China Daily (Canada) - - HONGKONG -

The Hong Kong govern­ment’s com­mit­ment to sup­port­ing the re­cy­cling in­dus­try, in­clud­ing set­ting up a HK$150-mil­lion food-waste treat­ment fa­cil­ity to be com­pleted in 2016, is crys­tal clear.

In­dus­try vet­er­ans, on their part, are skep­ti­cal, warn­ing that the bid may still fall short of mit­i­gat­ing a loom­ing garbage dis­posal cri­sis.

Per­haps, what’s lack­ing is pub­lic aware­ness and a shared sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to avoid, min­i­mize and re­cy­cle mu­nic­i­pal solid waste (MSW), which cur­rently piles up at 9,000 met­ric tonnes a day (based on 2011 sta­tis­tics), about one-third of which is house­hold food refuse.

Most of the garbage lands at the city’s three ex­ist­ing strate­gic land­fills, which have not only been a source of bit­ter dis­con­tent among lo­cal res­i­dents, but also drawn the wrath of neigh­bor­ing Shen­zhen which claims that the odor com­ing from the two dumps lo­cated near the bor­der is too much to bear.

A levy on do­mes­tic waste was in­tro­duced in 2008, but not much head­way has been made since. And, last month, the govern­ment launched a pi­lot “pay-as-you-throw” project with seven res­i­den­tial es­tates vol­un­teer­ing to par­tic­i­pate. Con­sumers may be charged for ev­ery garbage bag pur­chased, or pay ac­cord­ing to the vol­ume or weight of the garbage they pro­duce. Meet­ing ig­nored

But, is it pay­ing off? To many res­i­dents in­volved, the an­swer is ‘No.”

“In the end, who cares?” com­plained Luk Sau-ching, a res­i­dent of one of the seven es­tates tak­ing part in the project. For six months, each house­hold will re­ceive a bill monthly for their garbage dis­posal. But it’s only an ex­per­i­ment and no­body re­ally needs to pay a cent.

Luk claimed that no one would show up at meet­ings called by res­i­dents of her neigh­bor­hood to ex­plain how the cam­paign works. The govern­ment only put out a no­tice to in­form the res­i­dents that the project is in place.

It is such stu­por of in­suf­fi­cient con­sul­ta­tion and en­gage­ment with the pub­lic that crit­ics have found fit to rule that the govern­ment’s over­all per­for­mance to steer the pub­lic to­wards garbage re­duc­tion and re­cy­cling is not go­ing to work.

As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Chu Lee-man of the School of Life Sci­ences at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong said the govern­ment has been adopt­ing a much “too soft” ap­proach for years, thus fail­ing to get people and in­dus­tries on board with a waste levy scheme and source sep­a­ra­tion of waste.

Apart from cam­paigns and en­cour­age­ment, more vig­or­ous plans are painfully slow in try­ing to change people’s waste dis­posal habits, Chu ar­gued. The govern­ment started a pro­ducer-re­spon­si­ble scheme in 2008 to cul­ti­vate a “re­duce, re-use, re­cy­cle” cul­ture, but this has been largely ig­nored by in­dus­tries and is vir­tu­ally un­known to con­sumers.

With the govern­ment’s stalled plans to ex­pand the city’s three land­fills to avert a po­ten­tial sat­u­ra­tion cri­sis in a few years’ time, and which have sparked in­tense re­sent­ment and op­po­si­tion from res­i­dents liv­ing near the three dumps, the govern­ment ought to be seen to demon­strate it has tried its best to pur­sue other al­ter­na­tives.

A fund­ing up to HK$1 bil­lion is open for ap­pli­ca­tion by re­cy­cling businesses. A fur­ther in­vest­ment of HK$1.5 bil­lion for an or­ganic waste re­cy­cling fa­cil­ity at Siu Ho Wan, North Lan­tau, is ex­pected to process 200 tonnes of food waste per day, gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity and pro­duc­ing 20 tonnes of com­posts.

By 2024, five more sim­i­lar fa­cil­i­ties will be built around Hong Kong, with a to­tal ca­pac­ity to process 1,500 tonnes of food waste daily. But, there’s still a lot of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion work to do to make it all work. Henry Ngai, who has been run­ning an or­ganic waste re­cy­cling cen­ter for seven years, crit­i­cized the govern­ment for not pay­ing enough at­ten­tion to gain­ing pub­lic sup­port.

