Controversy surrounds Municipal Solid Waste Charging as Legislative Council debates postponement of related bill

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11th April 2024 – (Hong Kong) The debate over the implementation of the Municipal Solid Waste Charging (MSWC) legislation has intensified as the Legislative Council discussed the postponement of the ancillary bill, which would delay the enforcement of the MSWC law until 1st August. Many legislators have questioned the decision to implement waste charging in August, with Starry Lee, a legislator from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), expressing concerns about potential social disorder and citizen complaints if waste charging is implemented under the current circumstances. Tse Chin-wan, the Secretary for Environment and Ecology, acknowledged the significant increase in workload reported by frontline cleaners participating in the trial run of waste charging, and the government has also observed the cost pressures imposed on institutions, eateries, and businesses. Tse emphasised the government’s determination to promote waste reduction while taking public opinion into account before deciding on the next course of action.

Today, the House Committee, chaired by Starry Lee, reviewed the government’s proposal to postpone the implementation of waste charging and construction waste charging until 1st August. According to the Rules of Procedure, a vote was not required for the motion. Lee pointed out that the general public believes that there is a lack of community recycling facilities, particularly food waste treatment facilities. They also have concerns about the enforcement timeline and intensity, as well as the potential cost increase associated with designated bags. Lee believes that implementing waste charging under the current circumstances could lead to social disorder and citizen complaints. She further suggested that the government seize this opportunity to enhance recycling efforts, such as collaborating with cities in the Greater Bay Area for recycling industry development or constructing incineration facilities jointly.

Another DAB member, Steven Ho Chun-yin, proposed a temporary suspension of the plan and a comprehensive review before setting a new implementation date. He stated that many citizens are opposed to the waste charging plan, and there are concerns about citizen cooperation during the trial period. Even if implementation is postponed until August, there are worries that it may still face difficulties. Ho suggested that the government should carefully assess the situation and implement the plan in stages, starting with the private market and then addressing household waste.

Several Legislative Councillors also criticised the current recycling facilities as inadequate and inconvenient for the public. They also recommended postponing or implementing waste charging in stages. Lo Wai-kwok, from the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPA), emphasised the importance of convenient recycling measures as a prerequisite for waste charging. However, as the basic recycling network has not been established, there are significant doubts about whether 1st August is a feasible implementation date. Lo stated that it would be better to wait for the completion of the first integrated waste management facility, I.PARK, which is scheduled for next year, before introducing waste charging. Peter Shiu, from the Liberal Party, expressed general support for waste charging. However, he pointed out that the current requirement for citizens to travel several blocks for recycling, along with the economic downturn affecting wholesale and catering industries, would weaken competitiveness. Therefore, he believed that August is not the appropriate time for implementation and hoped that the government would consider the timing carefully.

Legislative Councillor Doreen Kong said that implementing waste charging would change citizens’ consumption patterns and business environments. Given the current economic downturn, she believed it is not the best time to implement the measure. Kong urged the government to wait until the recycling infrastructure is mature and the economic environment becomes clearer before implementing waste charging. She indirectly refuted former Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing’s claim that the government has made early preparations to support waste charging, questioning the lack of recycling support during his tenure. Kong regarded the forced implementation of waste charging in August as disregarding execution issues and suggested a one- to two-year postponement for further preparation. She disagreed that delaying waste charging again would affect the government’s credibility and instead believed that it would provide an opportunity to ensure full cooperation from the public when implementing the details in the future.

Legislative Councillor Gary Zhang argued that if the government shies away from challenges, it would undermine its governance credibility. He stated that the government is currently facing issues related to execution rather than difficulties with legislation and policies. Zhang recommended that the authorities play a more proactive role by redeploying and formulating different development stages, providing clear guidelines for various industries, and improving the recycling infrastructure network. He criticized the government’s performance during the implementation, highlighting numerous errors and clumsy responses to social concerns, ultimately turning a good initiative into a negative one. Zhang and others who support waste charging believe that there are fundamental misunderstandings about the principles and values of waste charging. They emphasized the government’s role as the policy leader and urged it to address these misconceptions. They hope that the government and the Legislative Council will stay true to their original intentions and consider adjusting the plan while continuing their efforts towards sustainable development.