Pro-Beijing heavyweight urges HK to halt, delay waste tax scheme

A pro-Beijing heavyweight has urged the Hong Kong government to halt or postpone its already-delayed waste charging scheme, saying it was originally proposed by the “radical opposition” and calling it “mission impossible.”

Lo Man Tuen, vice-chairman of All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, wrote in an opinion piece in Ming Pao on Monday that the first week of the scheme’s trial run had revealed a lot of problems with the scheme, causing it to become a controversial topic.

Waste disposed in designated waste bags in Lin Tsui Estate at Chai Wan on April 8/ HKFP.

“The controversial waste charging scheme was proposed by radical opposition factions (some of whom are even in jail), and it was a policy implemented by the government during the last term facing pressure in the highly politicalised environment. It was a mission impossible from the very beginning,” Lo wrote in Chinese. He did not mention who among the opposition camp raised the idea.

The pro-Beijing politician added that Hong Kong was not ready for the pay-as-you-throw waste tax, and suggested that authorities should focus on improving recycling before introducing other measures.

Hong Kong rolled out a trial run of the waste tax policy last Monday at 14 premises across the city, handing out designated rubbish bags for free for merchants and residents to test how well Hongkongers understood the scheme.

Waste charge, waste scheme, Lin Tsui Estate Waste charge, waste scheme, Lin Tsui Estate
Waste disposed in designated waste bags in Lin Tsui Estate at Chai Wan on April 8/ HKFP.

According to the government, only between 20 and 50 per cent of the households participating in the trial were using the designated bags to dispose of their rubbish. Participants earlier called for more support for recycling.

Designed to reduce domestic waste and promote recycling by requiring residents to dispose of rubbish using only designated bags, the scheme was scheduled to launch on April 1. In January, the government pushed the official roll-out date to August, citing “public concerns.”

The idea of introducing a waste charge was first introduced in 2005. According to a policy framework submitted by the Environment Protection Department to the legislature, authorities sought to “impose a direct and explicit charge on each individual for the amount of waste one discards.” The charge was to be “a direct tool to change behaviour” in a city where landfill capacity was even then predicted to be exhausted.

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A smart bin for food waste is seen in one building of the public housing estate Moon Lok Dai Ha, which has joined the pilot scheme of waste charge on April 2, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“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, ” the document read.

Also writing in Ming Pao on Monday, Jonathan Wong, a professor specialising in waste management at the Baptist University, noted that the waste tax was not a new topic in the city. Despite being suggested in 2005, a bill to implement waste charging was not introduced to the legislature until 2014. The waste charging bill eventually passed in 2021, but its implementation was delayed.

Wong said that for the scheme to be successful, multiple measures should be rolled out in conjunction with it, and authorities should adopt a lenient and advisory approach in the initial stage of implementation.

‘Citizens are ready’

Responding to Lo’s op-ed, Angus Ho, executive director of the local environmental group Greeners Action, said on Commercial Radio on Monday morning that Hong Kong should not abandon the scheme so soon before its implementation, especially after nearly 20 years of discussion.

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Photo: Greeners Action.

“Actually citizens are ready [for the waste charging scheme],” Ho said in Cantonese. “The government was not doing well in some areas, but we should focus on the trend… recycling economy, that’s the trend… We should think about how to do it better. Don’t retreat once we face challenges.”

Ho added that many residents were willing to use the smart bins for food waste set up by the Environment Protection Department at housing estates.

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