD making use of an existing Refuse Collection Point to collect glass until the end of February. Since then, EPD has taken over the collection of glass on Lamma. The community is delighted to see the presence of glass recycling bins. Though bureaucratic convenience has dictated their location, rather than what would make sense to the community, this is nonetheless a significant step forward. For many years we have been told that we must reduce waste and practice recycling, but have not been given the means to do this. Equally, the way in which recycling is organized means that the public has little faith in it. We often hear that people do not bother to separate their waste because they see the same black plastic bags being used for recycling and landfill and all waste being taken away together.

10. We made recommendations to EPD in a separate paper (see https://www.dropbox.com/sh/vw7vcnkpyuuz4gp/Pmgz8H8D8a/2012OCT24LL_JointVisitReportWaste.pdf) before the end of the pilot recycling scheme. At a very minimum we would like to see:

  • A clear statement of the government’s intention with regard to glass recycling on Lamma. Living Lamma’s goal is “zero glass to landfill” from Yung Shue Wan. We believe this is achievable with the provision of appropriate facilities and with proper communication. As a first step, a large and prominent sticker on every regular bin would remind people to separate their glass.
  • A competition to redesign the bin areas of Yung Shue Wan to make them clean and attractive, and to encourage a change in behaviour so that people are responsible with their waste. Presently, the bin areas are so dirty and overflowing that even those members of the community who are otherwise responsible tend to throw their waste in the general direction of the bin, instead of placing it in the bin. The recycling bins have recently been changed, but the design is standard for the whole of Hong Kong and does not take into consideration the needs of the community. With good design, our bin areas should enable residents and businesses to dispose of their waste in a way that reduces waste to landfill and keeps our villages clean and tidy. This transformation has taken place in other countries. Where refuse used to be collected at “tips,” there are now community recycling or resource recovery centres.
  • Hong Kong needs good examples (rather than banners and slogans) and Lamma, with its relatively environmentally aware international community, is a good place to pilot doing things differently – as was proven with the pilot recycling scheme for glass. Unfortunately, Hong Kong’s system of government has so far proven itself to be change adverse and unwilling or unable to experiment. We hope that the time has come to explore new ways of doing things so that we may improve.

10. Living Lamma continues to do all we can to clean up our environment and support the development of modern waste facilities focusing on waste reduction and recycling. All our work is carried out by unpaid members of the community with jobs and busy lives, who are committed to improving our environment for the benefit of all.

For more information, call Jo Wilson, Chairperson of Living Lamma: 90423241 or email livinglamma@yahoo.com.

April 2013

Appendix 2:

Response to the Consultation Paper

Sustainable Waste Management, Strengthening Waste Reduction: Is Waste Charging an Option?

Submitted to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD)

9th April 2012

Background

Living Lamma is a registered society, which exists to clean up the environment and lobby for sensitive design of public projects on Lamma Island.

Lamma has chronic waste problems – the bin areas are often overflowing and untidy, and dumping and littering are commonplace. Waste ends up on our beaches, making them resemble landfill sites, like this:

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Recycling bins exist for paper, cans and plastic, but these are often not used properly. Though on March 2nd, 2012, EPD started a pilot scheme for the recycling of food waste, glass, plastic and household electrical items, this has been poorly communicated, with the department deciding to exclude Lamma’s green groups and the public from the programme’s official launch. Lamma is just 25 minutes by ferry from Central, Hong Kong, and is designated for tourism and leisure, but its potential

as one of Hong Kong’s eco-destinations is inhibited to a large part because of its waste problems.

Living Lamma has invested considerable time raising awareness about these problems, lobbying for better waste facilities, and carrying out our own clean ups. In our paper of 30th April 2010, we responded to the EPD’s consultation on Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment. We also contributed papers dated 29th April 2009 and 30th March 2010 to the Legco Panel on Environmental Affairs on the problems of dumping and fly-tipping. In addition, we have written to Edward Yau, Secretary for the Environment, and to the Legco Panel on Environmental Affairs with concerns about EPD’s logic in building a super-incinerator off the coast of Shek Kwu Chau. Despite significant efforts, Lamma’s waste problems remain and we have yet to witness any co-coordinated and coherent strategy, or even willingness, on the part of government to tackle these issues.

In February 2010, we published a report containing over 250 photographs of unsightly areas in our community. Entitled “Stop the Mess”, the report was distributed to all relevant government departments, including EPD. We found that many of the problems occurred because of the way in which waste is handled. When we carry out clean ups, we note what type of waste is collected and where it has likely originated. We have also investigated attitudes towards waste that govern the way in which people behave. Though we can sometimes manage to get government departments to act to clean up waste, there has been no evidence of departments acting to solve Lamma’s waste problems. For members of the public who use their own private time to report problems or take part in clean ups, the experience is very frustrating. Most of the time bureaucratic jurisdiction prevents the action necessary for sustainable solutions.

The waste problems found on Lamma are common all over the rural New Territories, and it is from this perspective that we make this submission. Hong Kong’s densely populated urban areas have their own waste challenges, which are beyond the scope of our paper. We use specific examples and photographic evidence gathered from 3 years’ of campaigning for a cleaner environment to illustrate our points.

Waste Charging in Hong Kong – A Local Community Perspective

As the EPD’s consultation paper points out, waste charging is common in other parts of the world. Often the charge is included as part of a local authority tax. Any direct “pay as you throw” scheme risks increased fly-tipping. This, in turn, increases the costs to society for waste removal in other countries, as well as exacerbates environmental degradation, encouraging more dumping.

In order to avoid these consequences, people need to have options available to facilitate good behaviour and authorities must have the ability to act quickly and decisively against fly-tippers. Neither of these two conditions is apparent in Hong Kong. Recycling is underdeveloped and there have been few policy initiatives to reduce the amount of waste that is generated in Hong Kong. There is no effective action to deter dumping or littering.

Compared with Hong Kong, the difference between the facilities provided for waste disposal in most modern economies is startling. For example, in parts of the UK, Canada, US, Australia, and many other countries, rubbish used to be handled in much the same way as it is in Hong Kong today. For the public, waste was simply something that was thrown in the bin or taken to the tip. Tips were dirty, smelly places and people spent no longer there than the time it took to dump unwanted items.

