18 August 2019
Hong Kong must formulate a long-term timetable and a set of goals to achieve a "plastic-free" society. Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong must formulate a long-term timetable and a set of goals to achieve a "plastic-free" society. Photo: Bloomberg

HK must make up for lost time in war against plastics

After 14 years of heated debates and delays, the Environment Bureau has finally unveiled the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) charging scheme, and will table the bill for scrutiny by the Legislative Council on Nov. 14.

After submission of the bill, the government will meet with environmental groups to discuss related issues such as measures for the collection of food and plastic waste.

Imposing a levy on household waste disposal represents only a small step in the overall blueprint for waste reduction of the international community.

Recently, the European Union unveiled a “plastic-free” proposal, which will ban 10 types of plastic products, including disposable cutlery and straws, from 2021 onwards.

Hong Kong must catch up on lost time and formulate a long-term timetable and a set of goals to achieve a “plastic-free” society.

The worsening plastic pollution has become a cause for grave concern in the international community, and governments around the world now regard the campaign against plastics as a key measure in their overall waste reduction policy.

While plastic waste constitutes the third largest source of municipal solid waste in Hong Kong, our government continues to ignore the need to reduce plastic waste at the source.

The Environment Bureau has repeatedly cited Taipei and South Korea as models in its “Hong Kong Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022” to justify the imposition of a waste disposal levy. But what it fails to tell us is that these two areas are far more progressive than us when it comes to cutting down on the consumption of plastics.

Taipei, for example, has declared that starting from 2019, disposable plastic tableware will be banned in a step-by-step fashion. And by 2030, the use of all plastic straws and cutlery will be outlawed as part of efforts toward a “plastic-free” society.

This year’s policy address has proposed several initiatives to regulate disposable plastic tableware, but they all lack intensity and proactiveness.

Nor has the government come up with any solid and long-term timetable on banning the use of disposable plastic cutlery and microplastics.

The government has proposed a number of pilot schemes on waste disposal such as the coordinated recycling of plastic and food waste, the introduction of reverse vending machines (RVMs), and the deployment of outreach teams to educate the public on clean recycling and waste sorting.

These pilot schemes are steps in the right direction. As such, we urge the government to ensure the effective implementation of these initiatives and expand their coverage to the entire territory.

While the government seeks to beef up policy support for the MSW charging scheme, it should also press ahead with other waste reduction measures, such as formulating a timetable to achieve a plastic-free society.

According to a recent study published by Greenpeace, an estimated 17.5 million pieces of plastic waste are discharged into the sea through Shing Mun River every year, suggesting that we are fighting a losing battle in stopping plastic trash from entering the sea.

To address the issue, the government should reduce plastic waste at the source by promoting manufacturer responsibility.

Apart from introducing economic incentives such as waste disposal levies for the public to cut down on plastic consumption, members of the international community are also working aggressively to reduce urban waste by facilitating the development of a recycling economy.

Some governments have even legislated against the consumption and sales of harmful materials.

In 2015, the New York city government completely banned the use and sale of foam tableware, while the city of Seattle has prohibited local restaurants from providing plastic cutlery and straws for customers.

As countries and regions around the world have set clear goals on plastic waste reduction, and the United Nations also “declared war” on ocean plastic pollution in 2017, Hong Kong must not allow itself to be left out in the global campaign against plastic waste.

Our government should strive to achieve the 2013 goal of reducing urban waste by 40 percent, while catching up with the international trend by coming up with a broader vision to create a plastic-free society.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 2

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Campaigner of Greenpeace

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