“The govern­ment seems to as­sume there won’t be a prob­lem to get rid of 200 tonnes of food waste a day” at the planned Siu Ho Wan fa­cil­ity, Ngai said. But what the in­dus­try needs is good qual­ity food waste. Those mixed with plas­tic bags, dis­pos­able table­ware and ev­ery­thing else are prac­ti­cally use­less be­cause it’s dif­fi­cult to pick out un­re­cy­clable items.

Very few house­holds and businesses in Hong Kong have the habit of sep­a­rat­ing food refuse from other waste. Based on Ngai’s ex­pe­ri­ence with his clients, which are mainly ho­tels, it usu­ally takes at least two train­ing ses­sions to make ho­tel em­ploy­ees un­der­stand that source sep­a­ra­tion of food refuse from other waste is im­por­tant to the re­cy­cling in­dus­try.

“Since there’s a le­git­i­mate way to dis­card all sorts of garbage free of charge, businesses do not have the in­cen­tive to pay ex­tra to hire com­pa­nies like mine to re­cy­cle or­ganic waste,” Ngai reck­oned.

There­fore, he would wel­come more reg­u­la­tions to be in­tro­duced by the au­thor­i­ties, such as li­cens­ing qual­i­fied or­ganic waste re­cy­clers. Cur­rently, there are some 17 com­pa­nies in the or­ganic waste treat­ment busi­ness in Hong Kong, but Ngai said most of them only col­lect and trans­port waste.

“Their ser­vices are much sim­pler and cheaper than those of a com­pany that re­ally han­dles or­ganic waste re­cy­cling,” Ngai said. He urged the govern­ment to draw a line be­tween the two businesses by is­su­ing dif­fer­ent li­censes so that people can make in­formed de­ci­sions when they con­sider hir­ing a garbage trans­port com­pany or an or­ganic waste re­cy­cling firm. Food waste re­cy­cling

Ngai charges HK$10,000 a month to serve a ho­tel, and his clien­tele has been ex­tended to schools, the Hong Kong Jockey Club and res­i­den­tial build­ings. He dis­trib­utes buck­ets to his clients and, at the end of each day, more than 100 buck­ets will be trans­ported back to the fa­cil­ity at She­ung Shui to make pig feed.

Heng Fa Chuen — a res­i­den­tial com­plex on east­ern Hong Kong Is­land — be­gan work­ing with Ngai this year. Each house­hold has to pay HK$4.50 a month for Ngai’s com­pany to col­lect and re­cy­cle food waste.

Chao Sing-kie of the Heng Fa Chuen’s Own­ers Cor­po­ra­tion said the es­tate’s res­i­dents have also joined in 16 other projects to pro­mote source sep­a­ra­tion of do­mes­tic waste, but none of the ini­tia­tives has been for­mally es­tab­lished as a govern­ment pol­icy.

For more than a decade, all the govern­ment did is to cam­paign and launch pi­lot projects. “Just talk­ing isn’t enough,” Chao told home­own­ers in April, say­ing it was time to take ac­tion and that “learn­ing by do­ing” will be help­ful in iden­ti­fy­ing a plan that’s work­able.

Fong Kwok-shan, a Sai Kung district coun­cilor, said she be­lieves a do­mes­tic waste levy, charg­ing HK$20 to HK$30 monthly, can be a mon­e­tary in­cen­tive to urge people to cut down on garbage dis­posal. But still ab­sent are the sup­port­ing ser­vices to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about how to dis­pose of waste prop­erly.

“Will there be dif­fer­ent collection points for food waste, glass bot­tles, car tires and lamp tubes? The an­swer is no,” Fong said. The govern­ment had briefly con­sid­ered ban­ning fully re­cy­clable items from land­fills but, in the end, gave up the idea.

In­stead of spend­ing bil­lions of dol­lars on land­fill ex­pan­sion, main­te­nance and af­ter-use care that would last 30 years af­ter they are closed, Fong said, the govern­ment could rather use tax­pay­ers’ money to per­suade and com­pel the pub­lic to do source sep­a­ra­tion and re­cy­cling the best way they can.

Fong, a staunch op­po­nent of the pro­posal to ex­tend the life of the Tse­ung Kwan O land­fill, said all her pe­ti­tions and protests against the plan may fall on deaf ears and may not suc­ceed, but “at least, most people will be­come aware” that their waste dis­posal habits could amount to so­cial in­jus­tice to neigh­bor­hoods that have to put up with un­pleas­ant odor and wors­en­ing air pol­lu­tion that threaten pub­lic health. Con­tact the writer at liyao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The Hong Kong Or­ganic Waste Re­cy­cling Cen­tre at She­ung Shui uses food-waste com­post to grow veg­eta­bles in soil-free green­houses, and sup­plies the prod­ucts to lo­cal con­sumers.

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