With the introduction of recycling, tips became “recycling centres”, somewhere to go not only to take unwanted but useful items, but also to pick up things cheaply or freely. Recycling centres are now clean, well-organised and conveniently located within communities. People are not only educated about waste reduction and recycling, but have the means to carry it out.

In Hong Kong, however, waste is still generally regarded as dirty, of no use or value, and the responsibility of someone else to pick up and take away. Asia’s World City relies on scavengers – often the elderly – to pick through bins for recyclables when the market price makes such activity worthwhile. Rural areas are blighted with “Steptoe’s Yards” or littered with stockpiled materials.

The consultation paper alludes to “modern facilities” and “integrated waste management facilities.” However, in reality there is nothing integrated or modern about the way in which waste is collected or processed in rural Hong Kong. Recycle bins are not part of integrated waste collection points, but stand alone or next to the general bins. There has been no development of properly managed recycling facilities in the community, though a blueprint for community recycling was put forward for Lamma in 1995. It is common to see non-recyclable items in the general waste bins and recyclable material in the general bins.

The system often defies common sense. For example, there are no collection points for glass waste at the bin areas because of safety concerns. Yet, the current method of glass disposal is to put it in or next to the general bins or dump it along with the other litter found off pathways on the island.

The EPD’s proposed HK$15 billion incinerator plant off Shek Kwu Chau, which in the consultation paper on waste charging is only referred to in euphemistic terms[1], is unlikely to instill a change in behaviour to reduce waste as it does not alter the way in which waste is perceived, collected or dealt with. Whether the waste is taken away and buried, or taken away and burned, will make no difference to the average person accustomed to simply throwing their waste on or near a bin. The fact that EPD hides the true nature of its waste management plan, and has a dual role as project

proponent and scrutiniser, does not instill confidence that the department is serious about educating the public about waste or altering behaviour.

The consultation paper raises five specific questions on waste charging to which we now turn:

Answers to specific questions raised in the consultation paper:

(a) Question 1: Does Hong Kong need to introduce MSW charging?

Hong Kong has a very narrow tax base. It is not inconceivable that additional charging to cover basic services, such as waste disposal, may have to be made in future if Hong Kong’s sizable budget surplus were to decline sufficiently. However, introducing charges without providing appropriate facilities, and without providing the necessary communication and education that can lead to a change in mindset, will only lead to increased fly-tipping.

This has been the experience since the introduction of charging for the disposal of construction waste. Cases of dumping on agricultural land such pictured here have been reported to EPD:

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No action has been taken because of a loophole in the law, which means that no punitive or remedial measures are enforceable. EPD does not acknowledge the dumping, but refers to it as “the temporary storage of personal property on private land.” This allows landowners to destroy agricultural land, creating mini landfills in our communities, with the purpose of changing the zoning in future to enable property development. EPD continues to congratulate itself on the success of the charging scheme for construction waste, turning a blind eye to the evidence that shows mounds of construction and mixed waste blotting the landscape. It is deeply worrying that the consultation paper does not highlight this widely reported problem.

In other countries, the cost of remedial action to combat fly-tipping has led to some places dropping charges for waste disposal. Though the environmental degradation caused by littering and dumping is apparent in Hong Kong’s rural areas, it is not clear that society bears significant costs for its removal. It is often difficult, or impossible, for remedial action to take place because of loopholes in the law that allow dumping on private land, or because government departments argue over which, if any, department is responsible. The waste, therefore, often just left where it is thrown.

It is clear that the Environmental Protection Department is unable to protect the environment by providing sustainable solutions to the degradation caused by waste and pollution problems in Hong Kong. Environmental protection should not be the remit of a separate department, but rather should be apparent in the work of all government departments. Currently it is not.

There are numerous other examples of government action (or sometimes inaction) contributing to environmental degradation, some of which we have included in this paper. The system demonstrates that the EPD often lacks the vision, management and communication to drive the changes necessary. Hong Kong’s waste strategy lacks transparency and is unresponsive to community needs. Though the MSW Policy Framework of 2005 emphasizes waste reduction and recycling initiatives, EPD’s focus is clearly on landfill and incineration, with scant support for waste reduction and recycling measures, which are often prevented by senseless bureaucracy. This approach clearly has implications with regard to Hong Kong’s need to introduce MSW charging.

Hong Kong would benefit from the setting up of an independent body, backed by improved policy to safeguard the environment, with the authority to act against polluters. An “Independent Commission Against Pollution” would be an enforcement agency that would advise government, business, schools/universities, and individuals on ways to reduce pollution and cut waste, or issue fines and make prosecutions where necessary.

(b) Question 2: Should Hong Kong go for a waste charging system for all sectors or a partial charging system?

If charging for the disposal of MSW is to be introduced in Hong Kong, a good starting point would be with government and its contractors. As Hong Kong’s largest employer, Hong Kong government is responsible for a significant proportion of waste produced. An audit of government practices (such as the use of bottled water and the delivery of school dinners in polystyrene boxes) and policy (such as the rules governing food factory licenses specifying that food must be served in disposable,

but not biodegradable, packaging, or the abolition of wine duty, which increased wine sales and the amount of glass going into landfill) to identify opportunities for waste reduction and necessary changes in behaviour would go a long way to setting Hong Kong off on a path to being more responsible with regard to waste.

The attitudes and behaviours that contribute to waste problems in the wider community are also apparent among government workers. The practice of “only clearing the snow in front of your own front door” (whereby people clean up one area only to dump on another) is common. We also witness irresponsible waste disposal, lack of understanding over biodegradable and non-biodegradable material, disregard for vegetation, and an inability to change established practices. Here are some examples:

 

When government contractors carry out work on Lamma, they invariably leave behind all sorts of rubbish. We have tried to fix this problem by carrying out clean ups and through complaints via the government 1823 hotline and directly with departments responsible. On clean ups, we routinely find construction material, lunch boxes, cigarette packets and drink’s containers – including mostly full plastic bottles of water. When we clean up and report our findings to 1823, the department responsible usually acknowledges our efforts, yet the dumping continues. We have even had the experience of reporting rubbish left behind after works had been carried out, only to find that the workmen responded by throwing the waste further down the hillside, still visible from the tourist path, but very difficult and dangerous to retrieve.

