Municipal solid waste charging scheme indefinitely postponed by government

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27th May 2024 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong government announced the indefinite postponement of the municipal solid waste charging scheme after a joint meeting.

Earlier, Secretary for the Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan arrived at the Legislative Council and was surrounded by reporters, who asked whether the levy would be indefinitely postponed and if he should resign due to the government’s handling of the issue. Tae did not respond to the questions and was escorted by security staff into the officials’ waiting room.

The scheme was originally scheduled to be implemented on 1st April, but has faced repeated delays. The government’s decision to potentially postpone it indefinitely has drawn criticism from the public about the government’s responsibility and accountability.

The government’s decision, made public today, comes after accepting a recommendation from the Environmental Protection Department to delay the implementation of the waste charging scheme, originally scheduled for 1st August of this year. The specific details and revised timeline for the program will be announced in due course through official channels. The government intends to enhance recycling initiatives, explore improvements to the charging plan, and closely monitor and evaluate the impact on waste reduction and recycling habits within the community. Officials have stressed the need for a gradual and well-informed approach to changing the habits of Hong Kong’s 7 million residents, and they plan to provide a comprehensive update to the Legislative Council in the middle of next year.

One of the major concerns raised by the public is the perceived high cost of designated plastic bags, which has been seen as an additional burden and a form of indirect punishment. The use of multiple plastic bags is also seen as environmentally unfriendly. Additionally, issues such as limited storage space for segregated waste at homes, inadequate recycling facilities, complex charging procedures, increased burden on cleaning workers, higher management costs, and the potential for increased littering have all contributed to the controversy surrounding the waste charging scheme. The Legislative Council’s two relevant committees convened a joint meeting today to discuss the future direction of the program. According to the government, the eight-week pilot program provided valuable data and insights, revealing that a significant majority of citizens do not support the prompt implementation of waste charging. Approximately 80% of respondents believe that the scheme should be postponed or introduced in stages, or even shelved altogether.

The results of the pilot program have indicated that most participants in residential buildings did not fully utilise the designated waste bags, and the situation worsened over time. There was no significant change in the amount of waste disposed of, recycled, or in citizens’ habits regarding waste separation. As a result, the Environmental Protection Department has recommended a temporary suspension of the waste charging scheme. Tse Chin-wan, stated that the results of the pilot program indicated that the necessary conditions for implementing waste charging were not yet met in Hong Kong. Changing habits involves multiple aspects that require a systematic approach. Going forward, the government plans to expedite the expansion of the recycling network, including the installation of smart food waste recycling bins in public housing estates and large residential complexes, with the goal of doubling the network within the next year. Additionally, 100 food waste recycling stations and collection points will be established, along with an increase in the number of Green@Community, extending their operating hours, and expanding the number of collection points from 200 to 800.