There seems to be zero oversight on the part of departments to ensure that waste generated by contractors is not dumped. It has been suggested that the problem may be that government contractors are not paid for proper waste disposal. We notice that government employees seldom appear aware or unconcerned about what happens to waste generated by public works. We are often told that it is the responsibility of the contractor.

Government outsourcing may be a significant contributing factor to Lamma’s waste problems and it is high time that departments took back responsibility for the waste they produce. For example, the Lands Department (LandsD) generates large amounts of green waste whenever trees are felled. This organic material is either left in large piles by the side of the path (creating fire risks and encouraging more dumping, as people who dump waste do not generally differentiate between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials) or wrapped in black plastic and sent to landfill. Over 20 years ago, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) composted green waste was composted on Lamma, but that this stopped once LCSD outsourced the provision of plants. The person we spoke to did not know what happened to the green waste generated by LCSD works.

Lack of thought with regard to waste also occurs in joint operations. On Thursday 29th March 2012, for example, five different government departments participated in the removal of 13 bikes from the ferry pier. These were taken directly to the Waste Transfer Station where they were thrown into the trash compactor and sent to landfill.

The purpose of such clearances should be to identify and remove abandoned bicycles. There are piles of scrap metal, including old bikes, outside the Waste Transfer Station on Lamma, awaiting collection for recycling. The bikes that were destroyed were clearly still in use and some looked new. There was no opportunity for people to claim their property and bike owners who were lucky enough not to receive a notice 2 days prior to the clearance, or managed to see the notice and park elsewhere on that morning, kept their bikes and now continue to park along the ferry pier. Given Hong Kong’s landfill problems, it is astounding that new and usable property is allowed to be trashed and that the EPD was unable to prevent this from happening.

For attitudes and behaviours towards waste to change in Hong Kong, there must be leadership from government. Government practices should provide workable solutions for Hong Kong’s waste management problems at the local level, not contribute to those problems.

(c) Question 3: Should Hong Kong go for a Quantity-based system, a Proxy system or a Fixed Charge system?

Until Hong Kong government demonstrates a commitment to waste reduction by instituting measures that would reduce the amount of waste entering Hong Kong, facilitating the re-export of materials for processing and providing much improved and cleaner waste facilities, the discussion of the type of charging is premature.

If a system of rewards/penalties for waste reduction and recycling is to be instituted, this should done at a district level. Thus far, there appears to have been little engagement of the local district councilors in the debate on waste. As it entails the provision of local services, district councilors should be educated and involved. They should serve as the conduit to providing sustainable solutions for the districts in which they serve.

(d) Question 4: Are you prepared to change your behaviour in waste disposal if an MSW charging system is introduced?

Though the system is far from perfect or convenient, on Lamma, it is possible to: compost all non-cooked organic waste, and recycle glass, plastic, paper, plastic, small electrical items, books, clothes, toys and household items. Careful purchasing can ensure that most packaging is recyclable. Leaving packaging behind in stores can help to send the message that excess packaging is unwanted. Buying food on a daily basis and only serving what can be eaten, while saving or freezing the rest can reduce food waste to almost zero. Using cloth nappies removes 1-2 tonnes of waste from landfill during the child’s young life. Using rechargeable batteries and certain brands of light bulbs allows those products to be recycled. And of course, using a reusable bag for your shopping eliminates the need for a plastic bag, while taking along a reusable bottle or cup means that drinks can be enjoyed without generating unnecessary waste.

 

What behaviour should be changed if someone is being careful about the waste they produce and recycle as much as is possible in Hong Kong? What happens if the only reason that the waste is contributing to landfill (or is incinerated) is because Hong Kong lacks the policy support to reduce waste, or the systems to recycle items which are recycled elsewhere in the world?

For example, there is no system to recycle Tetra Paks in Hong Kong, yet most milk, juice and drink boxes use this method of packaging. The company is eager to recycle in Hong Kong but faces bureaucratic hurdles. Should the public be penalized for not recycling items that can be recycled elsewhere? In Canada, for example, a cash deposit is returned for Tetra Paks returned to the store.

Hong Kong is already 15 years into a fifty year period of “One Country, Two Systems.” So far, with regard to waste, the emphasis is on the two systems nature of the relationship with the country to which Hong Kong belongs. During the twenty year period from 1980, Hong Kong and the neighbouring cities of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region developed faster than any other region in the world, thanks to a winning combination of investment, technology, rule of law, and global communication in Hong Kong and low priced land and labour in the PRD region.

Waste comes into Hong Kong via the importation of goods, most of which come from the Chinese mainland. Scarcity of land and the system of land ownership in Hong Kong mean that it is difficult, or impossible, to achieve the scale necessary to make recycling businesses viable. Government support for and facilitation of an exploration into the synergies and economies possible through closer Hong Kong/PRD cooperation on waste reduction and recycling should be a priority. This may provide the residents of the Greater Pearl River Delta region with the means to change their behaviour with regard to waste disposal.

(e) Question 5: Do you agree that the Government should introduce legislation to mandate the separation of waste at source and accordingly ban unauthorized disposal of MSW?

Tightening legislation to improve waste collection and tackle dumping and fly-tipping would be welcomed. However, the problem seems not to be with legislation, but with enforcement.

Penalties for dumping and littering exist, but these are seldom enforced. Part of the problem is that rubbish is not simple rubbish in Hong Kong. What action is taken depends on what kind of rubbish it is and where it lies. For example, EPD handles electrical waste, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) picks up household waste, the LandsD is responsible for construction waste, LCSD cleans up rubbish in playgrounds and sitting out areas under its control, and the Drainage Services Department (DSD) clears out waste deposited in its nullah, but can do nothing about the greasy, waste water that flows into it from the restaurants. That is the responsibility of the EPD.

That government delineates responsibility for waste along specific lines drastically impedes efforts to clean up our neighbourhood. Clearly people rarely think about separating their waste when they dump it. This is why it took 10 months, and persistent lobbying on the part of Living Lamma, for government to clean up this large pile of rubbish deposited on government land on the harbourfront in Yung Shue Wan:

Picture3

The police will only enforce the law if there is a complaint from the public backed by photographic evidence identifying the perpetrator. For practical reasons, this rarely, if ever, happens. Living Lamma’s attempts to ask the police to enforce the law on littering resulted in them suggesting that we talk to FEHD. FEHD referred us to LCSD and LCSD sent us back to the police. Needless to say dumping and littering continue to be problems on Lamma.

Living Lamma

March 2012

www.livinglamma.com

livinglamma@yahoo.com

  1. The consultation mentions the incinerator only as: “related issues”, “modern facilities”, advanced waste treatment facilities”, “appropriate waste treatment and disposal facilities” and an “integrated waste management facility.” No mention is made about the reclamation off Shek Kwu Chau to accommodate a large-scale incinerator, or about the protests against this project.

 

Submitted to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD)

6th May 2013

Background

If Hong Kong is to tackle its waste problems we need to inspire change. Though some sectors of the community might take issue with bearing the cost of waste disposal, this is something that each one of us must do if we are to reverse the environmental decline caused by irresponsible waste generation and disposal.

Experience overseas shows an evolution in the provision of waste services and certainly changes in behaviour have occurred. Other places realize that the cost of environmental clean up far outweighs the cost of providing services and have made it easy for people to recycle.

Hong Kong’s waste problems are such that we do not have the luxury of time that would allow for evolutionary change to occur. We also have such lax environmental legislation that landowners are allowed to purposely dump mixed waste without fear of sanction and government has only just begun to bear the cost of cleaning up. Even the smallest of common sense changes prove impossible to achieve largely because of bureaucratic constraints and disfunctionality between departments when it comes to responsibility for waste.

We have heard the PRS termed the “Passing Responsibility Scheme.” Buck-passing has been has been one of the main frustrations in our efforts to clean up our environment. We are very encouraged that the new administration appears to understand the urgency for change and the need for the buck-passing to stop. We hope that the Environmental Protection Department will be given the support it needs to effectively tackle Hong Kong’s waste problems.

About Living Lamma

Living Lamma is a voluntary residents’ group that was formed with the dual aims of cleaning up the environment and improving the design of public projects on Lamma Island. Though bureaucratic inertia and vested interests have limited the success of our activities, we have carefully documented problems with littering, dumping and waste on Lamma Island, producing some 60 reports over the last 4 years.

These problems are common all over Hong Kong. We have found that the way in which waste is perceived and processed is a fundamental cause of our environmental decline. As well as report writing, we have also been engaged in clean ups and in glass collection – all of which have brought us into contact with attitudes and behaviours that we would seek to change in order to improve our environment. Our glass recycling experience has been included in Appendix 1 of this submission. We have also made a short video on our beach cleaning experience: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCUSZyZdZxY

Answers to Specific Questions for Consultation

Q1: Glass is infinitely recyclable. It is the duty of government to facilitate waste reduction and recycling. The starting point should be one of allowing those people who want to recycle glass to do so without unnecessary limitation. Many of Hong Kong’s residents have experience overseas and are already used to cleaning glass jars and bottles for recycling. They should be allowed to continue to do this here as an example for others to follow. When more jobs become dependent on recycling – cleaning and sorting materials – more users will get the message about what they must do. Incentives and sanctions, as well as meaningful public engagement campaigns would also help.

But who is going to pay for this is a tricky question? Who has being paying to deposit glass in landfill for all these years? Who pays when the landfills are full and we need emergency measures to tackle our waste disposal? Who will pay for Hong Kong’s lack of investment in waste recycling? Who will pay because we have not done enough to reduce waste?

Singling out the producers of wines, spirits and beers to pay for the recycling of bottles is one method. It makes sense because it should be relatively easy to hang the cost on the importer of the product (and therefore the waste). However, it does not make sense to narrow the scope of glass recycling to particular products. Focusing on just one element of the supply chain might also encourage people to have a “pass the buck” mentality when it comes to bearing responsibility for the cost of waste disposal.

Living Lamma has made a previous submission to EPD on Waste Charging (see: Appendix 2 – Sustainable Waste Management, Strengthening Waste Reduction: Is Waste Charging an Option? submitted to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) 9th April 2012). The comments included in that paper are relevant to the discussion on glass recycling. Glass is just one element of the overall waste picture. We need to connect government, people and businesses with the waste they produce and find the means – at a district level – to introduce a fair charging system that provides the right penalties and incentives to encourage change.

Q2: We do agree that government should be looking at the products that come into Hong Kong and the waste that is produced as a result of this activity. If the waste cannot be reasonably processed in Hong Kong or exported as raw material, then perhaps government should insist on a ban of such materials (polystyrene, for example). However, for the reasons outlined above, we believe there are difficulties in singling out certain food importers and distributors, particularly if the overall system allows wasteful habits to continue. If it is a case that the system is so change adverse that the introduction of a recycling fee on registered food importers and distributors is one of the few measures that can be taken in the short term, then it is better to take this step than do nothing. However, the overall aim should be change habits and behaviour throughout society, so that Hong Kong can handle the waste it produces in a reasonable manner and effectively clean up its environment.

Q3: For years, government has told us that our landfills are filling up and that we have to reduce, reuse and recycle. However, government has provided few facilities to do this. Good communication is important, but it is not enough to tell people what they should be doing without providing the means to do so. Other places in the world provide many examples of how community recycling can work effectively. Hong Kong is only just starting to explore opportunities, but is often limited in what can be provided because of existing contracts or ways of doing things that do not allow even simple, common sense changes to happen easily. Two examples – changing the colour of the plastic bags for the recycling or having a designated day when the community can put out household items – have thus far proved impossible to achieve.

Lamma is a great place to showcase how things could be. As our experience with glass recycling showed, members of society regardless of age, race or social standing can work together, not for any financial incentive, but because we want to clean up our environment and improve our facilities. We also have an idea to create a world-class centre – Asia’s first Eden Project – to inspire transformational change in making sustainability meaningful to people’s lives. We believe people will change when they are given good examples to follow (not by being exposed to leaflets or banners extolling them to do things, particularly when the facilities to do so are limited). We would like the chance for Lamma to be a good example for Hong Kong by being allowed to pilot new ways of doing things.

Q4: All end-of-life products should be efficiently collected for environmentally sound recycling processes to produce reusable materials. This should be the aspiration for all products, regardless of whether they are “under a PRS.” There are a great many problems with littering and dumping (people being irresponsible with their waste) in Hong Kong because there is a lack of oversight or enforcement of current legislation. We would hope that glass recycling would be properly managed and in the fullness of time infringements of policy be properly dealt with.

Q5: It would be very good to encourage reuse and recycling. More should be done with regard to cross-border operations to allow companies with headquarters in Hong Kong and manufacturing over the border to manage their waste more effectively. With the proper controls, this could in fact benefit the Greater Pearl River Delta Region by improving cooperation between Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta on waste management issues.

Q6: There should be no reason why glass should end up in landfill. We have being trying to get support for the aspiration of “zero glass to landfill” from Lamma. So far, this has not been taken up officially, though there are definite signs of improvement with regard to the provision of facilities to enable people to recycle their glass. We now have glass bins and the promise that more bins will be provided soon.

Deposit systems are commonly used to keep items out of landfill elsewhere in the world. These also help to benefit those on low incomes. District competitions also help to alter behaviour – particularly if they are fun and engaging. Bin design is also important in altering behaviour – not only for glass, but also for other recyclable items

and general waste. Currently, this has been neglected as it falls outside a single department’s purview, though changing the habit of putting waste near a bin instead of in it would go a long way to cleaning up our neighbourhood and be a step forward in getting people to be responsible for their waste.

Living Lamma members would be very happy to share their observations and experience further with a view to taking action to clean up our neighbourhood and improve our waste facilities. Please contact us at livinglamma@yahoo.com or phone Jo Wilson (Chairperson) on 90423241 should you require more information.

Appendix 1:

Glass Recycling on Lamma – A Living Lamma Report

Background

Living Lamma was formed in May 2009 in response to dumping on agricultural land in the community – the incidences of which have increased since government introduced charging for the disposal of construction waste. Despite numerous meetings and submissions of reports to government and Legco, no action was taken. Living Lamma has continued to push for environmental improvement in other areas by highlighting the problems (see our reports: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/vw7vcnkpyuuz4gp/LalQ6-yGCe) and by voluntarily cleaning up areas as necessary. Unfortunately, as there is little support from government, even in terms of enforcing the law, we have seen scant result for our efforts – areas that we clean up soon become littered again as this 90 second video demonstrates: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCUSZyZdZxY

Pilot Recycling Scheme

1. The recycling booths began on March 2nd 2012. In Yung Shue Wan, they were held twice a week on Friday and Saturday afternoons from 1pm – 4pm.

2. The pilot scheme was a great success, taking 50 tonnes of glass out of landfill in the last 8 months.

3. In the first 6 weeks, Living Lamma provided feedback to EPD to improve the uptake of the scheme. The limited operational hours made it difficult for people to participate. Bar and restaurant owners stated that a pick up on Monday or Tuesday, would be preferable to Friday and Saturday, as storing 6 days of glass was problematic in some cases.

There was no apparent plan to maximize community uptake through a meaningful communications strategy (it took 3 weeks and a tremendous amount of badgering for EPD to put up a single poster to inform people about the booth). There was a launch ceremony, but residents and green groups, including Living Lamma, were not invited to attend. Booth staff appeared untrained in promotion/community engagement and nearby businesses remained unaware of glass recycling even a month after the start of the programme.

4. On 27th April, Living Lamma became “ambassadors” to the scheme. In the first 8 weeks, the booths on Lamma had collected 108.8 kgs or an average of13.6 kgs per week. In the 9th week, (the first week of Living Lamma’s involvement), the booth collected 90.28 kgs. On the Wednesday of the following week, one of the bars phoned and asked if we could pick up its glass – 160 kgs of it. We bought a trolley and moved the glass to the booth on Friday. Another resident brought down 180 kgs that he had been storing in his garden because “it is wrong to throw glass into landfill,” and a few more residents brought their glass giving a total of 488.72 kgs. Thereafter, all the bars and restaurants started to separate their waste and in the third week we collected 882 kgs, then 1.23 tonnes in the fourth week, and 1.3 tonnes in the 5th week of our involvement. (We still couldn’t get EPD to put a simple notice on the bins to tell people not to throw glass into landfill.)

Here is the chart for the first 13 weeks of glass recycling, with data for Cheung Chau, where a similar booth was in operation:

GlassChart.png

5. The Lamma glass recycling experience should have been a success story of government and the community working together to reduce Hong Kong’s landfill and support local recycling businesses. Living Lamma members spearheaded the effort, bringing in other volunteers as needed. Lamma kids wrote school reports on glass recycling and the four main bin areas serving Lamma Main Street were much improved, since we reduced the waste that they needed to handle. We also made a connection between the waste produced and the user, since the glass from each bar/restaurant was weighed (otherwise waste charging is very difficult to implement in a rural context, as all waste is currently deposited anonymously). However,……..

6. The glass recycler told us that they had to wait until September to receive any glass for recycling from Lamma. This was because government wanted to fill a 20 ft container before distributing glass to the recyclers. Thanks to the efforts of Living Lamma and the community, the recyclers starting getting glass after 6 months of the booth operations. Had the Lamma booth continued to collect glass as it was in the first 8 weeks, we estimate that it would have taken 3 years and 10 months for the recyclers to receive their first glass.

7. The booth operations ended as of 29th December 2012. EPD lost their STT for the booths, though the contract with SITA to operate the booths continued to the end of February 2013. We objected to the alternative location suggested by EPD (outside the Post Office) because though it was feasible from a bureaucratic standpoint, it was too small, difficult to access, and therefore potentially dangerous.

 

8. We suggested providing bins to participating businesses and a pick up service according to need (this is currently been done for food waste). Government cannot provide this because of bureaucratic constraints.

8. EPD suggested that people bring the glass to the Waste Transfer Station. This is as practical as suggesting to residents of Mongkok and Shatin that they bring their glass to Central or Wanchai – see Parks & Walkways on: https://www.wastereduction.gov.hk/en/community/community_public_loc.htm#islands.

9. An interim solution was found with the help of FEHD making use of an existing Refuse Collection Point to collect glass until the end of February. Since then, EPD has taken over the collection of glass on Lamma. The community is delighted to see the presence of glass recycling bins. Though bureaucratic convenience has dictated their location, rather than what would make sense to the community, this is nonetheless a significant step forward. For many years we have been told that we must reduce waste and practice recycling, but have not been given the means to do this. Equally, the way in which recycling is organized means that the public has little faith in it. We often hear that people do not bother to separate their waste because they see the same black plastic bags being used for recycling and landfill and all waste being taken away together.

10. We made recommendations to EPD in a separate paper (see https://www.dropbox.com/sh/vw7vcnkpyuuz4gp/Pmgz8H8D8a/2012OCT24LL_JointVisitReportWaste.pdf) before the end of the pilot recycling scheme. At a very minimum we would like to see:

  • A clear statement of the government’s intention with regard to glass recycling on Lamma. Living Lamma’s goal is “zero glass to landfill” from Yung Shue Wan. We believe this is achievable with the provision of appropriate facilities and with proper communication. As a first step, a large and prominent sticker on every regular bin would remind people to separate their glass.
  • A competition to redesign the bin areas of Yung Shue Wan to make them clean and attractive, and to encourage a change in behaviour so that people are responsible with their waste. Presently, the bin areas are so dirty and overflowing that even those members of the community who are otherwise responsible tend to throw their waste in the general direction of the bin, instead of placing it in the bin. The recycling bins have recently been changed, but the design is standard for the whole of Hong Kong and does not take into consideration the needs of the community. With good design, our bin areas should enable residents and businesses to dispose of their waste in a way that reduces waste to landfill and keeps our villages clean and tidy. This transformation has taken place in other countries. Where refuse used to be collected at “tips,” there are now community recycling or resource recovery centres.
  • Hong Kong needs good examples (rather than banners and slogans) and Lamma, with its relatively environmentally aware international community, is a good place to pilot doing things differently – as was proven with the pilot recycling scheme for glass. Unfortunately, Hong Kong’s system of government has so far proven itself to be change adverse and unwilling or unable to experiment. We hope that the time has come to explore new ways of doing things so that we may improve.

10. Living Lamma continues to do all we can to clean up our environment and support the development of modern waste facilities focusing on waste reduction and recycling. All our work is carried out by unpaid members of the community with jobs and busy lives, who are committed to improving our environment for the benefit of all.

For more information, call Jo Wilson, Chairperson of Living Lamma: 90423241 or email livinglamma@yahoo.com.

April 2013

Appendix 2:

Response to the Consultation Paper

Sustainable Waste Management, Strengthening Waste Reduction: Is Waste Charging an Option?

Submitted to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD)

9th April 2012

Background

Living Lamma is a registered society, which exists to clean up the environment and lobby for sensitive design of public projects on Lamma Island.

Lamma has chronic waste problems – the bin areas are often overflowing and untidy, and dumping and littering are commonplace. Waste ends up on our beaches, making them resemble landfill sites, like this:

Picture2

Recycling bins exist for paper, cans and plastic, but these are often not used properly. Though on March 2nd, 2012, EPD started a pilot scheme for the recycling of food waste, glass, plastic and household electrical items, this has been poorly communicated, with the department deciding to exclude Lamma’s green groups and the public from the programme’s official launch. Lamma is just 25 minutes by ferry from Central, Hong Kong, and is designated for tourism and leisure, but its potential

as one of Hong Kong’s eco-destinations is inhibited to a large part because of its waste problems.

Living Lamma has invested considerable time raising awareness about these problems, lobbying for better waste facilities, and carrying out our own clean ups. In our paper of 30th April 2010, we responded to the EPD’s consultation on Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment. We also contributed papers dated 29th April 2009 and 30th March 2010 to the Legco Panel on Environmental Affairs on the problems of dumping and fly-tipping. In addition, we have written to Edward Yau, Secretary for the Environment, and to the Legco Panel on Environmental Affairs with concerns about EPD’s logic in building a super-incinerator off the coast of Shek Kwu Chau. Despite significant efforts, Lamma’s waste problems remain and we have yet to witness any co-coordinated and coherent strategy, or even willingness, on the part of government to tackle these issues.

In February 2010, we published a report containing over 250 photographs of unsightly areas in our community. Entitled “Stop the Mess”, the report was distributed to all relevant government departments, including EPD. We found that many of the problems occurred because of the way in which waste is handled. When we carry out clean ups, we note what type of waste is collected and where it has likely originated. We have also investigated attitudes towards waste that govern the way in which people behave. Though we can sometimes manage to get government departments to act to clean up waste, there has been no evidence of departments acting to solve Lamma’s waste problems. For members of the public who use their own private time to report problems or take part in clean ups, the experience is very frustrating. Most of the time bureaucratic jurisdiction prevents the action necessary for sustainable solutions.

The waste problems found on Lamma are common all over the rural New Territories, and it is from this perspective that we make this submission. Hong Kong’s densely populated urban areas have their own waste challenges, which are beyond the scope of our paper. We use specific examples and photographic evidence gathered from 3 years’ of campaigning for a cleaner environment to illustrate our points.

Waste Charging in Hong Kong – A Local Community Perspective

As the EPD’s consultation paper points out, waste charging is common in other parts of the world. Often the charge is included as part of a local authority tax. Any direct “pay as you throw” scheme risks increased fly-tipping. This, in turn, increases the costs to society for waste removal in other countries, as well as exacerbates environmental degradation, encouraging more dumping.

In order to avoid these consequences, people need to have options available to facilitate good behaviour and authorities must have the ability to act quickly and decisively against fly-tippers. Neither of these two conditions is apparent in Hong Kong. Recycling is underdeveloped and there have been few policy initiatives to reduce the amount of waste that is generated in Hong Kong. There is no effective action to deter dumping or littering.

Compared with Hong Kong, the difference between the facilities provided for waste disposal in most modern economies is startling. For example, in parts of the UK, Canada, US, Australia, and many other countries, rubbish used to be handled in much the same way as it is in Hong Kong today. For the public, waste was simply something that was thrown in the bin or taken to the tip. Tips were dirty, smelly places and people spent no longer there than the time it took to dump unwanted items.

With the introduction of recycling, tips became “recycling centres”, somewhere to go not only to take unwanted but useful items, but also to pick up things cheaply or freely. Recycling centres are now clean, well-organised and conveniently located within communities. People are not only educated about waste reduction and recycling, but have the means to carry it out.

In Hong Kong, however, waste is still generally regarded as dirty, of no use or value, and the responsibility of someone else to pick up and take away. Asia’s World City relies on scavengers – often the elderly – to pick through bins for recyclables when the market price makes such activity worthwhile. Rural areas are blighted with “Steptoe’s Yards” or littered with stockpiled materials.

The consultation paper alludes to “modern facilities” and “integrated waste management facilities.” However, in reality there is nothing integrated or modern about the way in which waste is collected or processed in rural Hong Kong. Recycle bins are not part of integrated waste collection points, but stand alone or next to the general bins. There has been no development of properly managed recycling facilities in the community, though a blueprint for community recycling was put forward for Lamma in 1995. It is common to see non-recyclable items in the general waste bins and recyclable material in the general bins.

The system often defies common sense. For example, there are no collection points for glass waste at the bin areas because of safety concerns. Yet, the current method of glass disposal is to put it in or next to the general bins or dump it along with the other litter found off pathways on the island.

The EPD’s proposed HK$15 billion incinerator plant off Shek Kwu Chau, which in the consultation paper on waste charging is only referred to in euphemistic terms[1], is unlikely to instill a change in behaviour to reduce waste as it does not alter the way in which waste is perceived, collected or dealt with. Whether the waste is taken away and buried, or taken away and burned, will make no difference to the average person accustomed to simply throwing their waste on or near a bin. The fact that EPD hides the true nature of its waste management plan, and has a dual role as project

proponent and scrutiniser, does not instill confidence that the department is serious about educating the public about waste or altering behaviour.

The consultation paper raises five specific questions on waste charging to which we now turn:

Answers to specific questions raised in the consultation paper:

(a) Question 1: Does Hong Kong need to introduce MSW charging?

Hong Kong has a very narrow tax base. It is not inconceivable that additional charging to cover basic services, such as waste disposal, may have to be made in future if Hong Kong’s sizable budget surplus were to decline sufficiently. However, introducing charges without providing appropriate facilities, and without providing the necessary communication and education that can lead to a change in mindset, will only lead to increased fly-tipping.

This has been the experience since the introduction of charging for the disposal of construction waste. Cases of dumping on agricultural land such pictured here have been reported to EPD:

IMG_4875

No action has been taken because of a loophole in the law, which means that no punitive or remedial measures are enforceable. EPD does not acknowledge the dumping, but refers to it as “the temporary storage of personal property on private

land.” This allows landowners to destroy agricultural land, creating mini landfills in our communities, with the purpose of changing the zoning in future to enable property development. EPD continues to congratulate itself on the success of the charging scheme for construction waste, turning a blind eye to the evidence that shows mounds of construction and mixed waste blotting the landscape. It is deeply worrying that the consultation paper does not highlight this widely reported problem.

In other countries, the cost of remedial action to combat fly-tipping has led to some places dropping charges for waste disposal. Though the environmental degradation caused by littering and dumping is apparent in Hong Kong’s rural areas, it is not clear that society bears significant costs for its removal. It is often difficult, or impossible, for remedial action to take place because of loopholes in the law that allow dumping on private land, or because government departments argue over which, if any, department is responsible. The waste, therefore, often just left where it is thrown.

It is clear that the Environmental Protection Department is unable to protect the environment by providing sustainable solutions to the degradation caused by waste and pollution problems in Hong Kong. Environmental protection should not be the remit of a separate department, but rather should be apparent in the work of all government departments. Currently it is not.

There are numerous other examples of government action (or sometimes inaction) contributing to environmental degradation, some of which we have included in this paper. The system demonstrates that the EPD often lacks the vision, management and communication to drive the changes necessary. Hong Kong’s waste strategy lacks transparency and is unresponsive to community needs. Though the MSW Policy Framework of 2005 emphasizes waste reduction and recycling initiatives, EPD’s focus is clearly on landfill and incineration, with scant support for waste reduction and recycling measures, which are often prevented by senseless bureaucracy. This approach clearly has implications with regard to Hong Kong’s need to introduce MSW charging.

Hong Kong would benefit from the setting up of an independent body, backed by improved policy to safeguard the environment, with the authority to act against polluters. An “Independent Commission Against Pollution” would be an enforcement agency that would advise government, business, schools/universities, and individuals on ways to reduce pollution and cut waste, or issue fines and make prosecutions where necessary.

(b) Question 2: Should Hong Kong go for a waste charging system for all sectors or a partial charging system?

If charging for the disposal of MSW is to be introduced in Hong Kong, a good starting point would be with government and its contractors. As Hong Kong’s largest employer, Hong Kong government is responsible for a significant proportion of waste produced. An audit of government practices (such as the use of bottled water and the delivery of school dinners in polystyrene boxes) and policy (such as the rules governing food factory licenses specifying that food must be served in disposable,

but not biodegradable, packaging, or the abolition of wine duty, which increased wine sales and the amount of glass going into landfill) to identify opportunities for waste reduction and necessary changes in behaviour would go a long way to setting Hong Kong off on a path to being more responsible with regard to waste.

The attitudes and behaviours that contribute to waste problems in the wider community are also apparent among government workers. The practice of “only clearing the snow in front of your own front door” (whereby people clean up one area only to dump on another) is common. We also witness irresponsible waste disposal, lack of understanding over biodegradable and non-biodegradable material, disregard for vegetation, and an inability to change established practices. Here are some examples:

 

When government contractors carry out work on Lamma, they invariably leave behind all sorts of rubbish. We have tried to fix this problem by carrying out clean ups and through complaints via the government 1823 hotline and directly with departments responsible. On clean ups, we routinely find construction material, lunch boxes, cigarette packets and drink’s containers – including mostly full plastic bottles of water. When we clean up and report our findings to 1823, the department responsible usually acknowledges our efforts, yet the dumping continues. We have even had the experience of reporting rubbish left behind after works had been carried out, only to find that the workmen responded by throwing the waste further down the hillside, still visible from the tourist path, but very difficult and dangerous to retrieve.

There seems to be zero oversight on the part of departments to ensure that waste generated by contractors is not dumped. It has been suggested that the problem may be that government contractors are not paid for proper waste disposal. We notice that government employees seldom appear aware or unconcerned about what happens to waste generated by public works. We are often told that it is the responsibility of the contractor.

Government outsourcing may be a significant contributing factor to Lamma’s waste problems and it is high time that departments took back responsibility for the waste they produce. For example, the Lands Department (LandsD) generates large amounts of green waste whenever trees are felled. This organic material is either left in large piles by the side of the path (creating fire risks and encouraging more dumping, as people who dump waste do not generally differentiate between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials) or wrapped in black plastic and sent to landfill. Over 20 years ago, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) composted green waste was composted on Lamma, but that this stopped once LCSD outsourced the provision of plants. The person we spoke to did not know what happened to the green waste generated by LCSD works.

Lack of thought with regard to waste also occurs in joint operations. On Thursday 29th March 2012, for example, five different government departments participated in the removal of 13 bikes from the ferry pier. These were taken directly to the Waste Transfer Station where they were thrown into the trash compactor and sent to landfill.

The purpose of such clearances should be to identify and remove abandoned bicycles. There are piles of scrap metal, including old bikes, outside the Waste Transfer Station on Lamma, awaiting collection for recycling. The bikes that were destroyed were clearly still in use and some looked new. There was no opportunity for people to claim their property and bike owners who were lucky enough not to receive a notice 2 days prior to the clearance, or managed to see the notice and park elsewhere on that morning, kept their bikes and now continue to park along the ferry pier. Given Hong Kong’s landfill problems, it is astounding that new and usable property is allowed to be trashed and that the EPD was unable to prevent this from happening.

For attitudes and behaviours towards waste to change in Hong Kong, there must be leadership from government. Government practices should provide workable solutions for Hong Kong’s waste management problems at the local level, not contribute to those problems.

(c) Question 3: Should Hong Kong go for a Quantity-based system, a Proxy system or a Fixed Charge system?

Until Hong Kong government demonstrates a commitment to waste reduction by instituting measures that would reduce the amount of waste entering Hong Kong, facilitating the re-export of materials for processing and providing much improved and cleaner waste facilities, the discussion of the type of charging is premature.

If a system of rewards/penalties for waste reduction and recycling is to be instituted, this should done at a district level. Thus far, there appears to have been little engagement of the local district councilors in the debate on waste. As it entails the provision of local services, district councilors should be educated and involved. They should serve as the conduit to providing sustainable solutions for the districts in which they serve.

(d) Question 4: Are you prepared to change your behaviour in waste disposal if an MSW charging system is introduced?

Though the system is far from perfect or convenient, on Lamma, it is possible to: compost all non-cooked organic waste, and recycle glass, plastic, paper, plastic, small electrical items, books, clothes, toys and household items. Careful purchasing can ensure that most packaging is recyclable. Leaving packaging behind in stores can help to send the message that excess packaging is unwanted. Buying food on a daily basis and only serving what can be eaten, while saving or freezing the rest can reduce food waste to almost zero. Using cloth nappies removes 1-2 tonnes of waste from landfill during the child’s young life. Using rechargeable batteries and certain brands of light bulbs allows those products to be recycled. And of course, using a reusable bag for your shopping eliminates the need for a plastic bag, while taking along a reusable bottle or cup means that drinks can be enjoyed without generating unnecessary waste.

 

What behaviour should be changed if someone is being careful about the waste they produce and recycle as much as is possible in Hong Kong? What happens if the only reason that the waste is contributing to landfill (or is incinerated) is because Hong Kong lacks the policy support to reduce waste, or the systems to recycle items which are recycled elsewhere in the world?

For example, there is no system to recycle Tetra Paks in Hong Kong, yet most milk, juice and drink boxes use this method of packaging. The company is eager to recycle in Hong Kong but faces bureaucratic hurdles. Should the public be penalized for not recycling items that can be recycled elsewhere? In Canada, for example, a cash deposit is returned for Tetra Paks returned to the store.

Hong Kong is already 15 years into a fifty year period of “One Country, Two Systems.” So far, with regard to waste, the emphasis is on the two systems nature of the relationship with the country to which Hong Kong belongs. During the twenty year period from 1980, Hong Kong and the neighbouring cities of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region developed faster than any other region in the world, thanks to a winning combination of investment, technology, rule of law, and global communication in Hong Kong and low priced land and labour in the PRD region.

Waste comes into Hong Kong via the importation of goods, most of which come from the Chinese mainland. Scarcity of land and the system of land ownership in Hong Kong mean that it is difficult, or impossible, to achieve the scale necessary to make recycling businesses viable. Government support for and facilitation of an exploration into the synergies and economies possible through closer Hong Kong/PRD cooperation on waste reduction and recycling should be a priority. This may provide the residents of the Greater Pearl River Delta region with the means to change their behaviour with regard to waste disposal.

(e) Question 5: Do you agree that the Government should introduce legislation to mandate the separation of waste at source and accordingly ban unauthorized disposal of MSW?

Tightening legislation to improve waste collection and tackle dumping and fly-tipping would be welcomed. However, the problem seems not to be with legislation, but with enforcement.

Penalties for dumping and littering exist, but these are seldom enforced. Part of the problem is that rubbish is not simple rubbish in Hong Kong. What action is taken depends on what kind of rubbish it is and where it lies. For example, EPD handles electrical waste, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) picks up household waste, the LandsD is responsible for construction waste, LCSD cleans up rubbish in playgrounds and sitting out areas under its control, and the Drainage Services Department (DSD) clears out waste deposited in its nullah, but can do nothing about the greasy, waste water that flows into it from the restaurants. That is the responsibility of the EPD.

That government delineates responsibility for waste along specific lines drastically impedes efforts to clean up our neighbourhood. Clearly people rarely think about separating their waste when they dump it. This is why it took 10 months, and persistent lobbying on the part of Living Lamma, for government to clean up this large pile of rubbish deposited on government land on the harbourfront in Yung Shue Wan:

Picture3

The police will only enforce the law if there is a complaint from the public backed by photographic evidence identifying the perpetrator. For practical reasons, this rarely, if ever, happens. Living Lamma’s attempts to ask the police to enforce the law on littering resulted in them suggesting that we talk to FEHD. FEHD referred us to LCSD and LCSD sent us back to the police. Needless to say dumping and littering continue to be problems on Lamma.

Living Lamma

March 2012

www.livinglamma.com

livinglamma@yahoo.com

  1. The consultation mentions the incinerator only as: “related issues”, “modern facilities”, advanced waste treatment facilities”, “appropriate waste treatment and disposal facilities” and an “integrated waste management facility.” No mention is made about the reclamation off Shek Kwu Chau to accommodate a large-scale incinerator, or about the protests against this project.